Dating in Singapore
I was raised to be a ‘strong independent woman’; I never assumed anyone would pick up my tab. Despite dating conventions, I always paid my half of the bill, even on the first date where the rule is “if you want to see him again, you should let him pay”.
So for a long time, these two opposing ideas constantly warred in my head. If I let him pay, was I being anti-feminist? But if I stubbornly rejected his offer, was I being rude?
Most of my guy friends I surveyed confirmed they were truly more than happy to pay for their date. So it wasn’t an issue of “taking advantage of men”.
Still, it was disquieting how even though I wanted to let my dates pay, my discomfort couldn’t let them.
It’s not about feminism
Initially, I thought it’s because of how I believed it wasn’t fair that men felt pressured and were expected to take the lead when dating. And if we wanted to push for gender equality, a woman shouldn’t be able to pull the “guys always pay” card to get a free meal.
But after several failed attempts at writing this article, I realised what made me uncomfortable when men paid for me was not my wanting to walk the talk when I say I’m a feminist.
Rather, the values instilled when I was raised as a middle-SES Singaporean Millennial that made it hard to accept gifts.
I was raised to value money and be a paiseh Asian
I didn’t know it then, but my parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up. That’s why I was taught the value of money and to be frugal.
Because money is paper we trade hours of our lives for, I would instinctively scream “NOOO I can’t let you waste your money/time on me” when a stranger offers to pay.
And as much as being mid-SES is part of my upbringing, being having an Asian attitude towards cash is part of being Singaporean. There is an expected show of back and forth when money has to change hands, and this practice extends to dating.
It’s like how we put on an elaborate show performance of “OMG I can’t accept this” when our parents give us red/green packets. We’re socially trained not to accept gifts without a fight.
This sentiment explains why we have a ‘correct’ answer in modern dating: he should offer to pay, but she should offer to go dutch. And then he should insist on getting the bill, and she should accept with a gracious “thank you”.
Learning to accept gifts graciously
Still, this is back and forth is entirely stupid and a waste of time.
The ability to accept gifts graciously is a learnt skill which makes both the giver and receiver feel good.
And allowing a guy to get the bill is letting him say “I value you, you’re worth trading my time for”, “I have the capability and want to look after you”, and “I enjoyed your company and would like to pay for you as a gesture of my appreciation” through actions.
Of course, ladies, when you offer to pay, you should genuinely want to pay your half and not do it out of courtesy.
If you’re uncomfortable with ‘owing’ him a meal, you could always suggest to cover for drinks after or pay for the second date. He’ll appreciate the counter-offer and you letting him know you don’t expect your partner to ‘carry’ the relationship alone.
You should know being a strong, independent woman and letting a man pay for your meal isn’t necessarily contradictory. In fact, it takes a certain confidence and strength to be comfortable with allowing someone to take care of you.
Let Guys Pay On Dates
Though some may argue just like how you wouldn’t expect your friends to pay for your night out, you shouldn’t expect your date to. But your date isn’t your friend; the dating dynamic is different hence so are the rules.
At the end of the day, dating is about two people trying to see if they can fall in love. That requires a little vulnerability and trust. It assumes a gift given doesn’t have any motive behind it.
So next time I go on a date and he offers to pay because he wants to do something nice, I’ll try to graciously accept.
And even if nothing comes out of it, I’ll appreciate the heck of out of his gift.