You're sitting across from each other, taking your last sip of wine and final bite of dessert, thoroughly enjoying each other's company. Then the waiter drops the bill smack-dab between the two of you.
Should the guy reach for his wallet? Should the woman offer? Here's how frequent daters handle the paying game.
What's the guys' role?
Some people believe it's the guy's role to pick up the tab, no matter what. As Elizabeth, a dental hygienist, puts it, "I don't think I've ever paid for dinner in my life."
Jim, a business owner, says, "The guy should always pay because he's the guy. Period." But they're the minority.
Most daters agree with Mary, a communications consultant, who says, "If you think of yourselves as equals, you should take turns."
David, a financial planner, adds, "Guys who pay every time may be looking for a trophy girlfriend. Or maybe they think that's the only way to get a date."
Linda, a public relations professional, shares those suspicions. "It's not very hip for a guy to always pay. It could be a red flag — perhaps he also thinks that the woman's place is in the home."
The first date Almost everyone agrees that first dates are the man's responsibility.
"When a guy asks me out on a first date and then doesn't pay, it means he's a complete fool," says Janet, a newspaper editor. "But a woman should offer, because it sends a message that she doesn't assume the guy should pay, which of course, she does."
Robert, an art director, says, "If she reaches for the tray, I will gently but firmly take possession of it from her delicate grasp. Unless she invited me, I always pay for the first date."
After a few dates But after you've been dating a while, it's time for paying parity. "Maybe I would still buy at the expensive restaurants and have her pay for the cheaper spots, but I think it's fair to start rotating," says Greg, a real estate developer.
A woman who continually sits back when the bill comes may be sending the wrong message. "That means she's attracted to my pocketbook — not to me," David says. "I don't like to feel I'm being worked. I don't see a problem with her paying occasionally, but I may put up a fight."
David scores "good guy" points by protesting — even if his date ultimately picks up the tab.
"If I ask a guy out, I expect to pay, but he should still offer. If he didn't at least make the attempt, I would think he was cheap," says Janine, a customer service manager.
But guys shouldn't fight too strenuously if a woman wants to spring for a meal. "That would offend me," says Cynthia, a stockbroker. When a woman makes it clear that this one's on her, her date should let her pull out her purse.
"It means she is looking for a mutual relationship," says David, "not trying to use me or be taken care of."