When an Online Relationship Leads to a First Date-Who Pays?

Entry originally appeared in Peter Post’s E Word blog for The Boston Globe.

Who pays for a date in the online dating world, especially who pays for the first face-to-face meet?

When that question came up during my interview on the Dating Playbook (Sirius channel 104) last Friday for the release of my new book, Essential Manners for Men 2nd Edition (William Morrow), a firestorm erupted.

That first date is a critical moment in the online dating continuum. No more electronic brick wall to hide behind. It’s the moment when you and your profile better be a match, when you have to live up to your photo, and it can cause anxiety for both people.

I counseled that the “date” be in a public place, that it be kept relatively simple and inexpensive (like meeting at a coffee shop where conversation is the activity), and that each person pays his or her own way.

One of the show’s hosts was aghast.

She expects the man to pay for all dates, and from her point of view this date would be no different. A couple of male callers-in also commented that because it was a date, they would expect to pay. Yet, as the hosts discussed the issue with other women in the studio during the break, they found opinions varied. Some would be more comfortable paying their own way while others would expect the man to pay.

While I appreciate the traditional sentiment that the man should pay for a date, that “rule” grows out of an even more basic concept: the person doing the asking does the paying. And as men usually do the asking, they do the paying. That said, I also encourage women to do the asking and the paying. If they want to share in paying for a date, the time to negotiate is at the time of the ask. “John, I’d enjoy going out again tomorrow. Thanks for asking. But this time, I’d like to take you.” Issue settled.

However, a first date generated from an online relationship is different. It’s a get-to-know-you moment, one which may go somewhere or may never go any farther. Because she pays her way, the woman may feel more comfortable not having any sense of obligation to the man, be it to see him again or for anything else. At this point in the relationship it keeps everything neutral. If things go well and one asks to see the other again, then they’re into “the person who does the asking does the paying.”

Essential Manners for Men was first published in 2003 and became a New York Times bestseller for advice books. Essential Manners for Men 2nd Edition (William Morrow) is available now.


  1. I think where you’re getting mixed responses is because you’re using the wrong word for the occassion.

    The first face to face meeting of someone you’ve met online isn’t a date. It’s usually coffee, in a public place, to make sure they’re who they say they are. The question that’s usually asked is “Do you want to meet offline?” and not “Do you want to go out on a date?”

      • Joanna

        Precisely. Even though things are different than in decades past, the basic concept is the same – you’re meeting in a social setting to try getting to know one another better and seeing if you’re compatible enough to keep meeting. That’s a date.

        I tried online dating for a while, and each time, I met the person in a coffee shop. We would each buy our own cup. It wasn’t really discussed, but just sort of turned out that way.

      • Brian Crawford

        The first meeting of someone off the net isn’t to determine whether or not there is romantic potential. It’s to verify that the person you met online who has romantic potential is who they say they are.

        Odds are if you met someone online you weren’t interested in romantically, you wouldn’t be meeting them offline.

          • Brian Crawford

            I think we can all tell if someone is attractive in a photograph. The first meeting offline is to verify that:
            (a) their photograph is an accurate representation of what they actually look like
            (b) they meet the expectations you set for them during the online courtship.

          • Alicia

            Wow I disagree or maybe you and I have had very different experiences with online dating. I’ve gone on several. Lets admit it everyone puts up their most flattering pictures so there is always that. But beyond the outright deceptions( like the guy who had posted his cousins picture because he thought his cousin looked like the better looking version of him) But half the time when you actually start talking to the person in real life it is awkward and hard to actually hold a conversation. It is also easier to tell what the nuances of conversation mean when you are in person rather then on im or phone. For example two weeks ago I went to meet this guy at a local pub for a beer for the first time meeting. His eyes never looked at my face the whole time but at my torso. Via Im phone, pictures, profile a charming nice guy. But oh my never again. So a lot of it is as much about figuring out is someone is a reasonable person in person.

          • Jerry

            Your point (a) seems to concede that the photograph may not be enough to determine whether there is any chemistry.

        • Joanna

          Personally, I like the idea of trying to get to know someone prior to a face-to-face meeting because I am semi-disabled. All in all, I think of myself as a decent catch — I’m 32, not a supermodel but not ugly either. I’m well educated and make a nice living. I own my own home. I like to travel and go out, but I also enjoy spending quiet evenings at home. Yet because I have lupus and have some mobility issues (I can walk, but I do have some stiffness and a bit of a limp; going up and down stairs is a bit of a difficulty for me) I find that many of the men I meet immediately write me off. They take one look and either think that my health issues are going to be too much to bother with, or that my limp is embarrassing to be seen with, who knows. All I know is that I’ll be chatting very well with men online, we’ll chat very well upon that first meeting, and then poof! I never hear back from them.

  2. I completely agree with Mr. Post, and have had this position for a while now.

    In today’s occidental society, women are equal to men. We get to own property, have the same jobs, access to the same education, our vote counts the same… and we should offer to pay for dates. Now, if the man insists, then let him pay! But for a woman to demand equal pay for the same work… yet a special waiver when it comes to dates? That’s just not fair nor logical.

  3. Brockwest

    I was forced into on-line dating when my wife died. It’s a ghastly world to enter. I found that one’s posted picture/essay about themselves was frequently quite different than actuality.
    I’m old school, so I felt strongly that it was the man’s place to pay for the first meeting. I do understand the arguments against that, but look at it this way, if the new guy is too cheap to spring for a couple of drinks when he is trying to be nice, what makes you think that his cheapness will disappear when you are in a committed relationship. It’s just a red flag to me.
    I tried every aspect and way of on-line dating…meeting at a coffee shop, meeting for dinner, meeting for drinks, meeting for drinks at a restaurant that could lead to dinner, and speed dating.
    I found what worked best was meeting for drinks at a bar at a restaurant that could lead to dinner (found my new wife that way), and speed dating (amazingly, ten minutes gives you plenty of time to figure out if you’re interested in a second meeting, and you get to meet 10 people in about an hour.)
    I found coffee shop meetings were the worst. Cold, impersonal, impossible to get a real conversation going.
    (oh the stories I could tell!)

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