Gentleman Scholar

Split Decision

When a gentleman should let someone else pick up the check.

Outside the realm of dating, who should pick up the check when it’s not a special occasion? An offer to pick up a buddy’s check can sometimes be seen (and intended) as an assertion of dominance, quite the opposite of generosity. Is income disparity relevant to this discussion?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Thanks for your note.

Let’s first digest the juicy appetizer of your opening clause. In the realm of dating, the person who asks for a date should always pay for that date. Though I sense that you appreciate this point, I fear that it is somewhat foreign to many of the individuals enjoying their carefree youths in these degraded times and thus bears repeating: If P asks Q out to dinner, P is inherently announcing the intent to take Q out: “May I take you out to dinner?” See? Having declared this law, I am now obliged tediously to state what should be obvious: P does this with no expectation that Q is obliged to hook up; that would offend the very standard of courtesy I’m insisting upon. This isn’t economics, some kind of quid pro quo; it’s sociology, a basic convention of courtship.

Onto the main course: There are two proper ways to split a check: 1) Evenly. 2) Not at all.

In the first instance, there oughtn’t ever be any fine-grained analysis of the tab, as on the episode of Portlandia where stymied diners require the arithmetic intervention of a Winston Wolfe figure. Can we all agree to retire the practice of wiggling a finger at the tab to sort out who owes $8 for the garden salad and who owes $11 for the kale Caesar? Oh: You didn’t have any wine because you’re on antibiotics? Well, I hope you make a speedy recovery, and also I hope that you’ll please close that calculator app and trust that it will come out even in the long run. This is how friendship operates. Polite society will see that people who abuse this privilege by repeatedly and conspicuously gorging on only the most expensive menu items are no longer invited to come along to dinner. Very polite society will honor an ex-drinker I know: Hanging out with three other friends in a sports bar, he never fails to buy, when it’s his turn: three beers and one ginger ale.  

In the second instance, one party—feeling flush and being generous—grabs the check nonchalantly: “Lemme get this.” The other party responds to this graciousness in kind, with a token of protest (“You sure?”) followed by a succinct display of thanks (“Thanks!”). Maybe the nongrabber will make some sincere murmurs about picking up the tab next time around. I recognize that certain insecurities may seize a gentleman of modest means when he encounters the hospitality of a high-rolling chum, but also I recognize that it can be very pleasant to ride shotgun in a Jaguar. I appreciate your point about the “assertion of dominance,” but here’s the thing: If the check-grabber’s motives are impure, then the quality of the friendship is questionable, and you should ask yourself, “Why am I hanging out with this twit?”— but only after the waiter has whisked away his black AmEx.

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I’m hoping for some underwear guidance. Boxers don’t provide support or comfort. Tighty-whities seem too grandfatherly. The bottom hems of boxer briefs tend to show through the modern slim-cut pant. What is a man to do? Are Fruit of the Loom too childish? Are Armani too, er, European?

Thanks for your question.

I’ll be brief, like that garment reportedly invented in 1918 when a Frenchman cut the legs off a pair of long johns. You want to wear briefs, but you find the most traditional off-puttingly white. No problem. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. You may buy briefs in heather grey and black and olive drab and many other colors, as has been the case since the Orioles’ Jim Palmer modeled for Jockey in the 1970s, opening the modern era of advertising men’s unmentionables.

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When out and about with my preschool-age daughter, I often find myself engaged in what I suspect are ungentlemanly games. It is not uncommon for me to end up with grass-stained pants or pushing around a shopping cart backward while making engine noises.  Is this appropriate behavior for a gentleman?

Yeah, that’s totally fine, but thanks for checking in, and you ought to try some rubbing alcohol on the grass stains.

Your shopping-cart adventures seems charming enough, as I trust that you take care not to bug other people—unlike all these parents who, mingling the extreme unselfconsciousness of people deeply in love with the entitlement of an exalted class, allow their tykes to horse around in inappropriate venues. You know this type when you see ’em, and when you see ’em, you should scowl at ’em.

But in appropriate locales, accessorizing oneself with a reasonably cute child will excuse all manner of sartorial and behavioral irregularities. After all, raising kids and maintaining one’s dignity are not strictly compatible pursuits, I was thinking to myself just the other day while leading a one-on-one study session about bottom-wiping.