There’s nothing like a dash of romantic voyeurism on Valentine’s Day, and Channel 4 came up trumps with a special episode of First Dates.
Sat cosily on our sofas at home, with a bowl of popcorn close to hand, we watched as five couples ventured into the camera-rigged restaurant. Some, such as Vince and Anna (who worked out that they had already met 22 years previously), proved to be a good match.
Others, however, did not. And we’re talking, of course, about Elaine and Steve.
Both aged 63, the pair seemed to enjoy one another’s company, although it’s safe to say that sparks weren’t exactly flying.
But, when it came to paying the bill, things quickly went downhill.
Steve took the bill and turned it to Elaine so she could see it, before asking his date if they would be “going Dutch”.
A visibly unimpressed Elaine responded: “What are you asking me Steve exactly?”
Eventually, she relented – but it was clear that the moment had left a sour taste in her mouth (particularly as, when she did throw her money down, Steve pointed out that she was short a “tenner”).
Speaking to the camera afterwards, Elaine said: “I have my concerns about the bill but I’m going to reserve judgement for once I’ve spoken to him.”
However, when questioned, Steve simply said: “I’m all about equal opportunities.”
Elaine fired back: “My dad always said, ’Start the way you mean to go on.’”
There was a tense pause, before the pair told producers that they would not be seeing each other again.
“I don’t want to be with someone like that. I’m worth a lot more!” snapped Elaine.
The moment sparked a huge debate on Twitter, with the majority of people supporting Elaine’s decision to bail on “tightwad” Steve.
“Be a gentleman,” wrote one person. “Get this lovely lady back for another date with someone worthy.”
Another added: “What a douche – it’s easy to see why he’s single.”
“Oh my goodness, that guy who claimed to be a ‘music producer’ was just so tight,” ranted another of the show’s viewers. “He embarrassed himself and that poor lady.”
There were a few, however, who chose to speak up against the status quo.
“Wtf? Why should she get a free dinner?” quizzed one.
“If a man asked me to go Dutch on a first date I would happily pay it,” added another.
And one more pointed out: “I don’t get the uproar about splitting a bill – why is there an obligation for the bloke to pay? Especially on First Dates.”
It’s a valid point; it’s significant that, time and time again, women appearing on First Dates have expected – sometimes even demanded – that their date pay for their meal, when the date involves a straight match.
If their expectations are not met, they will often cite that as a reason for never seeing the man again (even if they have hit it off up until that point).
“I’m looking for a gentleman,” they tell the camera pointedly.
And while in this latest case, generational expectations may play a role, the incident does expose a wider gender cliche that still grates when it comes to who pays on a date.
Relationships – good relationships, that is – are about equality, fairness, and mutual respect. And what, exactly, is respectful about looking away pointedly when the bill arrives, and assuming your dinner date is going to fork out for the food you forked up? More importantly, why have we decided that the last word in romance is a free dinner?
Above all, a situation that involves expectation that a man will pay for a woman conjures up an assumption that plays directly into tired old notions of female passivity and dependence that we have spent years trying to blitz.
Last year, dating expert and author Matthew Hussey was filmed asking a crowd of women who they expect to pay on a date.
A resounding chorus rang out with just one word – “man!”
Hussey, bemused by their reaction, attempted to put the issue into context.
“You can moan at it all you want,” he said, “but the moment you say to a guy, ‘You have to pay for my time’, you’re saying the relationship isn’t equal.”
He then advised them to treat their partner as they would their best friend.
“I wouldn’t say to my best friend, ‘Let’s always go out to dinner and you always pay,’” he said. “I’d say, ‘Let’s be teammates here in whatever wat we can.’”
Hussey continued: “If you like this guy, maybe if you're in different (financial) positions, figure out what you want to contribute proportionately or what you can contribute proportionately.
“That means something to a guy. When he feels that you’re not even trying to contribute, that’s when he feels used.”
It’s fair advice (although, again, many social media users slammed Hussey for being “ungentlemanly”); we wouldn’t go out for dinner with our friends or colleagues and expect them to pick up the cheque at the end of it.
It’s time to stop buying into thisoutdated dating tradition and at least offer to foot our half of the bill on a date. If he or she turns us down, then we get a free dinner. If they take us up on it, then we’ve proven ourselves to be their equals.
Or, at the very least, that we have some grasp on basic good manners.