What Nobody Tells You About Dating When Broke


After years of dabbling in online dating, I've had (perhaps more than) my fair share of dates, and thus spent a lot of time pondering the age-old debate: who should pay for the first date? It's a touchy subject, and there's more than a little gray area. You can't go wrong by going Dutch — what could be more fair than each person paying their own way? And thanks to feminism, it's also chill if a lady offers to cover the bill for sushi and sake. But of course, there's the more traditional mindset that (in heterosexual relationships) it's polite for the guy to get the tab on a first date.

According to a recent survey of 500 Millennial New York City users on Dine dating app, 72 percent of women felt it's always the man's job to pick up the check on a first date, while only 52 percent of men agreed with that sentiment. Still, the majority of those surveyed concurred that, as a general rule of thumb, it's the man's responsibility to pay, which says a lot about the perseverance of (now slightly outdated) gender roles and customs.

"We are certainly living in a different age than our parents were," Michael Tudda, Dine's Marketing Director, said in a press release. "The traditional ‘social norms and expectations’ when out on a date are not really practiced by our millennial generation. But with all the controversy surrounding how men and women should work towards closing the gender neutrality gap, it was very interesting to find that the majority of both men and women still prefer the man to pay the bill when out on a first date. It says a lot about how deeply ingrained this old school dating custom is within our culture."

Lots of Millennials are ~woke~ about gender issues these days, so why do so many people still ascribe to this more traditional custom of the man paying on a first date? One theory is that it's actually not about the money — it's about what the money signifies. In a 2016 Salon article, Laurie Davis Edwards, founder of dating concierge service eFlirt, said paying the tab is a subtle way to confirm romantic intent.

"It’s meant to set the tone — that this is and was a date, not a networking opportunity or a new friendship," Davis Edwards told Salon.

But shouldn't that go both ways? It's totally plausible that a woman might make the first move and initiate a date — shouldn't it then be her responsibility to pay so the invitee is clued into her intentions? In theory, yes, but clearly that's not yet the 'norm,' because plenty of guys have picked up the check even if, technically, I asked *them* out. In any case, I'd say a good rule of thumb is that the person who suggests the place, gets the tab. That way, if your date fails to properly Yelp beforehand and is blindsided by the cost, they won't have a mini crisis when they realize every entree is $30.

As a perpetually broke New Yorker, I have to admit that I usually find myself hoping my date will offer to grab the check — and truthfully, they usually do, for which I'm grateful. Nonetheless, I've learned that if you can't at least cover your own food/drinks/movie ticket/whatever, it's probably a better idea to stay in and have (another) Netflix marathon. It's not nice to assume someone can (or will) cover for you — being an adult means learning to say no if you can't or shouldn't go out.

Yet here I sit: 23, broke, and still actively dating because hey, who doesn't like cuddling and having sex on the reg? Dating in NYC has been a bit of a struggle for someone with limited cash — here are five things I've learned about dating while broke.


It's OK To Be Honest About Your Finances

I totally understand the pressure to slide your credit card to the bartender, cool as a cucumber, and confidently ask for the check for your three vodka sodas. In reality, most 20-somethings have more than a few financial hang-ups, and it shouldn't be taboo to say something like, "Hey, let's go to this bar — it's cheap and I'm on a budget!" There shouldn't be any shame attached to being low on cash, because it's just something (almost) everyone can relate to, or goes through at some point. Don't talk a big game and rack up debt just to impress a potential date — just be honest about what you can and can't afford to do.


You Can Date On The Cheap

Fortunately for those of us who are financially challenged, there are plenty of fun, cheap date ideas to keep you occupied. I understand the pressure to cave and fall back on the old standby — grabbing drinks — but if you're tight on cash, even a couple drinks can make a sizable dent in your checking account balance. Do some brainstorming and figure out a date that's totally free, like checking out a new museum exhibit or visiting the kittens at PetSmart. Plus, getting out of your dating comfort zone might be good for you, and going on an atypical date with someone just might help the two of you form a bond right off the bat.


Being Broke Can Help You Weed People Out

Obviously, not every first date has the potential to turn into a ride-or-die life partner. But I've found that being broke (and upfront about it) can quickly help you weed people out. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why a guy might cut and run if I'm like "BTW, I'm worth negative dollars." It's probably stressful, because he might assume I expect him to always plan nice dates and also foot the bill — that's not true, but not an implausible assumption either.

The point remains: if you meet someone who's not understanding about your financial situation, it's probably a sign that they're not the right person for you, anyways. It's possible to find someone who's either in the same boat as you (and down to plan cheap dates together), or else someone who is totally cool with laying low on date night because it's less stress for you.


You Can Show You Care In Other Ways

I know how sh*tty it feels to be seeing someone who is constantly picking up the check. It doesn't matter if they can "afford" it — it's still a damn nice thing to do, and I'm appreciative. But how can you show your gratitude if you literally can't 'repay' the favor? Get creative and show you care in other (read: free) ways. If you're lucky enough to be with someone who's down to buy your movie tickets and popcorn every weekend, grab some cookie mix and bake treats to sneak into the theatre. You can plan a romantic day to pamper your partner without spending money, just to show your thanks every once in awhile.

The bottom line? Always express gratitude — for anything thoughtful, not just for money spent on you.


If You Need A Dating Break, It's OK

When you're surrounded by happy couples, it can put pressure on you to find a partner of your own. But ultimately, it's OK to be single and not dating. If you're in a tough financial spot, it might be worthwhile to use your free time to find ways to increase your cash flow — whether that's finding part-time work, looking for a better paying full-time gig, or even just drawing up a budget. Plus, having all your financial ducks in a row will make you more confident when you're ready to jump back into the dating scene.

If you're struggling to find or maintain a relationship because of money troubles, just know that you're hardly the first (or last) person to feel that stress. Sure, you may not be going on luxurious Bachelor-style dates — complete with helicopter ride and private yacht outing — but if you're willing to put in the effort, it is possible to find love on a tight budget.