Some see splitting the check on a date as the feminist thing to do. Not me. My paying for a meal doesn’t solve gender inequality — it just means I have less money in my wallet.
It’s nothing strange for the guy to pick up the tab on a date. Men are more likely to make the first move and ask a woman out, rather than vice versa; so, as the ones who request and arrange the date, it’s only polite for them to pay. What’s more, until our society can turn around the gender pay gap, some would argue it’s the guy’s duty as an ally to reach for his wallet first. Nor is it brazen to acknowledge that for many young women, finances factor into the equation when considering a night out.
Still, there persists the idea that women regularly use first dates to scam men out of their hard-earned cash and time, coaxing free meals from poor suckers they have no interest in. One study called them “foodie calls” and determined that 23 to 33 percent of women are “dating for a free meal (rather than a relationship).” These researchers concluded that women who enjoy free food on dates score high for a “dark triad” of personality traits: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism.
But there’s reason to doubt the study’s findings. It was conducted at Azusa Pacific University, a private evangelical school, and its sample size is small: 820 women in the first study, 357 in the second. But no matter: When it made the rounds on conservative media (“A third of women only date men because of the free food,” wrote Suzy Weiss, sister of Bari, at the New York Post), it told a lot of angry dudes what they already wanted to hear.
If anything, the glut of such responses demonstrate why a woman would at least hope for her suitor to cover the check. With attitudes like these prevalent in the manosphere, why the fuck not?
“I think it’s a badass move,” says Raphaela, a 24-year-old from Vermont. She wishes she could be one of the women who’d gladly string along a guy for a “foodie call,” but “I simply cannot stand to be around guys that I don’t genuinely like, even for one hour.”
To me and many young women I know, the study and its reaction missed a vital element in dating culture. Women aren’t going on dates just for a free meal. More likely, they’re using the meal as an excuse to give someone a chance. And if men are angry about this dynamic, it’s indicative that they expected something more in return. In that sense, women can weed out the dates with Nice Guy Entitlement Syndrome who believe that they’re entitled to a grateful blow job just because they reached for the check without complaint.
That’s one reason why women I spoke with rolled their eyes at these findings. Another reason: the alleged psychopathy connection. “I don’t buy the crazy-women shit,” says Ava, 23, who also lives in Vermont. “Women are more communicative and familiar with their feelings so they know themselves better. Psychopaths experience psychosis and act out on society.” It’s lazy to put young women in these convenient boxes, she argues. “Psychology hates women who feel their feelings.”
As for the men who might resent feeling “used” for a meal: “I don’t give a fuck. Men are guilty of all sorts of shit — shit that’s worse than losing $30,” Ava says. Like what? “Leading you on for a month acting like you’re dating without clarifying that they’re not ready to commit, calling their exes crazy, being emotionally unavailable and pretending that sex and love are the same.”
Basically, men already hold all the cards in the dating scene. Even as they whine about how hard it is to get laid, they’re in a position of power. So if Ava enjoys a night out on a guy’s dime, it doesn’t feel like a scam — more like compensation.
“If a date sucks, I definitely think to myself, At least I got some free food,” says Azia, a 23-year-old from Florida. “I act the same with a guy who I want to go on a date with and the guy I go out with mostly because of the free food. A first date is a first date. You’re going to say the same things.” It’s an experience that’s rote and often disappointing. So while she may have invested her time and emotional energy, at least she got some damn rigatoni.
Of course, a bad date has two sides. Men, too, invest their time and emotional energy into dating, and I know it plain sucks for you dudes to drop some hard-earned cash, spill your guts and never hear from someone again. But these are the cards society has dealt us, and the least you could do is not think we’re psychopaths for giving you a chance.