Surly waitress annoyed at your battle over the checkIt's as awkward as a sudden pimple breakout or Juliette Lewis at a red carpet event -- that time during every date when the server approaches the table and drops off the bill. You both think, Who pays?

You each either: A) stare at it, silently willing the other person to pick it up; B) pretend nothing has happened and continue blithely chattering, prolonging the inevitable negotiation of payment; or C) excuse yourself to the bathroom, never to return.

So what is the proper way to negotiate paying the tab for the evening? What are the rules for who pays? In 2010, is it still fair to expect a guy to pay every time?

Navigating the waters of high -- or low -- finance can be embarrassing, irritating or just plain confusing. When your grandma was on the stroll, there was no question about who paid on a date -- the guy. He was expected to pick up the tab all the time, every time, to show his ability to provide for a family. But these days you're pulling down your own cash and are more than capable of paying for yourself on a date, or picking up the tab for both of you. So what do you do when that leatherette portfolio hits the table?

Etiquette expert Amy Alkon, author of "I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society" advises that you keep things simple on a first date. "Guys should not take a woman they don't know on an expensive first date," she says. "It's like a stranger buying your groceries. It's nice to get to know someone over drinks first. Think cheap, short and local." If he asked you out, expect him to spring for the wine or coffee you're meeting over on your first outing together.

Should things go well and a second date is happening, the expectations change somewhat. "If a woman's fair, she's going to pick up the tab on the second date," says Alkon. "There should be mutuality in every aspect [of a relationship], including spending. You don't want to feel that you're someone's funding arm. When I had a poor boyfriend, we alternated paying, but I worked it so I would pay when we went to more expensive places. I didn't want to cause him financial hardship."

On the other side of things, Alkon says, if your date does have money, "Don't be greedy. Don't be a gold digger. You need to be with him for his company, not for his company card."

Bottom line: Neither of you should be going broke for the sake of a relationship. Treat your honey in the spirit of equality and respect, and he'll do the same for you. If not, it might be time to find a new dude.

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