Men should pay on first dates. End of story. Here’s why:

Ok, sure, I’m a know-it-all. But sometimes it takes me a while to figure out exactly why I’m right.

For a whole long time I’ve been writing about how men should pay on first dates. I have long accepted this as fact, but I have been so, so conflicted about why that is so. After all, I’m a died-in-the-made-by-women-in-Somalia-hemp feminist. I advocate for women achieving and maintaining their financial independence at (nearly) all costs.

So how can I advocate for playing the role of financial dependence on dates? Not when I am proud that I take care of myself. Not when I eat my own broiled branzino and braised chard. When I expect to be treated as equal in every single sense of that word, how on God’s green Earth could I feel entitled to a free latte?

I finally figured it out. Here goes:

Guys need to take care of women. That’s what biology tells them to do, and they feel good when they do it. And women need to feel cared for. Maybe even especially strong women who take care of a whole lot of everything all the time. Which is why even (especially?), strong, feminist women are still drawn to manly men. Alpha men.

But in contemporary society, “taking care of” means different things to different people. To different men. And their women. That may mean he makes more money, yes. It may also mean he takes care of the house and kids while she kicks butt on Wall Street. Or Washington or Silicon Valley. It may mean that he takes care of her intellectually or emotionally — up for late-night listening, or breakfast debates. Maybe (and also, one hopes) being a man means he takes care of her in bed.

But these ways of expressing masculinity are not likely revealed when you check out his eHarmony profile, on a first date, or even a fourth. Each man’s brand of caring is unique, and the ways men and women express their sex and sexuality is negotiated, often silently, between the couple over weeks, months and  — if the relationship lasts — decades. Today, with few clear rules about gender roles, it is every couple for itself to decide how each partner will express his and her gender.

But on a first date? No one can see what kind of power dynamic will evolve in the relationship. So how can a man signal to a woman that he can take care of a woman? He relies on the culturally recognized signal that he is a masculine man. An alpha male. A gentleman:

He assumes the check, puts down his MasterCard, refuses her feeble offer to contribute, and picks up the tab.

That doesn’t mean that he pays forever. Or that the only way he can show he’s a man is by how much he spends. It is simply a token gesture during the courtship to let her know his ability and willingness to care for her.

This should go on, in most cases, for a couple dates. Depending on quickly things move, she should at least offer to chip in on date three. Unless, of course, he showed her early on exactly how he is capable of taking care of her. Which might be a great financial move for the truly savvy.

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

35 thoughts on “Men should pay on first dates. End of story. Here’s why:

  1. Hey, first time I’ve stumbled across your blog. You have some very interesting posts, and you are also very level-headed about the feminism stuff.

    First, I’d like to give a little thought-experiment for you. Women are only “strong and independent” in this day and age because men allow it. What do I mean by that? Imagine what would happen if the government suddenly dissolved; where would all these strong, independent women be in that scenario? Your lives would be at the mercy of men in an anarchic state. Now, let’s say that women were the sole governing figures. How would they enforce laws? By use of a police force. If this police force were made entirely of women, then any man who breaks the law would easily be able to overpower the police and get away with it. If you don’t think this is the case, well then I’m sorry to inform you that you’ve been deluded by watching too many G.I. Jane movies. There are tons of examples and videos of this on the internet. Thus, it is required that men enforce laws. However, in a government made up of entirely women, if the men wished to take it over, they would do so with ease by simply physically removing them. And, again, the only way you would be able to stop men from taking these high positions is with the help of a police force made up of men. Thus proving my point that women are only “strong and independent” because men allow it.

    Now, I am not here to bash women as a whole. That is not helpful in discussing matters like these. I am a firm believer in the world functioning on a symbiotic yin-and-yang principle of femininity-and-masculinity. My point, however, is that these women in “strong, independent” roles are misplaced. This illusion of “strong, independent” women is completely a farce being facilitated by men and men only.

    Nature does not permit these roles for women. Men have to fight against nature to allow them to flourish. And in doing so, these roles are weakened by requiring men to make up make up the lost ground that nature plays against women. Just imagine a team of firefighters that was half men and half women. Those men would have to work harder because their female counterparts simply would not be able to hold their own.

    What’s the point of saying all this?

    I agree that men should pay on the first date. I agree that men should take care of women. I, as a man, WANT to take care of women. However, I do NOT agree that men should pay on the first date (taking care of the woman — a natural role) UNLESS the woman symbiotically adheres to similar natural roles. One of these is that of being submissive (I read your post about dating that alpha male Lou — come on, the only reason you downplayed that was because he goes against what feminism has force-fed you). Another is that of being supportive of her husband in his journey to conquer the outside world (job) while also being supportive of raising his children in his inside world (the home). This is the only fair trade-off here. Neglecting this is exactly what it means to have your cake and eat it too.

    My thought-experiment applies directly to these natural roles in regards to “women kicking butt on Wall Street.” And “Silicon Valley?” Really? As an engineer, I can tell you that the vast majority of women are either unable or unwilling to succeed in any STEM field (or, at least, the “E” of that acronym). Even those fellow engineering women in my college classes were hardly able to keep up. Studying with them, like I mentioned earlier, made it so the guys had to spend extra time explaining concepts to them. We had to make up the lost ground that nature played against the women.

    I am not saying no woman is able to keep up. That would be asinine and completely ignorant. But when the vast majority is a certain way… well, the exception does not invalidate the rule.

    I am curious as to how old your child/ren is/are. I myself am a man who grew up with a single mother — I never had a father figure in my life. If you have a boy, puberty is going to completely and utterly destroy him unless he has a father figure to guide him and give him that sense of manly, masculine direction. Despite being very gifted (I have a tested IQ around 150), I was almost a high school dropout. The details of how I turned my life around are unimportant, but I can tell you that the womanly guidance I received from my mom and teachers just DID NOT vibe with my masculinity. This is part and parcel of the epidemic we are facing with our young boys. They need older men to guide them.

    I am not trying to be a naysayer and bringer of doom here. I am giving you fair warning. Please do not let your son hit puberty without a father figure in his life.

    1. Lots of interesting thoughts here … one Q: *WHY* do men choose to facilitate feminism? I kinda agree … but why? Because people are ultimately decent and fair? Because feminist hippy women are hoes and men like pussy? I really don’t have an answer, am interested in yours ….

      1. Well that’s beside the point on this post. The point I’m making is how it’s unfair to expect men to pay for the first date unless you adhere to a natural role in return on the first date. The polarity between the sexes is what drives sexual tension, and I think you’d agree that you feel greater “primal”/”natural” attraction for men who are more masculine. It should also be no surprise that this sexual tension causes men to move mountains for the woman of his dreams. But I’ll go on.

        Certainly the impetus came from a typical beta male trying to appease a woman in the hopes that he could net himself some nookie. Back then this behavior (in the sense of courting a woman) was the norm. The real insult is to women, as these men “gave up” their “power” to women for sex and did not fear the threat of women in power. The prospect of pussy outweighs the “laughable” risk of having women in power. Nobody gives up their power for nothing in return, or for the illusion that they are “decent” and “fair.” Do you really think a fatcat on Wall Street would give up his lofty position to a woman because he has a sudden revelation and wants to be decent and fair? Not a chance. He would only do so to win sexual favors from her, and to deny that is to deny human sexual biology.

        That and the school of thought that gained traction around the time of women’s suffrage in America that we call Cultural Marxism. This has been most harmful to society as it purports that we are all equals. Equal rights sounds good on paper, I won’t deny that, but where do we draw the line? Should men have the “equal right” to give birth? Or to breast feed? There are gender-based limitations, some more obvious than others. I go back to my point about the polarity between the sexes being the driving force for advancement in civilization. Do you think it’s mere coincidence that men in droves are living with their parents into their late 20s and wasting their time playing video games? They have nothing to live for — no woman to provide for, no sexual tension “driving force” — as they’ve been completely emasculated by the time they reach that age. They replace this need with artificial satisfaction from video games that emulate this providence over someone (or something) that they so desperately seek.

        There was actually a higher percentage of female Nobel Prize winners between 1901 and 1950 than 1951 and 2000 (4% vs 3%, respectively). Have we really come a long way in the campaign for “equality”? Or are we just fighting tooth-and-nail against the inevitable consequences of nature? This security blanket is poisonous and its effects are already becoming widespread — just look at crime rates, prison populations (and I’m sorry to say but the vast majority of prisoners come from single-mother households), the state of pop culture, poverty, hell even look at women’s happiness since the ’50s. Our society is in general decline.

      2. The dude has it all wrong.

        Men don’t choose to facilitate feminism. What he is saying is sexist, male-centric nonsense.

        Feminists have been increasingly asserting ourselves over the past centuries and decades. Feminists have made it clear that we will not put up with the patriarchal status quo. As a result, men are working harder to please women and to shoulder some of the domestic and relationship work.

        This is why it is so important for women to not be naive, feel sorry for men, or let our feminist guards down, especially in the face of male anti-feminist backlash: blatant or subtle.

        Instead, we need to keep striving and pushing for full equality in every aspect of life, including balance in our government and herstory of law. We have had over 200 years of male presidents, and almost all male Congresses, courts, legislatures, governorships, city councils, universities, etc. And of course, we have a US constitution written by and for rich, white males.

        When we’ve had an equal amount of time (200+ years) of women-only presidencies, Congresses, courts, university leadership, etc., then we might start to have some semblance of quality with regard to women’s visions of government and society.

        We need to really think carefully and critically about men’s commentary on the women’s movement, and read feminists’ responses to the anti-feminist “men’s movement.”

      3. The same applies to the woman also don’t it? She should certainly offer, if not insist on paying for the first date as it should she respects the man and true cares for hi,

  2. Just choking on the hypocrisy here.

    “Guys need to take care of women. That’s what biology tells them to do, and they feel good when they do it. And women need to feel cared for.”

    You’re laying down a blanket statement of what men should do because you, as a woman, understand their biological handicap and understand better than them what they should do, which oh by the way conveniently works out to be what’s better for you.

    Sound familiar feminists?

    1. Men don’t have to pay for anything they don’t want to. That includes women. They do it because they think it’s the ‘man’s’ job. It’s stupid.

      1. Intellectually, I agree with you. But we are more than cerebral animals. We are also emotional, primordial, sexual, hormonal beings. Many laws govern us.

  3. @Afex – so bitter! I realize this is confusing and convoluted — I’m confused, too. Just trying to sort this out on behalf of confused feminists everywhere…

    1. Most men define themselves according to how much they spend on women, or how much they spend on themselves to get the attention of women. They are inherently ‘stupid.’ They haven’t got the memo that feminism is actually not about equality and is absolutely about female privilege.
      The farce that is the ‘pay gap,’ the false rape and domestic abuse rates, the rape culture hysteria have all been created for women to be supported financially by the govt and have a legal advantage over men. Men can easily be convicted without evidence on rape and domestic abuse charges and do serious prison times. Domestic abuse is no longer a man beating his female partner, it is now considered ‘abuse’ to be emotionally distant from your wife. Male victims of domestic abuse will be arrested under mandatory arrest policy for men- now that’s a joke. Rape is now defined by how the woman feels about it the next day despite giving consent. And what about the family courts?! Men will be sent to prison if they are unable to pay high alimony fees despite becoming unemployed. Women on the other hand will be given welfare if they are unable to pay for themselves. Don’t forget the number of men who are paying for children that aren’t even biologically their own… Female child rapists/abusers get unusually light sentences for their crimes, I’m not talking about high school teachers screwing their 17 year old students. I’m talking about female pedophiles abusing kids under 13. Yes they do exist. plenty of articles online. Don’t forget the growing number of women filing false rape claims for extortion/revenge purposes. Feminism defends these vile creatures as ‘victims.’ Men are still being released from prison after having served decades for rapes they did not commit.
      Most of these laws were brought in by men at the behest of women. Women roll with feminism because it gives them the privilege and excuses their blatant sexual bias towards men. Since men ‘allowed’ themselves to get screwed over and still continue to do so quite happily, I say let the fu*kers wallow in it. Enjoy what you have and pray to god every night that men don’t ‘wake up’ to their reality. If they do all women are screwed, because ‘real’ equality is something that you will find very difficult to deal with.
      Having said that I’m very blessed to have a woman in my life who actually believes in equality, and yes I did pay for the first few dates, and I do buy her stuff. But she buys me things as well, and no, I don’t ‘need’ her to buy me things but it’s nice to have a woman who does not feel entitled to privileges she doesn’t deserve.

      1. I would like to add- when women do behave as if they are not entitled for male servitude, men actually feel like ‘taking care’ of them. So yes, you are right about existing gender roles which can be hard to get rid of (something feminism is trying to do) because its embedded in human nature….

  4. Hi Emma,

    No, no one *should* ever pay for anyone. We need to get rid of this notion to allow true equality for all. If we keep holding on to antiquated ideologies from the past when women were oppressed, then we’re never really truly going to move forward.

    Besides, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.. Guys already do a lot of things that they sometimes get dinged for. Like opening doors for a girl, I’ve been yelled at by a feminist for this. I open doors for human beings, not just for girls.

    We also need to move past this notion:
    Guys need to treat girls with respect, never the other way around.

    How about humans treating humans with respect.

    That being said, don’t look to societal clues and cultures for answers. Think about what’s fair. “Guy should always pay” is extremely sexist. If you need help in determining if something is sexist, just replace “guy” with “girl” and see how that feels. Just because someone was born with a penis, he’s indebted to a life of servitude to you?

    Pay for your own meal Emma, no free rides.

    1. I agree. I have used that “substituting female for male” and vice versa, for decades, and agree with it.

      Now I suggest taking a close look at the word “girl.” That term is not the parallel to “guy.” “Girl” means a female child: under the age of 18. This is significant, for neither men nor women to refer to women as children.

      The correct word, by definition, for a female adult is “woman.” Not “girl,” nor “lady,” nor “gal.”

      Regarding replace the word “woman” with “man” in all things, that goes for modes of dress, too. Women should not have to go to any more effort, cost or health or safety risk than men do to dress for a job, dates, or recreation. If a man has a problem with a woman wearing what he does: practical shoes, clean basic shirt, pants and socks, no purse, no makeup, no expensive, time-wasting hair style, then women should move on. We should not be obliged to, or participate in any of that stuff. It’s oppressive to and unequal for women.

  5. What obligation or role do women have on a date? Relationship? You say men HAVE to pay, means it is a gender role. Men have this gender role to signal they can care for a woman. Who apparently has no reasoning ability to judge whether a man can care for her outside of buying her dinner. w/e So even if we go with that, what gender role do women have to do to men on the first date? What are they bringing to the table outside of consuming resources?

    1. Really great question. Traditionally the woman’s role in the mating dance has been to be desirable, conquerable. Beautiful and a source of pride in public. Men like to conquer. When I put in extra effort to be attractive on a date, this is a gift to the man – shows him that I am interest, that I care enough to look my best for both him and whoever will see us together.

      All archaic, ancient, absurd and delicious.

  6. It seems unfair that the role of the woman in this instance is to be desirable. It’s implicit with the idea that lipstick equates to fronting a bill. I’ll throw lip stick on if you wanna buy me a steak. It also implies that men are not desirable.

    perhaps instead of combating every well written argument you read with laughable contempt you should just concede that you are wrong. It’s sanctimonious for you to dictate the implied roles of both parties. What if I were to write the same blog with the same context but titled it “why I should get head on the first date.” Seems about right.

    1. Well, maybe you should get laid on the first date? I’d love to read that! What are your arguments?

      I’ve written extensively about my internal struggle to reconcile my feminism with my sense that dudes should pay on a first date. The bottom line is that each gender wants to feel strong in that gender, and we need social ritual to express that. the first date is one such ritual.

      In the she-wears-lipstick, he-pays scenario, how else do you suggest men feel like men, and women like women?

  7. “Guys need to take care of women. That’s what biology tells them to do, and they feel good when they do it.”

    Well dear feminist, guys have other needs too. For example, they want to receive passionate oral sex and thats what biology tells us to do and we feel really good when we get it ;) get it??

  8. any woman who expects the man to pay is a self insulting shameless beggar. For godsakes you are feminist, you should be strong and independent, not depend on the man, that would be empowering patriarchy. Women should get their heads out of their asses when it comes to money. How can you claim to be a feminist and still be dependent on the man like a beggar?? whoever thinks its okay for the man to pay is a feminist hypocrite…

    1. Amanda, did you read the post? A) I have struggled with this seeming paradox, B) I do not EXPECT a man to pay, but very much appreciate it when he does, C) I am fully able to pay my own way. It is not a matter of begging or dependence, but rather gender politics. I say this with my head fully outside of my asshole, thx. xxoo

  9. I agree with you Emma, but I think there is another reason too. Men should pay because biologically, women take a bodily risk by going out on a date with a man.
    This skit by Louis CK finally made me realize why men should pay for dates:

    There was once a female German millionaire who did not mention her riches to her boyfriend until they were engaged–she was not looking for someone to financially depend on, but someone she could trust, and who she knew wanted to care for her.

  10. Emma, I am dismayed by your article. This is about as backward as it gets relative to “feminism.” It sounds like you’ve been reading “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” or sexist stuff from the “men’s movement” and one of their offshoots, the so-called “pick up artist” scene.

    I really encourage you to read feminist critiques of all of these sexist sources.

    This is the same outdated sexism that men have used to oppress women for millennia.

  11. Hi Emma, I’d like to start off with that I’ve seen some of your website and have mostly like what I’ve read despite not agreeing with everything, the main reasons for that are your own attitude to life and that I feel that you’ve really made an effort to make this an area that attempts to bridge the gap between the sexes instead of what I feel a lot of sites/people do which is complain and try to spark a gender war (which I feel is unfortunately present in this comments section).

    I disagree with this article, but for different reasons than these other angry bloggers, instead I come from my personal experiences. I’ve struggled with dating a bit in the past and I’ve grown to realise that a lot of that stemmed from these social expectations, I just hated to me what felt like pressure and made dating more of a chore. I remember one specific date where I arrived at the theatre early and bought tickets for the both of us and when my date arrived she said ‘thanks’ in a manner that didn’t make me feel like a ‘man’ at all, it made me feel pathetic and like I was ‘doing my job’.

    It was a while after her before I started dating other girls again (for a bunch of reasons), at this point I was entering my mid twenties so I myself had a lot more money because I was out of school and so were the girls I was dating. I didn’t expect this but a lot of the girls I met were very confident and almost aggressive in making efforts to meet me halfway regardless of how the date went and I love it. I make a lot of money for my age (it’s very unlikely for me to find a girl around my age that makes more) so this isn’t about the money but instead it makes me feel more respected and desired, and I’m also attracted to women who are confident and independent as those are traits I feel I posses I so I understand if these feelings aren’t the same for everyone but I feel like there’s a lot of guys around my age (25) that feel the same.

    A lot of the reasoning behind your arguements stems from your personal and I guess more classical ideologies of what relationships should be. I see you wrote something along the lines of ‘women were more desirable and conquerable’ in an above comment. This to me is more guys wanting a girl to increase their own social value, certainly a trait that still exists in a lot of men but I think less then what people expect. Personally there really isn’t a lot of people I want knowing about my sex life apart from the girls that are in it so I think that might be part of the reason I want to feel like my time is being valued by her as much as I value hers. But on the contrary I have seen guys out there who seem to get some kind of kick out of splashing their money on people acting like a ‘hot shot’, maybe it makes them feel ‘alpha’.

    We’re in a weird time of change and it seems to have sparked a variety of ideas as to what’s the best way to date. Personally I now get ‘turned off’ by girls who don’t make actual efforts to meet me half way, and that doesn’t mean they have too but I’ll be honest in saying I love it when I see she’s a little bit annoyed that I bought the first round instead of her or even better when she actually prevents me from paying and makes sure we’re even.

  12. I think that paying for the first date is ok. But I do expect a woman to eventually meet in the middle. With that being said I usually do drinks for a first date, because it is easy and cheap and a good way to get to know someone. Plus, if does not end up working out, I am out for $20. No big deal. My problem is when women expect you to pay for all the dating expenses as some type of “courtship” ritual. Eff thay.

  13. My personality type is very common over here in the west. So most male homo-sapiens are not very relatable to me. Thus if we are to say equality, then the female homo-sapien has very slim chance of even talking with more for more than 15 minutes. Logic is neglected here in the west quite often, and people are mostly emotionally driven –so much they will choose to be logical about certain things and then emotional about the rest. I learn quickly and man is by nature protective over a female. But before I turned 9 years old, I learned that a woman does the same thing (purpose) a man does–she just does it differently. As a precautionary measure, I don’t let men or women very close to me–if they are westernized, and women are not only sen as a threat, but the men who feed them are as well. Equality is not half sided. So you want to be equal with a man’s duties, then you will pay for your meal,you will not cry when you talk crap to anybody, and get knocked out for it. If you physically harm someone you should be physically harmed back–no pulled forces. But dear humans that is the trees not the forest .In order to control something, stop them from reproduction,and stop them from co-operation . One world ,one currency, one race,one thought system, etc. That means if we split the source of creation apart form each other,( men and women) and then prevent them from production of more of them( battle between the genders), it is easier to have more power. We are aware that “nice-guys” finish last,so when any logically thinking man with common sense, see this “nice guy” doesnt work ,he goes into his true nature. It is not very nice to see this because by the time the female goes in her nature, she has made several mistakes( kids/divorce/career) .It is sad to sit and witness these things everyday, but I dont warn them (men or women). It is depressing because i want the human race to flourish for the better. But you can t save someone else if you arent safe.

  14. I would rather spend my money on making myself hot (skincare, expensive haircuts, gym ect) than pay for dates, this leads to women sleeping with me at the end of most first dates because ultimately sexual attractiveness trumps chivalry. This way I can show them how masculine I am without spending a cent ;)

    1. I know I may sound cynical but I am just sharing what has worked for me, splitting the bill can certainly work if you’ve got your looks sorted out in my experience.

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