Who’s Picking Up The Check?

Are men wimpy or are women stingy? Dealing with the paracosm or invented universe known as modern dating.

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Courtesy of Dreamstime

“We’ll be happy to pick up the check as soon as we receive equal pay.” From Kansas, Not Dorothy

“We’ve given you guys a thousand years to get your shit together,” Not Dorothy commented on my post, which is more than enough time, I suppose. To be fair, we didn’t have restaurants for six hundred of those years. We had pubs and mead halls. Nobody quibbled over bills in mead halls because everyone was so quick to kill you. The glass in the bottom of a tankard was there so you could keep an eye on potential killers. Once you were blind drunk, you fully expected — or hoped — your potential killer was blind drunk, too.

Between concentrating on getting drunk — and staying alive — the question of who paid the bill seemed arbitrary. Whoever was still alive paid, whoever was dead didn’t. If you never offered any money, chances were you’d be killed for being cheap. Life expectancy was obviously short for cheap people. It wasn’t much better for the rest of the population. Only 2 percent lived past 60 years of age. These tended to be teetoddlers.

In all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies I’ve never seen Jack Sparrow — or anyone else — pick up a single tab.

During the 18th century, virtually no consideration was given to who picked up the tab. People in pubs just ate, drank and sang songs. Perhaps the last person left standing paid for everything, or maybe nobody paid. In all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I’ve never seen Jack Sparrow — or anyone else — pick up a single tab.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps when pub owners ended up in debtor’s prison, individual bills were introduced. For the next few hundred years, men picked up the check. They worked, women raised the kids. Then along came the First World War. Women filled the armament factories and other essential services, making reasonably good wages. They didn’t mind picking up the check. There were no men around, anyway. Ditto the Second World War.

During the 20s, suffragettes and flappers expressed their independence in a variety of ways. Smoking was popular, so was music and dancing. “The Jazz Age,” as Scott F. Fitzgerald described it, was a new era of social consciousness. I still don’t remember Zelda picking up a tab. Gertrude Stein did. She was a fiercely independent sort, not like Anais Nin who was married to a bank manager, and no doubt realized she couldn’t get a cent out of Henry Miller.

Wage disparity meant men continued picking up the check. It was considered downright wimpy if they didn’t. Post-war men hated being called wimpy.

Going into the 50s, some women decided they liked making their own money. There were clerical and secretarial jobs, like in Mad Men, but women’s salaries were small compared to their male counterparts. Wage disparity meant men continued picking up the check. It was considered downright wimpy if they didn’t. Post-war men hated being called wimpy.

This brings us to today, where women now account for a larger percentage of the workforce than men. Needless to say, it’s created a new set of problems, namely, who should pick up the tab? Not Dorothy gave me the short answer: “We’ll pick up the check as soon as we receive equal pay.”

As she explained to me, women still earn only 70 percent of what men earn, a figure I’ve heard bandied about, often in restaurants when the bill comes. Until there’s true pay equity, men need to pony up, otherwise we’ll be called wimpy. It doesn’t bother us as much as it did our post-war fathers, but nobody’s crazy about being called wimpy — unless we’re in Wimpy’s.

I made what might be called a faint-hearted argument to Not Dorothy, saying the 70 percent figure is based on median numbers. Women span a wider range of occupations than men so, while some, like Angela Ahrendts, head of retail at Apple earned $70 million in 2014 (twice what Tim Cook did), the median number is brought down by a long list of more menial occupations. After having children, for instance, women look for jobs with security and flexible hours. The pay is often low with little chance of advancement.

“We’re taking a HUGE risk going on a date with a man,” she explained. “We meet you in public places to ensure we don’t end up in pieces in a trash bag.”

Not Dorothy didn’t accept this argument at all. Picking up the tab is what she calls “a goodwill gesture on the part of the dude.” “We’re taking a HUGE risk going on a date with a man,” she explained. “We meet you in public places to ensure we don’t end up in pieces in a trash bag.”

Picking up the tab, in other words, shows you’re not a body chopper. This makes sense. Even back in the mead halls, you could always tell a body chopper. He never had a pennig (the origin of penny) and liked to fight. I completely understand how women could still be wary of these guys today.

Picking up the tab, if I understand this right, makes women feel safe and valued. As one feminist explained on reddit (where I go for clarity and chuckles), “Men have to wine and dine women. It’s part of tradition and we’re far too deep into it to actively change it.”

This brought a number of responses, some supportive, some hostile. The most interesting was from extreme_frog: “Who are these people calling themselves feminists without wanting to change and challenge traditions?”

“What utter nonsense,” Hermitia replied.

“Women are systematically disadvantaged,” another woman wrote, “so tradition or not, we’re still the ones earning less and getting stiffed. So what if a guy pays? Guys aren’t getting stiffed, we are.”

“What utter nonsense,” Hermitia replied.

Scrolling through the rest of the comments, it seems to come down to who’s getting stiffed and who isn’t. Women in good positions obviously aren’t getting stiffed, so they don’t mind splitting the bill or paying the whole thing.

“Why would I make him pay if I earn more?” a woman asked, saying she didn’t mind ponying up. She also admitted she actually owns a pony.

This brought back the “valued” argument again. Does it really matter if the man earns less? Shouldn’t he pay just to show he’s a gentleman?

“It’s flattering,” another woman wrote, “but what if I don’t like the guy? I’d rather pay — or at least split the bill — to show I’m not interested.”

“Moral of the story,” one man wrote, “go out on a blind date every night and never pay for dinner again. Use this newfound money to buy an Ironman suit.” In cases like this, it helps to be both boring and ugly.

“I make girls pay for my meals. They’re the bitches, I’m the pimp needs his motherfucking Del Taco macaroni and cheese bites.”

Then there’s the dude calling himself WorseAnswerPossible who said: “I make girls pay for my meals. They’re the bitches, I’m the pimp needs his motherfucking Del Taco macaroni and cheese bites.”

“You can’t be much of a pimp if that’s all you get,” someone responded.

“If a man asks you out, he should pay,” a woman concluded, which sounded a bit Catch-22, since men are still expected to ask women out. “We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” one guy wrote. “They like you, you pay, they don’t like you, you pay. That’s why I don’t date anymore.”

It’s a twisted minefield of perceptions, all leading back to who’s a wimp, who’s stingy and who’s getting Del Taco macaroni.

Will we ever find a happy medium where men and women can settle checks in a civilized manner? Or are we splitting the sexes further, creating a paracosm, or invented universe, where each gender feels satisfied or dissatisfied based on their own value judgments?

The wimps will have to consider the future — with or without their Ironman suits.

Perhaps when pay equity truly exists, traditions won’t reflect who and what we are anymore. When that day comes, will we all agree as one person wrote on reddit: “Some social norms are worth fucking”?

It’ll be interesting and certainly not an ideal time for wimps. They’ll have to consider the future — with or without their Ironman suits.

Until then, the check’s sitting there, dude. Whatcha gonna do? I mean, after a thousand years, whatcha gonna do?

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out or for more details.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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