Can I Afford to Date?
As my grandmother took her seat at the table to meet my mother and I for breakfast, she asked me, “So do you have a girlfriend?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Good,” she said with a nod of approval. “They’re too expensive.”
(Ladies and gentlemen, my grandmother, hater of the year for as long as I can remember.)
The exchange above wasn’t recent. It was actually a few years ago, at a time when I was actively dating. I laughed at her remark, but it always stuck with me in the sense that she was right. Girlfriends are expensive, and though some may read her comment as heartless, I prefer to look at it as a heartfelt, but conservative message. I doubt she would tell my sister boyfriends are expensive because my grandmother is a woman of tradition who believes it’s a man’s responsibility to support his woman (even though she owned a restaurant for years to much success entirely on her own). And she knew I wasn’t in a position to be able to do that.
I have thought about my grandmother’s comment a lot these days. Single and in pursuit of control over my finances, one expense I’m looking at and thinking about constantly is the dating expense. The evaluation is also compounded with a conversation I had with my ex as she was breaking up with me.
She said, “I don’t think you should date anybody, at all, until you get your money under control.”
Foolishly I asked her if she was going to date other people. She didn’t hesitate, “If someone asks me out on a date, I’m not going to say no.”
Who can blame her? Any of us lucky enough to get an invitation to accompany someone on a night out would say yes, unless they had better things to do.At least, most women would, and I think we can all agree, for men like myself, dating is a little different.
I still don’t know the rules of who pays for what and when and how, but anytime I’ve been asked out by a woman, I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not it’s her treat, or our treat. This internal dialogue I do with myself – do I pay, do I not pay – has always been directly tied to my financial state. If I have the money, the question isn’t whether or not I should pay, it’s simply, how much. If I know I have it, I’m much more inclined to pick up the tab, because at my core, I’m a gentleman.
One time, I just got paid before I took a woman out. We had dinner plans, but no plans as to where to have dinner. She offered a restaurant close by her job. From the moment I walked in and they offered to take our coats while asking us if we had a reservation, I knew what type of place we were in and I knew I was about to drop at least a Franklin. As it turns out, I was wrong. I dropped a Franklin AND a Jackson.But I just got paid, I had the money and therefore I had no problem with the total. Besides, the meal was excellent, as were the drinks.
I wouldn’t think to do such a thing these days. Not only is it silly, it’s simply not affordable. I love to go out to eat, because I love food. I enjoy fine dining experiences the way some people enjoy the theatre, and it’s always been a luxury to which I’ve treated myself when I felt it was deserved. But that is probably one of the reasons I’m in the state that I’m in today, because when I’ve worked hard, and gotten paid for it, I have been too quick to spoil myself.
Dating creatively has never been my problem. Not only am I into finding interesting, off-beat ways to spend time with a woman I like, I also have the privilege of being invited to events and experiences in which I could take a guest, and that’s always been something I work to my advantage. Nothing says date night like an invitation to an open bar event replete with a live performance by a top-shelf artist. A movie date is perfectly acceptable when you’ve been invited to an advanced screening as opposed to going on opening night and spending close to $30 for two tickets. I’m an excellent cook who subscribes to Bon Appetit for a reason.
But events like these don’t drop into my inbox all the time. And though every woman appreciates the gesture of a home cooked meal, most times that’s seen as an indirect solicitation for a sleepover.
When I think about dating these days, the romantic thoughts have been replaced with financial ones, which, if I’m being honest, sucks.
It’s not that I like to date just to date. I meet a girl, I’m interested in her, I’d like to date her. That’s the way it works. If I like her on the first date, I’d like to go out on a second date and a third date, etc. If I really like her and I’m lucky enough that she really likes me, and we really like sex, then we’re talking about other expenses like condoms (assuming we don’t have any, but I actually like to start with a fresh box when I’m sleeping with someone new. Weird rule, I know). If it turns out we really like having sex with each other, we’re blowing through that first box of condoms in a single weekend.
Do we see how this all adds up? If I want to spend time with someone I am genuinely interested in, I have to assess the costs at every level, because lately I’ve felt bad for buying a single taco off a truck (we all have our weaknesses) for myself. There are a bunch of things I can take off the dating table from jump (i.e. dinners at places where they ask if you have a reservation and take your coats at the door), but then what’s left? Do I wait for the next free event to come my way before I ask out the woman with whom I had an instant connection? What if that free event doesn’t come for a week or so? My lack of action can be misread as a lack of interest.
The sad thing is, perhaps the only way to date affordably is to make a woman your girlfriend, but as my grandmother suggested, even that’s going to cost me. The adage, “it’s cheaper to keep her” is only a half-truth. It’s not cheap, it’s simply less expensive and less a waste of money, but it still costs.
Maybe I’ll limit myself to only going out on dates if a woman asks me out. Maybe I’ll take a gamble and attempt what I call the 3-for-$30 dating rule I made up. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s pretty simple: The first three dates cannot total more than $30 combined. It’s difficult, but not impossible.
Or maybe, I should listen to my ex and my grandmother and not date at all, because if I’m being really honest, I can’t afford it.
The lesson comes at 2:42