“Should men pay on the first date?
Well, I suppose it all depends on the date. If you’ve been seeing them awhile, fine. But if it’s some random internet thing it’s ok to go halves.”
This was my response to my colleague Jess’s straightforward, lunchtime question. And she didn’t like it. There was something uncouth about my answer, she said – cynical, even. She mushed her yoghurt as I rapidly tried to explain myself. I rambled on about modern dating etiquette as she regarded me with narrow eyes. In my mind, I sounded like the embodiment of pure reason. In Jess’s mind, however, I sounded like a cold-hearted brute.
My views on money and women had coalesced after my latest date. I had misread a situation and tried to force a little old fashioned romance on a lady who wanted modern courtship.
Last week Rachel and I met for a drink near Green Park. We had met online but were yet to meet in person. I was therefore prepared for something close to a speed date. The first date is nothing but a tester – and as such is almost always a swift meeting in work attire. Still, I had noted Rachel’s online excitement that afternoon as she tweeted: ‘Yay, drinks tonight in Mayfair #GoodTimes’.
Why had I suggested Mayfair? I’d unthinkingly set the bar too high. Surely, I could only bring it down (before crashing awkwardly onto the mat, like some inept high jumper). So be it, I thought, as I examined the rest of Rachel’s Twitter activity – the worst I can do is disappoint.
We met in Henry’s – a dreadful, beige boozer near the station. An over-running meeting had delayed me and I arrived late, and out of breath – a sweaty sheen on my forehead. The place was packed with open shirted men and stilettoed women. As I unwrapped my scarf I leaned in and pecked Rachel on the cheek.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, wiping my brow. “I’ve had a bit of a mad one.”
“That’s ok. I got you a drink.” She slid a pint across the bar. “But it’s gone flat now.”
I noted her crossed eyebrows as she put her phone away. Damn my boss, I thought – I’m now starting from a place of disadvantage. I quickly rolled into the chatter. My usual routine is Rugged Intellectual meets Smooth Operator. Basically, I bang on about foreign films in a gentlemanly fashion. This lame sounding artifice is actually quite effective. It helps me stand out. While other corporate men try to exude gritty success, I go for bookish refinement – City worker by day, bohemian by night. It was all a sham, of course, but the truth – that I was a frazzled workaholic – was too depressing to reveal. Rachel, on the other hand, was nothing but authentic and charming. She was a part-time dancer and full-time PA. Like all of us earnest daters, she ensured her hobby was front and centre.
“That’s great,” I said. “I love modern dance…”
I could not think of a single modern dancer.
I said, “Let me get you another.”
“I’m ok, I haven’t finished this one yet.”
She tilted her glass.
“Sure, but let me get the next one. I insist.”
“Ok, but it’s not a big thing.” Her eyes flicked away.
My obsession with equity was throwing my game. The moment Rachel finished her drink, I jumped in: “Right, my round. What would you like?”
“Pinot, please. Just a small one.”
“Coming right up.”
“You’re very rigid about this, aren’t you?”
I leaned on the bar, trying to attract the disinterested bartender.
I said, “Well, you got the first one. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think a lady should pay on a date.”
My eyes were fixed on the distant barman. As if running on instinct, I snapped my fingers. In the corner of my eye I saw Rachel wince. I turned and forced a smile.
“Do I sound ridiculous?” I said.
“A bit. I mean so long as it all works out in the end, does it matter?”
I suppose Rachel had a point. Who cares if men buy all the drinks on a date? Particularly an Internet date – that flaming crucible of romantic hope. The chances of success on such an excursion are diminished by the very set up. It is all non-committal by nature. A game of averages where you simply keep going until you meet The One (or The One for Now). We all start off as old fashioned romantics before morphing into mechanical, serial-daters. Ultimately, I suppose it’s pointless to apply the chivalric code.
Rachel said, “Honestly, I don’t expect to be paid for.”
“Don’t get me wrong.” I said, then sipped my pint. “I’m paying for your drink, not paying for you. This isn’t Pretty Woman, you know.”
“That was a joke,” I said.
Rachel smiled then looked at her watch. The pub was full of laughing couples. I tried to get off the subject of money, but for some reason couldn’t quite find my flow. As my patter dried up my mind flicked back to Rachel’s earlier excitement on Twitter. Good times in Mayfair, I thought – good times indeed.