I am a cheap date. Not in a promiscuous, knickerless way. On my first post-breakup date last week I somehow managed to wind up buying the friendly bloke I met three drinks all at once. I mean, that was arguably a fluke of bad economics (and perhaps because I was so nervous I decided to drink half a bottle of wine beforehand), but in general the dates I seem to go on rarely consist of more than a couple of pints in a local pub, or a burger at a chain restaurant. That’s why the finding that couples in the UK spend on average £129 between them on a date is baffling to me.
I can already hear the baying of the gym-dwelling, City-boy high-fliers: “But men are expected to pay for everything on dates, how would you, a girl, know how much dates really cost?!” Well yes, it’s true that some women do expect men to pay, but many don’t. We all watch First Dates, it’s fashionable to go halves. I would never presume that anyone will foot my bill, and perhaps that’s why I’ve rarely been on a date where we’ve collectively spent over £60.
The figures, however, are a little deceptive. The £129 doesn’t just represent the money spent on entertainment and food and drink: it also covers transport, clothes and cosmetics. And when I think about it in depth, the way women are socialised into preparing for dates is not only wildly unfair, but the costs start stacking up. There was the time I paid about £70 for a last-minute bikini wax (yeah, optimism); a hastily bought lipstick (which I smeared on my face in one of those horrible overly shiny makeup counter mirrors); and a new dress (because I’d ripped a hole in my go-to).
It would be easy to argue that women aren’t forced into spending money on these pre-date rituals; that they are unnecessary frivolities and ultimately won’t make a difference as to whether someone likes you. To an extent that’s true. But being bombarded by rigid, Eurocentric beauty ideals through advertising and the media means that it’s really hard to ignore the pressure to make oneself palatable for society’s gaze – and that, despite the apparently new phenomenon of “manscaping”, women still spend more on beauty than our male counterparts – there are even pricing disparities across gender-targeted products, such as razors and moisturisers. So let me offer a few wise words to the couples who spend £129 on a date. As part of a generation unlikely to ever make enough money to own a home, I am an expert in unabashed stinginess.
The easiest way to reduce your dating costs is to treat the process strategically. Not as fun, I know, but certainly more effective if you’re actually on the hunt. Start with dating apps such as Tinder: spend half an hour or so on the evil, addictive little app in the evening – do some swiping, reply to a couple of messages, delete matches who are racist and/or sexist, and screenshot your mates the message from Silviu who says: “Would you like to have sex with me? I’m not a creep or a pervert … I can even make you squirt if the connection is right haha.” Boke. Treat your time like the valuable commodity it is.
Second, don’t ever feel it’s too awkward to leave a bad date. If you don’t like ’em, don’t drag it out. And don’t ever make a “dinner date” the first you go on. Why sit through a full meal with someone who isn’t interested in the same things you are and chews too loudly – and pay out cash for the pleasure?
My last piece of advice: be like the Europeans. The research, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, found that in France and Germany the average date costs just £46, in Italy £47 and in Sweden £41. The reason is probably that our European counterparts have less of a need to get trashed to feel comfortable with each other on dates. The British stiff upper lip is real – and it’s costing us.