updated 25 Oct 2012, 09:18
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Tue, Oct 23, 2012
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First date: Man or Woman pays?
by Melissa Sim

Banking associate Celia Tan was at a mid-range restaurant for what she thought might be a promising first date but when the $20 bill came, her date took out only $10 from his wallet.

"So I knew I had to pay the other $10," says the 27-year-old singleton.

"I'm an independent woman and I'm comfortable paying for myself, but if he wants a relationship, that's not the way to start," she adds.

They never saw each other again.

Times may have changed and women may have become more financially independent but when it comes to first dates, tradition prevails.

SundayLife! conducted a quick survey of 60 men and women, aged 23 to 35, to find out who should pay on the first date and found that men are still expected to pick up the tab.

Twenty-two out of 30 women felt men should pay, and this is not just the view of the women. Men, too, were overwhelmingly in favour of paying on the first date, even if the woman offers to foot her share.

Of the 30 men, 23 say they would want to splash the cash. The main reason - it is the gentlemanly thing to do.

Says iPhone application developer Daniel Quek, 27, who has a girlfriend: "I think most girls expect it and you don't want to disappoint."

Accounts associate Aaron Jenson, 24, who has a girlfriend, says: "Tradition isn't the only reason. If we have a chance to give a good impression, who wouldn't want that?"

Assistant Professor Ho Swee Lin of the sociology department at the National University of Singapore (NUS) says modernisation has yet to "transform some deeply entrenched attitudes towards 'masculine' and 'feminine' behaviours and identities".

NUS Associate Professor of sociology Paulin Straughan, 49, says gender roles are also "perpetuated by popular culture, where the male leads are normally the ones in active pursuit of the female interests".

But the men interviewed do appreciate it when women offer to pay their share, saying it shows sincerity and concern, and is "a thoughtful gesture".

Financial sales manager Dennis Ng, 30, who is in a relationship, says: "The woman should offer out of courtesy, but the guy should still pay."

Dating agency owners generally agreed that paying on the first date should be the man's responsibility.

Mr Jackiey Kwek, 37, owner of dating agency CliqueWise, says men should look at it as an "investment for the future relationship", while women should not feel it is their entitlement but view it as a gracious gesture on the part of the man.

Ms Anisa Hassan, managing director of It's Just Lunch Asia, says she is aware that men have a "high tendency" of picking up the tab and in those cases, the women should allow them to pay, but reciprocate by offering to buy coffee or dessert.

However, her company does encourage the parties to go dutch (split the bill), thus making it a "stress-free affair".

Of the 60 men and women interviewed by SundayLife!, only three say that the person who initiates the date should pay.

However, a fifth - seven women and five men - say that they would rather go dutch on the first date.

Game developer Andrew Ching, 26, who is single, says: "I don't think a girl should pay but I don't think a guy is obligated to pay either, so I would go dutch if she offers."

Architect Yeo Jia Jun, 30, adds: "I would pay but if she offers to split, I will let her because I see us both as equals."

Some women say they feel awkward having a stranger pay for their meal if it is the first meeting. Designer Olivia Isabelle, 23, says: "We should split the bill because it's the first date and we barely know each other."

However, a woman who insists on paying her share could send mixed signals to the other party.

Some men feel it shows a woman is independent and self-sufficient.

"I'll have a good impression of her. She's showing that she's not the weaker sex," says pilot Junior Peh, 35, who is single.

But others feel it might indicate that the woman is not happy with how the evening went and does not want to owe the man anything.

Says Mr Quek, who has been with his girlfriend for five years: "Maybe she doesn't feel comfortable or doesn't really like you. I think it's negative."

But if a woman offers to pay, should a man accept?

Guys take note: Women mostly agree that offering to pay on a first date is almost like a test.

Product marketing executive Sarah Tang, 23, who is single, says: "If I offer and he accepts, that's it. It's likely there will be no second date, unless I like the guy."

Other women interviewed say accepting the woman's offer to pay signals that the man does not value her company or that he is not interested, unromantic or not generous.

Ms Violet Lim, 32, owner of dating company Lunch Actually, says: "Some might say 'cheque dances' are so cliched but at the end of the day, it is important that the guy shows his sincerity by paying on the first date and for the girl not to be perceived as just being there for a free meal."

However, those interviewed generally feel that both parties should pay for meals and activities on subsequent dates.

Prof Straughan says: "Once they have decided to go steady, we generally find that there is a better sense of cost sharing because they tend to now act as one unit."

Some say they would split all bills down the middle, while others would take turns to pay for outings.

Ms Tan Yan Ling, 24, an associate design strategy consultant, says her boyfriend usually pays for the meals, but she would take note and transfer him some money every fortnight to defray the cost.

"When he says he's paying too much, I'll pay more," says Ms Tan, who adds that there are also times when she feels broke and transfers him less money.

Entrepreneur Jason Cheang, 32, who is single, says: "If a girl does not pay on any dates, I would think she is the kind of person who takes things for granted and expects to be treated like a princess.

"I hate princesses. Three dates max," he adds.

What some others have to say:

"I would offer because it says I can and will pay for myself. I didn't come for a free meal and I get to see how gentlemanly or generous he is."

Oon Shu An, 26, Fly Entertainment artist, in a relationship

"The gentleman, of course. It's chivalry and you want to ensure there's a second date. It's still something expected socially and hard not to do for a man."

Elvin Ng, 31, MediaCorp artist, single

"Of course, being a gentleman, the man should pick up the tab for the first dinner. That doesn't mean she can't do so, either. I have been on a few dates where the woman paid for the first dinner while I was away from the table. I was quite impressed by that. The one thing I don't like is splitting bills."

Max Loong, 32, Fly Entertainment artist, single "If she offers, I will be more interested in her... but of course I won't let her pay unless I forgot my wallet - or if she orders lobster or something."

Adam Piperdy, 22, 91.3 FM DJ, in a relationship

"Out of respect for the other person, in this day and age, it should be 'go dutch'. However, it's good to read the situation during the date to find out how traditional the other party's values are regarding gentlemanly conduct and see what action creates rapport."

Eugene Yip, 30, member of a cappella group Micappella, in a relationship

"I feel the guy should pay on the first date, mainly because of our Asian culture, where the guy always takes care of the woman."

Gordon Foo, 30, coordinating director of operations at St James Holdings, married

"If he's interested, he should show his interest on the first date - if not, there is no repeat customer. I once went on a date where I had to split the bill and the guy really calculated what I had and what he had. That was it! I never wanted to see him again."

Cheryl Miles, 37, 91.3FM DJ, in a relationship

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