September 20, 2010 in Features

Miss Manners: With friends, take turns paying the bill

 
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Visit Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Since this is the 21st century and not the 18th century, I thought that perhaps women’s thinking had changed. Evidently, when it comes to spending money on others, it hasn’t.

I would like to know the correct way to entertain the opposite sex when the woman insists on being a “friend” and not a “date.”

A woman who became a widow two years ago and evidently is still in mourning does not want to use the term “dating,” so she would like to go for meals with me but feels I should pay the entire check. I told her that since she insists on our being friends and not dating, that the situation changes and that she should split the check with me.

After all, don’t friends always split checks? And, as a friend, I wouldn’t even get a good night kiss since I wouldn’t be considered her date. Your opinion?

GENTLE READER: You had Miss Manners on your side until the good night kiss.

Before that, she was willing to overlook your strange historical presumptions in the interest of the eternal virtue of fairness. But perhaps we need to revisit them.

There was no dating in the 18th century, or, for that matter, in the 19th. Respectable ladies were courted by gentleman who paid calls on them at home, which meant that the ladies’ parents bore the expense of whatever refreshments were needed to keep them at the task.

If the courtship was successful, the gentleman reciprocated by supporting the lady for the rest of her born days.

All right: not so fair.

Dating is a 20th-century concept, and although gentlemen paid the bills when courtship first went out on the town, ladies still had the urge – or the sense of fairness, or the desire to be encouraging – to be hospitable. Reciprocation took the form of such offerings as home-cooked meals, an aunt’s unused theater tickets and hand-knitted argyle socks.

But there were those (Miss Manners can hardly refer to them as gentlemen) who had other ideas of how ladies could reciprocate. Possibly this was because they already had enough socks.

However, it smacked of the ugly idea that what we used to call ladies’ favors could be bought for the price of a meal. Miss Manners is not accusing you, with your modest mention of a good night kiss, of sharing this vulgar sentiment. But that is where your argument leads. If you will bear with her, she will supply you with a better one.

That is that we have now evolved to the point where respectable reciprocity should be a factor in social relationships between the genders, whether they are characterized as friendship or romance.

Strict accounting is unseemly, and splitting each bill leads to pettiness along the lines of “You had dessert but I didn’t” “But you took bites from mine,” which is conducive to neither friendship nor romance. Also, people have different resources, so the style and cost needn’t be equivalent.

But those who go out together, on whatever basis, should be considerate enough of each other to practice some form of reciprocation. Miss Manners leaves it to you to explain this to your friend, only asking that you omit the part about kisses.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When did it become rude to visit without calling first?

GENTLE READER: 1876.


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