By Jake Geis
Picture this: A young man and a lovely young lady have just finished having a delightful meal together at a small café downtown. The waiter comes with the bill and asks, “One or two checks?” The pair look at each other. What’s the correct answer?
This quandary is one that Traci Austin is called on for advice through her role in campus ministry for Augustana and University of Sioux Falls at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls. Though removed from the dating environment (as she wed the love of her life, Wesley, this fall), questions about dating and first dates are a common theme among the collegiate youth she stewards. But before broaching the topic of who should pay, Traci stresses that clarity is the key.
“I talk to so many young women who are involved with a guy but aren’t sure if they are in a relationship or not with him,” Traci says. “They will tell me, ‘We hang out a lot, but I don’t know if we’re actually dating.’”
Traci says being clear with intentions is what prevents this awkwardness.
“We approach conversations differently when we know the context,” she says. “Asking a romantic interest ‘Can we get coffee sometime?’ is not clear—you need to use the word ‘date.’ Asking, ‘Can I take you on a date, how about coffee?’ makes your intentions known and provides freedom to both the man and the woman to plan for this date accordingly.”
Of course, being so clear with intentions introduces the potential for rejection. Yet, it also creates an environment that is naturally conducive for the man to be the one who asks the lady for a date and subsequently pays for it. Traci says this dynamic of the man asking and then paying the bill reflects the mystery of our complementary genders.
“Women are made to receive in a unique way,” Traci explains. “The man grabbing the bill and paying is a small action that reflects the deeper truth of masculinity and femininity.”
Her personal experience with this dynamic helped her grow as a person. “I’m very independent,” Traci says, “and choosing to receive was a challenge. Our culture is independent-minded, so allowing myself to be served and receive took breaking a habit. But this was good training to be self-sacrificial by being receptive to another’s self-sacrifice.”
Overcoming the risk of rejection is key for any man who wishes to prove he has the courage to be a good husband, according to Spencer Titus, also in campus ministry with Christ the King as well as a liturgy coordinator for St. John Paul II Parish. Currently single and part of the dating scene, Spencer believes men need to show initiative in the infancy of a relationship.
“The man should ask the woman out,” he says. “If a man is willing to risk rejection, there is a level of excitement and commitment in him—it reveals more of his character.”
And if a man asks a woman out, then it is his role to pay to prove he can take initiative. “If a man can’t do the little things, like hold the door open or pay for the meal,” Spencer says, “what makes a lady think he can do the hard things down the road? These actions set the foundation.”
Traci echoes Spencer’s thoughts. “All those big, serious conversations start out with the words, ‘Can I go on a date with you?’ While there’s no strict rulebook on who pays, this is just a beautiful opportunity for the man to initiate and the woman to receive.”
Often derided as old-fashioned, this principle of the man asking for and paying for the date speaks volumes about both parties before a relationship even begins. A man who has the courage to overcome the fear of rejection and show initiative through paying for the date will be more apt to have the hard conversations that inevitably must occur in a marriage, rather than avoiding them. The woman who can receive this gift graciously will extend that same grace to the man when life attempts to interject strife into a marriage, instead of increasing that strife.
In key moments where risk is involved is where the rubber meets the road. And how both a man and a woman approach the first date speaks volumes. “Don’t be afraid of women being feminine and men being masculine,” Traci says. “This gives each the freedom to live as he or she feels comfortable, not as the culture tells them to live.”
Jake Geis is a freelance writer and parishioner at Holy Spirit in Mitchell. He is a husband and father who has taught religious education and led youth groups over the years.