NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Allison Shiffler has mastered the art of online dating. The 29-year-old’s trick is simple: she loves hamburgers. Her profile challenges guys to show her the best burger joint.
A lot of men ask her out for dinner.
Shiffler is a modern woman. She has a job, is about to start grad school at an Ivy League school and has even starred in a commercial. But when it comes to first dates, she has a rule: If the guy doesn’t pick up her burger tab, she isn’t going out with him again.
“There’s only been one time I paid for my burger. It was a cash only place and the guy didn’t bring enough money,” Shiffler told CNNMoney. She’s found that men paying for at least two dates is the norm, even in hip New York City.
Despite how progressive or feminist men and women say they are, the vast majority of heterosexual couples are not splitting the bill 50/50 on the first date.
Over 75% of men report they still feel guilty accepting women’s money, according to research by Janet Lever, a professor of sociology at California State University, Los Angeles. She has studied relationship trends for years and surveyed over 17,000 people.
“Men are in this horrible position. They’re still fearing: should I hold the door open or is that going to insult her?” says Lever. It’s been dubbed “benevolent sexism,” and it gets even more complicated when the check arrives.
Young people who identify as more liberal or feminist sometimes say they expect whoever asks for the date to pay, but the reality is men still do most of the asking.
Lever has found the modern dating world looks like this: About 10% of heterosexual daters are looking for something very traditional where the man pays for everything. Another 10% are looking for 50/50 from the very first date. The rest are somewhere in between.
Decoding that “in between” space can be tough. When the check arrives on the first date, half of women reach for their purse. It’s sometimes referred to as the “wallet fake” because about half of women who offer to pay get upset if they actually have to spend money.
“I have probably been on 35 dates this year. I have always paid for them,” says Michael, 31, a consultant who lives in New York. He sees it as a chivalrous gesture — and a way to signal in the dating app era that he’s genuinely interested in a relationship, not a hookup.
If his date offers to pay, Michael has developed a line that seems to go over well. He will reach for the bill and say, “No, no. It was my suggestion. I was really happy to meet you. Thank you very much for coming.”
The jockeying when the check arrives is what economists refer to as “signaling,” an attempt to communicate non-verbally. Many women still view the guy paying as a sign that he’s interested — and a gentleman.
On the flip side, many women offer to pay in order to show men they aren’t looking for a sugar daddy.
“How they decide to pay on a date can be a good signal of how they think men and women’s roles should work in the relationship,” says David Frederick, an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University, who conducted the survey with Lever of 17,000 single people on Elle.com and NBCNews.com.
Here’s how to decode female signals, according to Alison, who’s in her early 30s in Brooklyn:
1. If I never want to see him again and I want to get out of there quickly, I will just pay the whole bill.
2. If they’re perfectly nice but I never plan on seeing them again, I’ll split the bill evenly.
3. If I really like them and they offer to pay, I’ll let them. But usually I’ll say, “Let me get the next one.”
“When I was younger, I was much more into splitting the bill. As I’ve gotten older and more and more of my time has been wasted, I’ve felt fine about men paying for the first date,” Alison, who identifies as a feminist, told CNNMoney.
Both Michael and Alison asked not to identify them by their last names.
While most heterosexual daters still expect men to pay for the first date, views are changing for second, third and fourth dates — and beyond.
We’re not living in the 50/50 era, but you could call it the “70/30 era.”
According to the Lever-Frederick research, 84% of men and about 60% of women report that men still pay more of the dating expenses. The way it tends to work is the guy pays for a lot of the big dinners and events and women to pick up smaller things like drinks or groceries for dinner at home.
As the courtship progresses to a relationship, most modern couples have a money talk where they then take into account how much each partner is earning and what seems a fair split on bills.
It’s not that different from how dating has evolved in homosexual relationships where the general practice is for whoever asks or plans an outing to pay.
Perhaps one of the shocking findings from their research is that many men say they have stopped dating a woman because she never paid for anything. That’s why Lever advises women to at least offer to pay for something by the third date.
The findings held fairly constant across all ages from the 20s to the 50s, but Lever notes, “The younger the man, the more strongly he feels that women should be paying for something.”
Tips for men:
Offer to pay for the first date. Even if a woman offers to pay, about half of women get mad if they do have to pay. Come up with a good line that doesn’t sound old-fashioned such as, “Would it be OK if I picked up the check tonight?”
Tips for women:
Always say thank you if other person pays. If you like the person, try a line such as, “I’d like to take you out next time…there’s this one restaurant I really love.” By the third date, make sure to at least pay for something.