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Why are we splitting bills while dating when the gender pay gap still exists?

WORDS BY MARY ROSE MADIGAN

Women’s wages are typically lower and our lives are more expensive. So why are we expected to go halves?

“Are you cool to spilt this?”. I was on a second date with a man that more than likely earned double my salary and we were at a very affordable pub. If this had been my first date since my breakup I would have found this behaviour stingy. It was only $20 bucks, surely he could foot this and then I could grab us drinks. But this wasn’t my first rodeo… or my first Tinder date.

I was a few months into the dating game and I knew the rules. I understood dating now was a 50/50 situation – a quid pro quo type of arrangement. Never mind the fact that for the occasion I’d had my eyebrows waxed ($35) and bought a new top ($65). I’d also splashed out on a new razor to shave my legs ($12.50). Before the date had even begun, it had already cost me around 100 bucks and now I was adding a cold schnitzel to the tab.


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Still, I nodded and smiled and we spilt the $45 dollar bill right down the middle, $22.50. Nothing says romance like splitting a bill down to the cents. Men weren’t buying me dinner or even drinks and sometimes not even a coffee. To be fair, I drink soy milk, so it is an extra 50 cents. Dating has gone dutch under the guise of making things equal and yet women in Australia still aren’t being paid equally. So how is this really fair?

According to The Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the gender pay gap in Australia sits, on average, at roughly 14.2 per cent. However, in some states, the gap is even wider. In Western Australia, the pay gap sits at 21.5 per cent.

Basically, men are still making significantly more money than women and yet men are now reluctant to even buy you a cocktail – at least if you aren’t getting the next round. I’d recently come out of a long term relationship and we’d been together since we were young. So we’d never really dated but just hung out until we were considered a couple.

Originally, I’d been hoping my dating life post-relationship would consist of being wined and dined – less Macca’s runs and more cute laneway restaurants. But so far it was more “Get out your iPhone calculator” and “You ordered the cocktail so you should pay extra”.

Maybe I’d watched one too many romantic comedies but the reality of dating was already leaving a lot to be desired and it was being eclipsed by money. The week before I’d gone on a date with a guy that wouldn’t let me leave until I bought him a beer because I was leaving on an uneven round. Basically, he’d bought two rounds and I’d only bought one so he didn’t want to leave until we were even. Yes! Really!

Matchmaker and soulmate coach, Miranda Claire, tried to offer me some clarity around the situation. “I think relationships should be energetically equal and that means giving equal investment, love, effort and energy without measuring it. Take generally fair turns of spoiling each other with the resources each can afford based on their context,” she says.

Modern dating lacks generosity

I know there are a whole bunch of problems with modern dating. The dopamine hit from swiping, the endless options, the fact that men on dating apps post photos with dogs they don’t actually own, which is very disappointing. But I was really struggling with the fact that modern dating seemed to be devoid of generosity and no one was talking about it. If you did, you just sounded cheap or you were asking to be someone’s sugar baby.

I wasn’t looking to find someone to pay for my whole life but it would be nice to meet someone that would treat me to the odd dinner. However, men don’t feel like they need to treat you to woo you and instead everything is decided based on it being fair, which isn’t actually fair. Because the concept of ‘fairness’ that these rules are based on doesn’t account for the wage gap in Australia and this is very convenient for men.

Miranda explained to me why this might be the case. “I think it mirrors the human sushi train known as online dating. People are disposable, therefore people want to minimise the investment emotionally and financially so that they don’t end up broke while they shop around.”

Basically, men aren’t prepared to be out of pocket unless it’s going to be a long term investment. From a feminist perspective, on a superficial level, I love the idea of splitting the bill. I’ve never wanted to feel like I owed a man anything and often when men pay for things they do feel more entitled. Paying your own bill means it’s much simpler to make a clean break and you don’t feel as guilty if you have to ghost someone after a few dates.

However, the problem with this is men are still earning more. So 50/50 doesn’t really work. It should be pro-rata, but working out your pro-rata isn’t particularly romantic with a new partner. Instead, I’d recommend that maybe the man grabs dinner and you grab drinks. Each person is generous in a way they can afford to be generous. I swear it would make for a more pleasant and romantic vibe – nothing kills sexual tension like trying to calculate how much you owe on a dinner bill.

This disparity is compounded by the fact that it’s just more expensive being a woman. So while our wages are typically lower, our lives are also more expensive. Everything from the pink razors we use to shave our legs, to the haircut we get is more expensive than the male equivalent. Yet we are expected to go halves? It just puts women even more behind financially.

Dr Terry Fitzsimmons, a senior lecturer in leadership theory at the University of Queensland Business School, explained to me that “Studies have shown that societal expectations around beauty, clothing and hygiene can make it up to eight times more expensive to be a woman to meet these standards.”

Sure it’s all well and good to say splitting the bill is fair but it’s only fair if we live in a fair world and the fact is, we don’t. So next time you’re on a date with a man and he offers to split the bill, perhaps take a little time to explain that splitting it 50/50 only makes logical sense if a gender pay gap didn’t exist.

And as Dr Fitzsimmons informed me, the pay gap isn’t going away anytime soon. “In November 2004, the base salary pay gap was 14.9 per cent. In May 2021 it was 14.2 per cent, a drop of only seven per cent over the past 17 years. On a straight-line projection using these figures, we end up with the patently ridiculous result of the year 2365,” he explained.

I mean, it could be a mood killer to bring up the pay gap but it’s defiantly an eye-opener. In one blow you can get a sense of who the person sitting across from you is. The question may have nothing to do with your ‘worth’ at all. As usual, it’s much more about them.

A commitment to gender equality requires more than a glib acceptance of women’s rights. It’s nuanced and complex. My $22.50 date was really no different from the generations of men who came before him who failed to see the reality of the disadvantages women face. In my opinion, dating can’t be even until our bank accounts are and there’s no shame in pushing for a more fair dating experience.

For more on money and dating, try this.

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