By Rosemary Donahue
You’re on a date. Things are going well, you think. Even though there may have been an awkward moment here and there, you’ve navigated around those conversational potholes with ease. But now, as your server heads toward you with an inquisitive look on their face, sweat prickles up the back of your neck as you realize there’s another obstacle imminent, and it’s one you didn’t discuss ahead of time: how will you handle the check?
There’s never exactly been one universally agreed-upon way to handle finances in any relationship, and we’ve (thankfully!) all mostly decided that heteronormative “rules” of dating are a thing of the past. However, it can still be helpful to know how others talk about money with each other in romantic contexts when figuring out what feels right to you. Ahead, Bumble has talked to a few financial and dating experts about the age-old issue of splitting the check.
Who pays the bill, and why?
Does the bill go to the person who made the plans? What if one of you is always the one making the plans? What about splitting the bill, and what if one person makes more money, or someone orders lobster, or one person drinks and the other person doesn’t? Again: there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to dating, and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to paying on dates, either. After all, we’re all different, which is part of what makes this fun (as well as nerve-wracking, at times). But knowing how you feel when it comes to finances is the first step.
“I think if everyone just expects going into a date that they’re going to pay for themselves, that’s a pretty safe bet,” says sex columnist Sophia Benoit. And when it comes to splitting the bill, Benoit has a few thoughts as well. “I always err on the side of paying a little more than you think you should in that situation. The price you’re paying is for politeness and etiquette, and a good tip for the wait staff.”
Another way of approaching things, if going Dutch isn’t your style? “I think maybe if you choose the place, you should pay; then, you should take turns choosing the place and paying,” says Rus Garofalo, founder of personal finance firm Brass Taxes. Garofalo says that it would be great if we could get to a collective understanding that the third or fourth date is the date on which we talk about money (sort of like the trope that the third date is the “sex” date), but since we’re not there yet, we have to set our own timelines.
It’s true that when it comes to having conversations like these, it’s all about the timing. You may not talk about money in broad strokes before your first, second, or third date, but ideally, you’ll have a sense of who might be picking up the tab before the rubber hits the road—or, before the check hits the table, according to Sofia Figueroa, a financial planner at women’s investment platform Ellevest. “I would say really the big thing is to be clear about your expectations going into it. If you are someone who is happy to split it, or you want to treat that person, communicating that ahead of time is a really great way to avoid the awkwardness that might come when the check is put down on the table,” she suggests.
However, it can get tricky if there’s an inequality to what you’re ordering, or you find your date is choosing places out of your price range, which she acknowledges. “If you feel like you don’t want to keep paying the amount that the other person wants to pay, you can first try to change the situation without addressing money directly by suggesting somewhere else, if that feels better,” suggests Benoit.
Figueroa agrees with this approach. “If you do find you’re in that situation repeatedly, I think taking charge a little bit and making some recommendations around either dates, whether it’s experiences or restaurants or whatever you’re comfortable with can really help,” she says. However, there are only so many times you should have to redirect the date; if you find that your financial boundaries aren’t being listened to or respected, it may just not be a good match. Just try to remember that other people can’t read your mind, and can only adjust their behavior if you open up.
“I think you should hold your boundary, but you have to have had the conversation already.” says Garofalo.
Why talking about this matters
At first blush, talking about money may feel like one of the least sexy—and most awkward—parts about dating. But it’s also pretty important. “Money is such a sticking point for all of us emotionally, and can be a really hard conversation to have, especially on a casual date,” says Benoit. “But I do think that that part of dating is really hard conversations, and if money is important to you—or if it has to be important to you because of your finances, which is totally valid—then you have to have that conversation.”
It can be hard to bring up because of the societal stigma and taboo around the topic, but there are ways to do it that alleviate the tension. Framing it as a positive conversation and including your date in your thinking (i.e., talking about how you want to save for certain financial goals, like traveling or buying a house) rather than putting down their penchant for expensive restaurants, is one way to go.
“You can be honest and be open and communicative, but at the same time, help them understand why you might want to be doing something different. If you are really starting to get involved in the relationship, it could be really helpful in understanding just your connection to that person,” says Figueroa. “Talking about financial goals can actually open up some really fun and interesting conversations just around your attitudes, your feelings, your beliefs, and the things you want to accomplish in life.”
It can help set the tone for how you talk about not just finances in a larger sense in your relationship, but can help you refine how you feel about the topic, as well. “I think it takes a reckoning of like, what kind of conversation do you want to be able to have about money in your relationships and how do you personally feel about this?” says Garofalo.
Ultimately, even though it can be awkward—and in some cases, can help you spot red flags—it’s worth it. “The more you talk about money with your partners, the better those relationships are,” says Figueroa.