In Defense of Chivalry

One author wonders: Are the rules obsolete?

First dates are tricky. Even the most confident, well-adjusted woman inevitably finds herself asking a lot of questions in the hours leading up to that initial night out.

Will we hit it off? Will there be an attraction? What if we run out of things to say?

Not to mention more practical concerns. Do I meet him at the destination or let him pick me up? To kiss or not to kiss? And, trickiest of all: Who's going to pick up the check? Now, I'm a thoroughly modern gal, but I do have one first-date rule, and it goes something like this: When a man asks me on a first date, I expect he'll be picking up the tab. Why? Because even though I'm that modern gal, I believe in chivalry. It's not dead. In fact, I think it works both ways: If a man shows his chivalrous side on that first date, I'm more than happy to reciprocate on the dates that follow.

And did I mention that I recently found myself on a fabulous first date?

The Rise — and Fall — of Mr. X

Mr. X was a 30-something architect I'd met at a singles event a week earlier. He had all the right vowels: he was Artsy, Educated, Interesting, Open-minded and Unpretentious. Plus, he was cute and had only waited two days to call and ask me out for drinks that weekend in his neighborhood. And although I lived more than a hop, skip and a jump away, I was willing to oblige. After all, we'd already hit it off. I knew I was attracted to him and sensed it was mutual. And I couldn't wait to continue our conversation from the other night about art, architecture, film and travel.

Saturday night, I met Mr. X at a quaint beach cafe near his house where we sat at the bar, drank red wine, and talked for hours. I learned about his childhood in Tucson and his backpacking trips to Montana, my home state. He asked me all the right questions about writing, life, and family. For a first date, this felt so easy. So comfortable. So promising. Until...

The bill came.

And Mr. X asked, "Mind if we split it?"

Surprised, I leaned over to check the bill. $28.


And he wanted to split it? Clearly, he didn't know about my first-date rule.

Quickly recovering from my shock, I reached into my purse and produced the required cash, adding a generous tip just to prove that one of us wasn't a cheapskate. After that, Mr. X walked me to the valet stand, where we said our cordial goodbyes and I waited for my car. I was glad we'd agreed to meet at the restaurant so there would be no awkward ride home together. And I was equally grateful when the valet pulled my car around in record time, ruling out the possibility of a goodnight kiss. Just a quick hug and a wave goodbye, which was fine by me.

Now, before I go any further, I feel it necessary to mention that I am not a gold digger. I have never dated a man for his money. And I don't intend to start now. But I must admit that my feelings for Mr. X were definitely tainted as a result of his request to split the bill.

On my long drive home, I thought about my first-date rule. Is it unrealistic? After all, Mr. X and I probably had comparable salaries. And while my mother's generation of women probably couldn't have afforded to go dutch, I was perfectly capable of paying my way. After all, I manage to cover a mortgage every month and still have enough money to enjoy cocktails with the girls and take long weekend getaways. In an era where Britney Spears is a proud sugar mama and Julia Roberts married a camera operator, I wondered if I needed to re-think my first-date rule. Is it possible that men and women have evolved beyond any need for rules when it comes to dating?

Going Dutch: A Short History

As the questions lingered, I thought back to other first dates.

In my last serious relationship, my would-be boyfriend had taken me on a first date to an expensive beachside seafood place where we feasted on wonderful delicacies while watching the sunset. Later, I would discover Mr. Ex was in serious debt. And I'm sure those early and expensive dates hadn't helped his bank account. But I also knew it was his irresponsible spending habits — and not me — that had caused the problem. Besides, I'd always made it clear to Mr. Ex that I was more than happy with cheap Mexican food and $2 beers.

Then there was the aspiring magician who'd quit his job as a cartoon animator to pursue his new career. He was incredibly talented ‑- and incredibly broke. But you know what? He paid for our first date because, as he later confessed, "You seemed like the kind of girl who might have a first-date rule and I didn't want to break it."

The magician and I went dutch for the rest of our three-month relationship. And I was fine with that. But I always respected the fact that he'd paid for that first date. And he appreciated that I didn't mind paying my own way in silent support of his budding career.

As for Mr. X: The more I pondered my rule, the more I felt that even though he was interesting, attractive, and successful, there would be no second date. Not only had he broken my only first-date rule, but he'd done it over a $28 tab. After I'd driven to his neck of the woods and we'd only ordered drinks. So much for chivalry.

And so I find myself staring down the barrel of yet another first date tonight. And already, the questions have started. Let's just hope this one can play by the rules.

What rules do you go by when it comes to who pays on a date? Share your opinion.
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