Monday, May 25, 2009

Who pays?

I go out with couple friends all the time since my best friends in San Diego are all couples (and by that I mean I am equally good friends with both people). Usually, it's just me and the couple and when the check comes, I pay my share and the guy pays the share for the couple (most of the time, we just figure out what 1/3 of the total is and I pay that). I'm not making any editorial comment about the fact that the guy usually pays, I'm just stating what happens - when people are married, I sort of assume the money is basically coming from the same pot so it doesn't really matter who pays but my impression is that most couples follow the social convention of the man paying. Sometimes someone will pick up the tab for all of us (either me paying for the couple, or them paying for me), especially if it's just drinks. I've never really thought much about the dynamics of paying for stuff in these situations, since when I'm with any of these couples, I feel like we're just three friends hanging out together and the fact that they are a couple is sort of irrelevant.

But a few months ago, I went out to dinner with two couples. I'm friends with both the women and friendly enough with the husbands that it made sense for them to be there (but unlike my San Diego couple friends, I am definitely friends with the women and the guys are 'just' their husbands). These two couples live in the same town and hang out often as a foursome; I was visiting from out of town. When the check came after dinner, the two guys pulled out their wallets and were discussing the check, and I pulled out my wallet and asked what I owed. What struck me was how aware I suddenly was that I was the odd person out. I'm not sure if it was because there were now two women sitting there, each letting her guy take care of the check for her, or because splitting a check five ways is more confusing than splitting it three ways so one of the guys was actually looking at the specific items to figure out what I owed, or simply because I'm not really friends with the two guys I was having the money discussion with. But whatever the reason, it felt odd. And it felt even odder when we then went to a nearby bar and while my two female friends grabbed a table, I went to the bar with the two husbands to get drinks - that is, I got a drink for myself and each of the guys got a drink for himself and his wife. This time, I knew exactly what was odd - with my friends at home, one person would have just bought drinks for everyone.

I'm thinking about this now because this weekend my significant other* and I went on a double date with a friend of his and that friend's wife. Before dinner, my guy bought a round of drinks for everyone; when the dinner check came, my guy and his friend dealt with it; then we went to a club and his friend bought a round for everyone. When it came time to buy another round, I was going to pay but the friend beat me to it. It wasn't a big deal - it was loud in the club, he was closer to the server who brought the drinks and I think he didn't realize I was trying to pay until he had already given money to the server. But the whole evening got me thinking about how the dynamics of paying for stuff is different when you're part of a couple versus when you're single. When it's just me and my guy, he pays a lot of the time; I also pick up the check quite often but when we went out this weekend, I felt like it would have seemed weird if I had tried to pay for my own dinner. But what if we had been out with a single friend, instead of a married couple? In that case, I'm pretty sure I would feel just as weird if I didn't pay for myself.

I'm not sure I really have a point about all this, it's just something I've been thinking about. I've had many conversations with people about paying on a first date (and Zandria has a recent Blogher post that pretty much sums up how I feel about that issue) but I haven't talked with too many people about the dynamics of paying for things once you're in a steady relationship, or when you are out with other people. So I'm curious, for any single readers: when you go out with couples, does paying the bill ever seem awkward? For coupled readers: who pays, and does it matter if you're out with other couples or singles?

* We've been dating for almost four months but I'm still having issues with using the word 'boyfriend' so I don't really know what to call him...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Marriage-Go-Round

Hat tip to Justin Wolfers for the pointer to an interview with Andrew Cherlin, whose book The Marriage-Go-Roundis now available. The book explores the fact that Americans marry more often than folks in other countries, creating a lot of upheaval in family life. From what I can tell, Cherlin's focus is not so much on whether people should be married or not, but for us to think about the impact that merry-go-round relationships can have on society and particularly kids:
Marriage is important. But “get married” should not be our sole message to Americans. We should spend less time promoting marriage and more time supporting stable caregiving in children’s lives. The two are not the same. Let me explain: I agree that it makes sense to help young unmarried couples who have just had a child together get married if that is their goal. But it makes less sense to encourage a single mother to remarry because she probably won’t marry the father of her children—who she has already broken up with—but rather some other man.We know that the new stepfamily that would be formed would not improve the lives of children. And if that family breaks up, the children would be forced to adjust to yet another change in their households. So I urge us to supplement the “get married”message with another message: “slow down.” See the traffic light of singlehood as yellow rather than green. Don’t rush into having children with a boyfriend/girlfriend or a partner you’ve recently started living with. If you are already single and raising children, choose your next live-in partner or spouse carefully. Introduce your partner gradually to your kids; and don’t try to make him an instant parent.
There are other parts of the interview that sound decidely matrimaniacal (for example, he talks about marriage being "a symbol of personal achievement") but I was fascinated by some of the stats comparing the U.S. to Europe, and his discussion of the conflict between the value Americans put on marriage and the value we put on individualism:
...only in the United States do you find both. So we marry in large numbers—we have a higher marriage rate than most countries. But we evaluate our marriages according to how personally fulfilling we find them. And if we find them lacking, we are more likely to end them. Then, because it’s so important to be partnered, we move in with someone else, and the cycle starts all over again.

Also, we start and end cohabiting relationships at an even higher rate. If you are living with someone outside of marriage, and you are personally unhappy, you are supposed to end the relationship. Our cohabiting relationships are shorter than in any other country. It’s not as though some Americans value marriage and others value individualism. Rather, we carry both ideals in our heads and switch between them without even realizing it.
This rings true for me, especially as I struggle with reconciling my independence with my new relationship. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

End-of-semester blogging

The list of stuff I've been wanting to write about is getting really long but end-of-semester craziness will prevent me from writing much for another couple weeks so I figured I'd at least do a quick round-up of cool stuff y'all should check out:

- [via Feministe] Interesting article over on Slate about some of the women on the short list for the Supreme Court, pointing out that they are all unmarried and this is apparently an 'issue' for some people (in the comments on the Feministe post, someone points out that one of the women highlighted in the article, Kathleen Sullivan, is a lesbian who wears a wedding ring but is apparently considered 'single' because she can't legally get married - ugh).

- Blogher post about Steve Harvey's book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Not sure if I'll actually pick it up but there was one part that definitely resonated with me:

A man always wants something. Always. And when it comes to women, that plan is always to find out two things: (1) if you're willing to sleep with him, and (2) if you are, how much it will cost to get you to sleep with him... Now by cost, Mr. Harvey means not only financially (dates and such), he means your requirements and standards. If you need certain things before getting physically involved like time, commitment, an emotional bond, some guys will consider that too high of a price to pay and move along but others, the ones that are serious about having a relationship, will have no problem with your price.
Of course, why would you want any of the guys in that first group anyway?

- Zandria has two recent posts I really liked. One is about being lonely, and the assumptions that are often made about singles and loneliness:
Here's a secret: some single women are lonely. Please note, I said "some." Here's another secret: just because a person is married or in a relationship, that doesn't mean they'll never feel lonely.

- Zandria's other post that I really liked was about not being a "for now" woman:
...I need the guy to like me just as much as I like him. That’s what clicked for me. If I could see myself being happy with dating only this person, and I knew I wanted to see him more often and get to know him better...but he was telling me that he wanted to keep his options open? He doesn't feel the same way I do. And rather than give it more time and risk being hurt, I decided to move on.
I wish it hadn't taken me ten extra years to get to the same place but better late than never...