I was in my early 20s, living in New York City and barely scraping by. Even though I was making ends meet by some combination of waiting tables/temping/focus groups, I still always had enough money to pay my rent and indulge in highly caloric, fruity martinis. Before I was on my own, my father instilled in me the importance of monitoring my money so I never overdrafted my measly bank account or bounced one of those fairy checks I was so excited to order.
Money has always been a private thing for me. I never talked about what little I had, and never showed off when I had a little more than enough to cover my bills. In my early 20s, a lot of my artist friends from college realized they didn’t want to struggle and took “real” jobs right away. I always felt self-conscious on my nights out with them, as they ordered both an appetizer AND an entrée.
One night, I went out bowling with my college-artist-turned-business-casual friends. Everyone there was just getting off work, wearing dress shirts with bowling shoes. I had a great time in my orange mini-skirt and tank top, and innocently flirted with one friend of a friend named Erik. Erik wore a full suit with his bowling shoes, so I assumed he made big money, and never had to order just a side of fries as a meal, like I had that night.
So when Erik asked my for my number, even after I scored an unimpressive 72 at bowling, I was sure he’d never call.
But he did, and I said yes. On the night of the date I started to get a little nervous. Aside from a little flirting, and his traditional good looks, I didn’t feel much of a draw to him. He was a real grown-up, and I worried we’d have nothing to talk about. When he took me to an organic restaurant, I was immediately turned off. I had just quit being a strict vegetarian after 11 years and was suddenly angry at all things healthy. I wanted to eat meatballs slathered in cheese and fried chicken with my bare hands. And I wanted a guy’s guy to do that with, not a slight man in a suit. As Erik ordered a seaweed salad as an appetizer, I fantasized about dating a gruff guy who fixed tires for fun and ate steaks for breakfast.
By the time the check came, I was on the fence about whether or not I would go out again with Erik. We had virtually no connection, nothing in common … but he was cute. When the check came, I offered to split it. Maybe I didn’t have to do that, but I once had a guy follow me out the door of a pub and try and forcefully get into my cab to go home with me because he assumed I “owed him” after he paid for my drink. After that happened, even though I was broke, I always offered to pay for myself. Despite the suit, and the serious business job I imagined Erik having, he agreed to split the bill. I paid in cash and he paid with his debit card. We sat there in silence waiting for the waiter to come back with the slip for Erik to sign. Finally he spoke.
“Was your food good?” he asked.
“Yes, fine, thank you,” I said, as I folded and unfolded my napkin.
“There you are,” said the waiter, as he returned the check. Erik and I both took a collective sigh of relief that the awkward conversation had been interrupted.
Erik signed the bill, and I gathered my things to leave. Then, right before he got up, he took out his checkbook, and balanced it right there at the table. I stood mouth agape as he filled out the date, description of transaction “Dinner Date With Margot,” and his payment amount. I watched him concentrate while calculating his balance in his head, and then as he wrote it down neatly in the in the “balance” section. I didn’t look at what the balance was … I didn’t care. Even if the balance was $1 million in comparison to my $567, I was most certainly never, ever, going out with him again.