MAFS 2024: Bride Sara sparks debate on modern dating etiquette - who should foot the bill?

In today's dating scene, do societal expectations really still dictate that men should pick up the tab?

In the landscape of modern romance, the age-old question of who picks up the tab on a date remains a relatively heated conversation starter. The premiere episode of Married at First Sight threw the spotlight on Sydney bride and Nutritionist Sara Mesa, who boldly expressed her expectation for the man to foot the bill, justifying it with her personal investment in hair, brows, and grooming in preparation for a date.

While reality TV often magnifies individual opinions, Sara's stance serves as a catalyst for a closer look at modern dating expectations and etiquette. It's 2024; where are we at with who foots the bill?

Sara and Tim were one of the first couples to get hitched on Married at First Sight this year. Photo: Channel 9
Sara and Tim were one of the first couples to get hitched on Married at First Sight this year. Photo: Channel 9

In the episode, Sara recounted a bemusing encounter with a man who seemed perplexed by her expectation for him to pay. "I pay to get my brows done, I pay to get my hair done, I pay for medication, like birth control, the least you could do is pay for dinner. Like.. you owe me, or I'm going to bill you," she laughed.

Modern dating expectations

In a world where equality and shared responsibilities are championed, the question of who pays for a date has become a nuanced dance between tradition and contemporary values. Sara's candid admission on national television has raised eyebrows but also prompts us to reflect on the expectations we bring to the table when entering the dating arena.


Sara's rationale, investing in her appearance and expecting reciprocity, raises a crucial question. Is the expectation for a man to pay rooted in archaic norms, or does it mirror a fair exchange for the efforts both genders put into creating an attractive dating persona? In an age where personal grooming is not exclusive to any gender, should the financial responsibility mirror this societal shift?

Sara from MAFS contends it's 'embarrassing' if a man doesn't foot the bill. Photo: Instagram/@saramessy
Sara from MAFS contends it's 'embarrassing' if a man doesn't foot the bill. Photo: Instagram/@saramessy

It's a dilemma often seen by Relationship and Intimacy Coach Susie Kim, who acknowledges that men often still pay, considering it a generous gesture.

"It's generally expected and pretty uncontentious that men will pay for the first date," she told Yahoo Lifestyle. "It also comes across as generous and can be a good look when men continue to pay for dates, but it's definitely not expected by all women."

"Some of my female clients prefer to split bills," she continued, "while others like to take turns paying for dates."

Outdated norms in the spotlight

Indeed, Sara's insistence on the man picking up the tab thrusts us into a conversation about patriarchal norms and expectations that have lingered far past their expiration date.

Relationship Expert Megan Luscombe aptly labels this perspective as a "patriarchal, extremely heteronormative and outdated societal standard that needs to get in the bin."

Speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle, Luscombe further highlights an important point: the expectation that men should provide financially is rooted in antiquated relationship structures that have no place in today's diverse dating landscape.

Equal investment, equal responsibility

"Men spend as much time (some arguably even more than women) on their physique (gym memberships, meal plans, outfits, cologne, barber appointments etc) so [Sara's] comment really just demonstrates that she expects traditional (read: outdated) relationship structure (men provide)," Luscombe explains.

It's clear that dating expectations should evolve beyond traditional gender roles, and there should never be an assumption about who carries the financial burden. Luscombe suggests, "Perhaps the person who organises the date should pay?" This approach aligns with a more equitable and fair system, ensuring that financial responsibility isn't arbitrarily placed on one gender.

Kim offers another perspective, acknowledging that while some traditions persist, they don't apply universally.

"My male clients generally still like to pay for all or most of their dates, and a lot of women appreciate this as well. But it's not a hard and fast rule that men will always pay for the date, and if they do, it should generally be met with appreciation rather than entitlement. Entitlement can be a huge turn off."

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