Who calls, who pays – who cares?

Two young women were overheard talking about dating. “If I’m still dating in my 50s,” one said, “give me an arsenic martini and put me out of my misery.” Of course, we know that she got it wrong. It’s not still dating. It’s dating again. And that’s a whole different story.

Although some people have never married or had a long-term relationship, the vast majority have. For them, a return to the dating scene after a hiatus of 10, 20 or even 30 or 40 years can be daunting. It’s not that they haven’t dated before. It’s that “before” was long ago. It may have been as far back as highschool or college.

What happens when, through the death of a partner, or through divorce, they are back on the dating scene? It’s hard to break out of the coupled social scene they have been part of and to meet unattached people. Some people are fixed up on blind dates. Others search the Internet. Still others meet colleagues at work or at social, sport, religious or other activities. Increasingly, people in mid-life turn to introduction services to meet like-minded people whose paths they might never otherwise cross.

But how do they behave on that first date? Even before it? Human nature lets us fall back on past behaviours as a guide to present ones. Take riding a bike: it’s said we never forget how. No matter our age, we intuitively recall how to gain and maintain our balance. Even if we haven’t been on a bicycle for many years.

Does the same apply for dating? Yes and no. If the last time a man dated was in his early 20s, he might remember how he dated back then. But is that the way to act, now that he’s in his 50s? Is it still correct for him to make the first call or should the woman phone? Developing a relationship in mid-life is difficult enough without a stumbling block even before the first date.

Some men and women feel very strongly about this, and the consensus seems to be that the man should make the first call. Perhaps it’s traditional or perhaps it’s just old-fashioned, but it does seem to be the preference of many. Of course, if the woman wants to be the one to phone, it’s her choice. But men should know that some women, even those who are highly successful professionals, would just not do that. No matter how self-confident she is in her career, there is something about being treated “like a lady” that is appealing. Gentlemen, take note. And women, take note that some men are still caught off-guard when a woman makes the first call.

Another consideration for many people is who pays, at least on the first date. This is an even bigger issue for older men and women. There are men who insist on paying because that’s the way they were brought up. To many of them, having the woman pay is very uncomfortable and even threatening. There are women who insist on paying so that they do not feel obligated in any way. And there are women who feel the man should pay, because that is part of the courting process. On the other hand, there are men and women who think the money spent on all dates should be split 50-50. Still others believe that the person who extends the invitation should be the one who pays. It can be very confusing.

Don’t misunderstand. We can all afford our own coffee or wine or dinner. It’s not about the money as much as about the significance the money has. And the best way to deal with it? Be clear when you talk about the date, so that there are no surprises. “I’d like to invite you to have a glass of wine” suggests strongly that you will pay. If the other person is uncomfortable with that, at least there is the option of discussing it ahead of time. That way, you can be prepared for what otherwise could be an awkward moment at the end of the date – never a good thing.

Who pays? Who cares? We’re not in highschool any more. Not even in college. If you have a strong preference about who pays, talk about it when you make your plans. Don’t leave it to the end of the date, when the server brings the bill. Not if you want another date.

About the author: Evelyn Lazare, M.B.A. is Founder of Like Fine Wine, Introductions with Integrity, http://www.likefinewineintroductions.ca, a personal introduction service exclusively for people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, in and around Greater Vancouver. She can be reached at [email protected].