Dear Mrs. Riches:
Can you please tell me the etiquette involved in splitting the check? I am always getting the short end of the stick when I go out with friends (both male and female) or on dates. With friends, the scenario is typically something like this: There's an awkward moment fumbling for the check, the friend and I meet eyes, he says he'll get it, I say, "No, that's OK, I'll get it," and then he says, "OK, cool."

I've also gone on a lot of dates from lately and invariably, even when a woman isn't interested in me, I seem to get stuck with the bill. When it's clear there's no chemistry on a date, I think it should be understood that people split the check equally, don't you?

Mrs. Riches, shouldn't these people work a little harder at paying their way?

-- Dutch Boy

Dear Dutch Boy:
I'm no Miss Manners, but let me try to help you out anyway: Part of the problem may be that you're assuming too much. With your friend, you think that he should recognize your protest about paying for what it really is: an attempt at politeness but not a genuine offer to foot the bill. Instead, he takes you at your word and you hand over your wallet, just like those two overly polite gophers from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. ("After you!" "Oh, no, after you!")

There's an easy solution for this: Instead of countering his offer to pay with an offer of your own, suggest that you split the bill. Or if you paid last time, call him at his own game. A simple "Hey, that's nice of you -- thanks!" when he grabs the check should put the ball (and the bill) back in his court.

With women you've met through Internet dating, it's a more complicated story. You say you think things should be understood, and yet these are virtual strangers whose backgrounds, thoughts, and opinions may be vastly different from yours. It simply isn't safe to assume much at all.

Using chemistry alone as an indicator of who should pay could get very tricky, indeed. What if she feels immense chemistry for you while you're wishing you could be home washing the dog? Likewise, your dates should not assume that because you are male, you will automatically foot the bill. Internet dating, like the cell phone, is a relatively new phenomenon and should spawn a whole new wave of etiquette.

In the meantime, I'd also take a look at your own behavior in these situations. Perhaps your dating partners are falling victim to mixed signals rather than demonstrating outright rudeness. For example, are you orchestrating the dates, choosing the restaurant, and deciding all the details? This is something that could be misconstrued as an intent to treat.

You can clear up the potential for misunderstanding by discussing up front the matter of who will pay. "Want to go Dutch for this first date and see how it goes from there?" You will establish your expectations that way, though you may turn off those who are more traditional at heart.

Until the manners powers that be give us the soup-to-nuts guide on Internet dating or you feel more comfortable setting limits, I'd suggest that you test the waters with new dates by meeting for coffee. The Starbucks plan can have you in and out for under $15 and less than 45 minutes if the chemistry fails to sizzle.

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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .