Food for Thought: To Pay or Not To Pay?

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I’m sure most of us have heard of NUS Whispers. For some of us, it’s a source of daily entertainment, and for others it’s a platform to ask questions without being judged. But the popular confessions page, hit a snag last week, when a seemingly innocuous post gave rise to a heated debate.

Early last week, a post went up questioning the practice of paying for meals whilst dating.

While the opinions were largely divided, things got very complicated when an NUS professor waded into the fray.

The professor who has always been an active online presence on this forum, proceeded to outline why paying for meals would be a sound “investment” on the part of the male.

The post was widely circulated with many people from all walks of life weighing in on the issue.
It was even picked up by a prominent writer playwright in Singapore, who then admonished the tone of the comment.

For those who didn’t get to read the entire story right from the beginning, you can check it out here.

Beyond the surface arguments for and against whether the girlfriend in this particular scenario is materialistic, beyond the questions of gendered roles and hints of misogyny, the question that I feel is most pertinent is why was this post even written?

What does it say that a young man felt the need to post on a confessions page about who pays for meals? Something that on first glance seems to be a trivial issue?

That this particular post garnered such a huge response from people, and that even today there are ongoing discussions about the issues raised by this post is noteworthy.

We live in a society where we often think of males as breadwinners and women as caretakers.

At the end of the day, this is nothing more than a euphemism for the notorious adage that a man’s place is out in the world and a woman’s in the kitchen.

What does it say about us, that a seemingly vast majority of people today subscribe to the narrative that a man is expected to pay for the woman?

This question goes beyond just fixed gender roles. This question goes to the heart of what we as a society view a relationship to be.

It is not instinctive for men to want to pay for meals, and for women to expect this materialistic display of affection.

And yet, they do.

Men pay for first dates, and treat their significant others to meals and splurge on them, because it is gentlemanly.

Or at least because society tells them that it is.

And women come to expect these acts of generosity because these are social norms.

Or at least, they’re told that they are.

When you grow up in an environment that indoctrinates you with these traditional nuclear family ideals, you learn to accept these divisions of gender.

As a man you are made to feel the need to assert your masculinity and be the man of the house.

As a woman you told to learn to pull into yourself and fade into the background; the male ego is easily bruised.

The problem then arises when exceptions to this rule emerge.


Today, the gender descriptions of the past no longer hold any sway. Men and women are equals in a levelled playing field.

But this equality is short changed by the prevailing gendered designations that still exist here today.

This confessions post, raises but a single facet of a multi-faceted issue. That men and women are expected to behave in a certain way in their relationships, is in no way a reflection of the progress that we have purportedly made in the last century.

That gender as a concept is a spectrum and not a fixed constant, is a conversation that needs to be had.

Hopefully, the conversation that has been sparked by this confession post will morph into a full fledged discourse on the perceived backwardness of our dating rules.

And it’s only through discourse that we can effect change.