A guy recently asked me to split the dinner check with him. It was our first date. I immediately wanted to yell “Cheapskate!!” at the top of my lungs, grab my purse and run. How could I have that reaction, considering that I am a strong, independent woman? I was so upset with myself. It might help to review the event in greater detail to better understand my reactions.
Unlike most of the men I have met recently through on-line dating, this miser asked for my number while I was grabbing my morning latte at a coffee shop. Later that night, he called and asked to meet for a drink after work the next day. Let me reiterate: He asked me out. We met at the restaurant/bar and he asked if I wanted a drink; I ordered a glass of Pinot. We chatted a few minutes and the waitress asked if we wanted appetizers. He asked if I would like anything. Our conversation was going much better than the last date I had with the ex-scuba diver, so I said, “Sure.” After eating our calamari, the waitress asked if we wanted to sample anything from the dinner menu. He asked again whether I wanted anything, and I said, “Sure, that sounds great.” After dinner, when the check came, he asked me to split it down the middle. Really?
On to the analysis. First off, he asked ME out. A survey of feminist and non-feminist women in the 1980s found that 70% of the feminists were likely to offer to pay for themselves on their dates, but non-feminists were highly unlikely to do so at all.1 So, either I am among the 30% of feminist women who would prefer her date to pay, or times have become less egalitarian than when Melanie Griffith was in Working Girl. Dating scripts, which are like movie scripts about what people expect on their dates, would be one place to look to see if this is actually the case. Two relatively recent studies have found that men and women still adhere to quite traditional dating scripts, meaning that most people are in agreement that the man should pay for a date.2,3 Research has shown that people often experience anger when relationship norms and expectations are violated, regardless of whether the individual expresses their expectations or not.4 El Cheapo’s deviation from the norm of buying me dinner offers one explanation as to why I was tempted to throw the last of my drink in his face.
Second piece of evidence to consider: After the first drink, HE offered to order food. I therefore assumed that he wanted to invest not only time in getting to know me (which I was receptive to), but that he was also willing to make a financial investment. So, I admit my pride was at least a little wounded. Why? Well, I interpreted his offers as an investment — that he was willing to invest in me (remember: I have two kids — investments are important!). When he chose not to pay, it was clear that he wasn’t as invested in me as I assumed. Research has shown that spending money and flaunting luxury items are reliable ways for a man to convey to a potential mate that he has money and resources to invest in the relationship (see here and here for more on this study).5 Generosity in men is also an evolved mating signal6 that screams, “I can support you!” Therefore, I like signs of generosity such as flowers, gifts, and in this case, picking up the check, because it means a guy is willing to invest in me. It is no wonder, then, that my opinion of him dropped from being interested to “avoid-at-all costs” with that one gesture.
As a scientist, I buy this evolutionary explanation; but as an adult woman, I am still uncomfortable with my fierce and uncontrollable reaction to his stinginess. Would I have felt any better if I had offered to pay for myself and he took me up on it? I’d like to think so, but I have a feeling that my interest level in El Cheapo would still drop to zippo.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
1Korman, S. K. (1983). Nontraditional dating behavior: Date-initiation and date expense-sharing among feminists and nonfeminists. Family Relations, 32, 575-581.
2Laner, M. R., & Ventrone, N. A. (2000). Dating scripts revisited. Journal of Family Issues, 21, 488-500.
3Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. (2011). Has dating become more egalitarian? A 35 year review using Sex Roles. Sex Roles, 64, 843-862.
4Uehara, S., Funaki, S., & Ohbuchi, K. (2011). Anger towards relational norm violations: Effects of types of relationships, relational specificity of and conveyance of needs. Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 51, 32-42.
5Sundie, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Vohs, K. D., & Beal, D. J. (2011). Peacocks, Porsches, and Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous consumption as a sexual signaling system. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 664-680.
6Iredale, W., van Vugt, M., & Dunbar, R. (2008). Showing off in humans: Male generosity as a mating signal. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 386-392.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.
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