Splitting the Check: An American Horror Story

Between the math and facing a horde of zombies, we'd take the undead any day.

GIF ¦ Kill Me Now Dinner Table
(Image credit: Getty ¦ design by Betsy Farrell)

The dinner table is the theater of Millennial-ness, where drunken generosity and sheepish frugality and general avoidance occur in one excruciating act, set to a Chainsmokers remix of Kristen Wiig saying "Help me, I'm poor" from Bridesmaids. This is where you experience what it's like eating with people who are separately too broke for any one individual to reach for the check, but together, still too broke to not quibble over the matter of $3.57 because someone only ordered the hamachi appetizer.

But these are your friends, so you can't say to the one who does something with mergers and acquisitions without actually merging or acquiring anything to just pick up the bill and we'll Venmo you, okay? Nor could your group take turns paying. Because that would be too easy.

This is what it's like eating with people who are separately too broke for any one individual to reach for the check, but together, still too broke to not quibble over $3.57.

So that's how you ended up here: twiddling your thumbs while one martyr who got a 5 in AP Calculus huddles in the corner, painstakingly doing grad-level maths down to the milli-cent and writing the last four digits of 57 different cards on the receipt with the amounts owed as the waiter comes around every four seconds to "offer more water." Actually, you ended up here, in the eighth circle of hell—or should it be the seventh, because there will definitely be some violence if this doesn't end soon—because you are young. (And because Claire's been doing this thing where she's upping her protein intake fourfold for more energy, which is why she only got the raw fish. Claire thinks you should try it.)

At last, Rain Main over there (note to self: Look up "how to canonize someone") has finished dividing by pi and rounding to the next highest imaginary number and presents the total. Someone wants to put in cash now. Someone else needs to be spotted but covered a third person that one time at that place with that Marilyn Monroe quote spelled out in neon so they're actually even. The waiter doesn't bother with the pitcher anymore. He just hovers.

GIF ¦ Calculator I'm Poor

(Image credit: Design by Betsy Farrell)

Finally, FINALLY, there are no more protests or negotiations or eleventh-hour friend requests. The waiter whisks the fold-y leather thingy away with an expression of extreme suffering. (Can we canonize him too?) Money is exchanged digitally, with several players thinking they're clever for putting "🍷🍝 🎉" in the message field, even though literally everyone else here has typed the same thing.

Saint Food Service returns and just nods when you thank him. How much do you tip? (Move the decimal point one place, double it, remember when you did arithmetic regularly enough to not have difficulty carrying the one?) You look around. Twenty percent of the table is counting on their fingers. A smaller contingent has tacked on $5 and hoped for the best.

"Man, I can't wait to make enough money that isn't a problem anymore," you think as that one straggler panics and just throws down fistfuls of change when he sees everyone else putting on their coats. "Or I could just get different friends." But nah. Because for all their financial difficulties and annoying lack of funds—even though the exact same could be said about you—there's no one else you'd want to be severely underpaid and severely overworked with.

Then someone suggests going around the corner for a nightcap. First round's on me—as long as we're going to one of those dive bars that does $3 well drinks.

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Chelsea Peng
Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at MarieClaire.com. She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.