Valentine's Day is Friday, and restaurants and florists are ready to hike up prices. But even on a regular day, dating isn't necessarily cheap, and this particular generation has to deal with some extraordinary financial circumstances. Lower salaries and decreased financial security has forced some to tighten their belts in every aspect of life, including love
A recent study by Match.com showed that American singles spend about $60 a month on dating. If you live in a big city, you may laugh at that modest sum. Our friends over at Brokelyn (a site for bright, broke young things) did the math and even on a budget, the average New Yorker would blow most of that allowance in a single night.
Let's not forget that to most couples Valentine's day is not just any night. Men and women expect to be surprised by their significant other and their expectations come with a hefty price tag. According to the Chase Blueprint Valentine's Day survey, men expect $230 worth of Valentine's day presents. For women, the amount was slightly lower at $196. Everyone is bound to be disappointed, as on average women only plan to spend $71 and men $98 on their Valentine's day date.
We asked our readers and followers on social media to tell us whether money influenced their outlook on dating. While a few traditionalists still prefer dinner and a movie, for others figuring out how to pay for a date (sometimes on a salary of $25,000 a year or less) was a frequent source of anxiety.
There were some other interesting findings. While most men believed they have to pick up the check, our female responders were more open to splitting the bill, or paying, if they initiated the date. Many millennials told us that they often worried about being able to pay for dates, while others were still trying to figure out whether they'd been on a date in the first place. Many had learned to improvise – one couple bonded over a shared love of long walks.
Below, we've included the best of their responses. Don't worry, it's not that bleak.How do you know you're on a date?
Usually, you have to say so.
Craig, 35, New York: I define the outing before it happens. I clearly say, “This is a date!” It's important to be on the same page before the waiter brings the menus.
Jared, 26, Brooklyn: My rule of thumb is this: if it's coffee or lunch, it's professional. If it's dinner or drinks, it's probably a date. These are a ton of other factors, of course, but if it's someone I don't really know, that's the yardstick I use. If there's ever ambiguity, I'll normally just ask. Normally, I know I'm on a date because someone has explicitly ended their invitation for drinks with “You know, like a date”, or if I invite someone to get drinks, I'll specify that it's a date. Since when did that get so difficult?Are you ever confused about whether or not you're on a date?
Find out by examining who leaps for the check.
Dakota, 18, North Carolina: Yes. Dates are so informal now, and hanging out with a significant other/romantic interest is hard to call a “date” unless we've specifically said so.
David, 29, Brooklyn: To tell if you're on a date, first you have to define what a date is. A date is when both parties are at least open to the possibility of making out, either later that night or at some other point in the foreseeable future. It sounds simple, but the date is an elusive beast that can materialize or disappear at any point during the night, depending on attraction, chemistry, who you voted for in the last election, and the extent to which your standards have been lowered by alcohol.
Because we're talking money, one major red flag I've seen is that if a woman tries to split the check exactly in half at the end of the night, then what you just went on was not a date. If she offers to grab the tip, or even if she offers to cover the whole tab, that's fine. But if she insists on going Dutch then you better just accept that this person thinks you're garbage and you're never going to see her again.Is dating too expensive?
Everything is. Be kind and keep it inexpensive, especially at first.
Greg, 29, Connecticut: If the economy wasn't so rough I wouldn't mind, but that's not the case. Going out on a couple dates a week can suck up a lot of money.
Danielle, 26, Ireland: It's not so much that “dating” specifically is too expensive, but just life in general is too expensive as a struggling millennial. A bunch of random dates that probably will never go anywhere, and some which you won't even enjoy, just seems like such a waste of money. Is that too cynical? I don't know ... I'd just rather spend my money on the things I know I need and the people I know I already enjoy spending time with.
Chase, 24, Utah: Since I'm a student, something pricier like dinner or a show is only a once-per-paycheck (maybe) kind of activity. As a man, I feel this more because the local culture here still isn't very open to women asking men out. Often the question comes down to whether going out once will be more worthwhile than putting a couple of gallons in the gas tank.
Emma, 22, Washington DC: Yes! It's almost impossible to do dinner and something for less than $50. I'm dating someone who makes more money than I do, and trying to maintain anything close to a 50/50 split means spending more than I want or being the less fun one who doesn't want to do stuff.
Stephanie, 24, Atlanta: No, I do not think dating has to be or is too expensive. I would be happy with a date as long as it was a time the guy and I set aside to spend time with just each other in any setting. If a guy asked me to go to the park and play frisbee and packed us lunches that would a great inexpensive date. I don't have any expectation that we go to an upscale dinner or that he take me to go see a musical or something. I also think it is my responsibility to offer to split the price of the date and or plan and pay for the next day if there is one.The costs can even start to accumulate before the date.
Getting ready to go out is expensive enough.
Sandy, 25, Boston: I find dating expensive because it requires a trip to the salon which can be from $40-$120. Even for a one-night stand I like to get a Brazilian. When I was younger, I was cheaper, but now I want romance and to be wined and dined. Now, it's an investment and the clothing, taxis, drinks, salon, etc, are adding up. Guys forget how expensive salons are and not all of us have good hair.
Rebecca, 30, North England: If you are a gal, either a new outfit, makeup, hair cut or underwear! If I got asked out on a date I'd have to factor all that stuff in and it can get really expensive.Who do you think should pay for a date?
Millennials should all understand that money's tight. If they don't? All the more reason to find someone else.
Jared, 26, Brooklyn:The guy, always, unless there's serious insistence from his date.
Dan, 28, San Diego:If a guy asks a girl out, he should definitely pick up the tab for the first date. He should do that for the next couple dates as well. After that splitting might be appropriate depending on the circumstances.
Stephanie, 24, Atlanta:50/50.
Ana, 25, Glasgow: Whoever insists.
David, 29, Brooklyn: This is tricky because different women have different expectations about who pays. That said, I always offer to cover the whole bill. It's not about trying to impress a woman. A lot of women don't care about money anyway. They do care, however, that a man is generous. Oh, and you should always leave a healthy tip, but especially when out on a date.Do you ever worry about not being able to pay for a date?
This is a persistent fear, and it affects everything from scheduling to attitude.
Jesse, 28, Los Angeles:If you're worried about being able to actually pay for the date then you're probably going somewhere too expensive.
David, 27, New York: As has happened to me a few times in life, when I'm single and can't afford to go on a date (assuming a minimum of around $20), then I'm focusing on making enough money to get up to that point. It might sound shallow, but if I'm low on cash I'm not at my most confident, and having something in wallet vastly improves my dating ability, even if we're doing something that's free.
Craig, 35, New York: I don't worry about being able to pay for dates. If my date picks something out of my range, I will, in an open and honest manner, say that it's a bit pricey, and ask if may we pick an alternative. If you can't be honest at the beginning of the relationship, it doesn't bode well for the future. And if your date can't handle the honesty, maybe it's a sign that you're not dating the right person.
Alex, 23, Boston: I definitely worry about being able to pay for a date. I'm not paying rent at the moment because I'm living in my parent's basement, with the vestiges (and probably canned goods) of the days when my grandparents lived here. So it's less a stress than it could be.
I will say, I went on two first dates with two new people earlier this fall and somehow got completely screwed with the bill: both a-holes came, or claimed to have come, woefully unprepared with “no cash” and also no willingness to pay the bill and have me give them cash (in instances where the bill was too small to split, per the venue's card minimum). With that bad taste in my mouth, it was wildly appreciated and attractive that my current significant other paid the quite large first-date-bill ($75+) completely and without question, while I was in the bathroom. Money talks – not as rationale to date a sugar-daddy, but as courtesy. I would have gladly paid my share, but he ate more – and perhaps also wanted to send me a message.What do you do for an inexpensive date?
As they say on The West Wing, walk and talk, walk and talk.
Olympia, 20, Washington: I usually go to the movies, go to dinner, or go to a place to paint pottery. Dinner or lunch is the majority of dating I do with my boyfriend, because most other things are way too expensive!
Jesse, 28, Los Angeles: My favorite thing to do would be to take someone to dinner somewhere they haven't been, somewhere great, somewhere that doesn't have to be expensive. I use Yelp a lot for choosing places. I think that's pretty common nowadays.
Alex, 23, Boston: My favorite cheap date is walking. My current significant other and I walk for hours during the day. We often wake up, work out and eat separately, shower, and then ponder “What do we want to do today?” To us, this means “Where do you want to walk?” We've traversed much of our city and see plenty along the way. No pressure to purchase, and constant and renewing sources of entertainment along the way.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk