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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Some never consent to be treated

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

People who insist on always paying their own way, some of whom also insist on paying everyone else’s, are not generally considered social nuisances. Nobody comes away from a losing battle for the check muttering, “Remind me not to go out with them again; they never stick us with the bill.”

Miss Manners realizes that with all the gimme artists running around loose nowadays, it is difficult to complain about people who pay their share and more.

All the same, there are hidden costs to relationships when one person will never consent to be treated. The surface issue of who pays covers a powerful subtext having to do with status, control, independence and connectedness.

An example that Miss Manners finds particularly distasteful is when betrothed couples claim the right to ride roughshod over their parents’ wishes “because we’re paying for the wedding ourselves.”

You are not supposed to be able to buy control within a family. Status goes by position, although parents, like colonial powers, are supposed to recognize the necessity to grant increasing independence, hoping that sentimental ties will endure and that self-rule will be successful.

When a lady and gentleman who are in the very act of attempting to ingratiate themselves with each other manage to spoil it at bill-paying time, it is usually over not paying. She expects him to pay for them both, and he expects her to pay for herself. But it is also possible to pay and still ruin things. A businessman who insists on paying for a businesswoman who has invited him is offensive.

If the relationship is romantic and the lady always insists on paying her own way, rather than her share of reciprocating and financing invitations, things are probably not going well. Those who insist on avoiding any kind of social indebtedness by paying as they go appear to be considering going on their own way.

The same is true between hosts and guests. Friends having meals out typically pay for themselves, but when people clearly intend to entertain in restaurants, their parties should not be hijacked. (Admittedly it is often hard to tell, and one must engage in a gentle tussle, when the would-be host may reveal himself by saying, “No, no, we wanted to take you out. We’ve had so many wonderful evenings at your house.”)

Worse is when a guest attempts to upgrade what is offered by ordering a more expensive wine, for example, and announcing that he will pay for it. Even worse is paying for home hospitality, as when a horrified Gentle Reader found that a houseguest had left money for her. Intended or not, that is a pay-as-you-go, now-we’re-quits insult.

But then there are those freeloaders. And some people would rather be insulted than stiffed.