New shoes that make my legs look longer (£40). A blow-dry that takes the frizz out of my curls (£25). That crop top I saw on Instagram with the sexy shoulder strap (£30).
If this list sounds extravagant, that’s because it is. But these are just some of the expenses I would normally incur in the run-up to a date. Or, at least, expenses I used to incur when I had the money to spend on such superfluities.
Today, everything is different. The cost-of-living crisis has meant that my weekly food shop has gone up from £30 to £40, my rent has increased by £100 a month — and is likely to go up further next year. I’ve started going to my gym purely to use the shower. And my mother is starting to clock on to my strategy of frequently visiting her after work…just in time for dinner.
When people are choosing between eating and heating, it might sound myopic to consider the impact of the current crisis on our love lives. But what couples and families may not realise is that these dire financial straits will inevitably hit single people harder than them.
Olivia Petter says: ‘When people are choosing between eating and heating, it might sound myopic to consider the impact of the current crisis on our love lives’
We already know that being alone is more expensive, with the average singleton forking out £7,564.50 a year more than their cohabiting counterparts simply to exist — that’s what happens when there’s no one with whom to share the household expenses. But it’s not just rent and bills. Once you’ve factored in other lifestyle expenses — holidays, pets, travel — that disparity grows further. And it’s only going to get worse.
Come winter, couples can keep warm by snuggling up together underneath the duvet. Meanwhile, us singles will be metaphorically and literally left out in the cold, shivering underneath five layers of jumpers because we can’t afford to pay the electricity bill.
So there has never been a more cost-efficient time to couple up. And yet, the economic crisis is making that harder, too. Dating is already an expensive game, particularly if you live in London.
I know it might sound indulgent, but if I really like someone, I pull out all the stops before I go on a date with them. So, yes, previously that would have meant splashing out on a blow-dry and maybe a new top. And goodness knows how much on lipstick, a face mask and matching underwear (just in case).
Dating is already an expensive game, particularly if you live in London
Call it high-maintenance, but the point of all this pomp and pageantry is that it makes me feel more confident. Without it, my self-esteem takes a dive, particularly if the date is with someone I’ve met on an app but never met in person. It’s only natural that I’d want to look my best.
It’s no secret women often spend more than men on pre-date rituals such as mine. One U.S. study found that the average woman will splurge roughly £193,000 on maintaining her appearance in her lifetime, compared with £151,000 for men.
FIND LOVE WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
Paul C. Brunson, Married at First Sight UK’s relationship expert, tells you how to find love without breaking the bank
Paul C. Brunson, Married at First Sight UK’s relationship expert, tells you how…
TIME IS MONEY
People can spend an enormous amount of time on dating apps. Time is money, so set restrictions. It might be, ‘I’m only going to go on the app for 30 minutes on a Thursday evening’ or ‘I’m only going to look at ten profiles’.
If you match with someone you like, it is always better to organise meeting up on the app. Studies show that if you exchange numbers to sort a date, you are 30 per cent less likely to go on one.
TRY MEETING THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY
Dating app subscriptions can be expensive and, though it may seem rare these days, you really can meet someone in person. In fact, the best success rate in relationships is when people meet at work. The second is being introduced by friends and family. You can also just say hello to a stranger. Be brave and tell them the reason you were drawn to talk to them — it might be their eyes or their cool jacket.
NO SUCH THING AS A ‘FIRST DATE’
The ‘first date’ shouldn’t be a date at all, it should be a ‘meet up’. Do this over coffee. This is not only cheaper but cuts down on the preparatory costs, too: as it’s casual, you don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of money on new clothes or getting your nails done.
Set a half-hour time limit between you beforehand — this gives you an out if you’re not interested. But if you both decide to break that rule, you know you like each other.
DITCH THE PRICEY DINNERS OUT
The worst type of date is drinks followed by a three-course dinner. Everything and everyone seems better after a drink so your beer goggles are firmly on. These meals become about flirty conversation and often serve no real purpose in identifying who this person is. The more elaborate the first date, the more akin it is to love bombing — a tactic often associated with narcissists.
DATING IS A WALK IN THE PARK
After your initial ‘meet up’, the most effective ‘official’ first date is a walk. It gives you a sense of someone’s intentions: if they say no to a walk, they’re probably not interested in a serious relationship and just want a one-night stand. Walking for half an hour also produces endorphins, making you feel euphoric. This pushes you out of your shell and reveals the true you.
- Married at First Sight UK is at 9pm, Monday to Thursdays, on E4.
And more when the ‘pink tax’, where identical products are priced higher for women, comes into play. Whether it’s a razor to shave your legs or a hairbrush, the likelihood is that if I’m buying products marketed towards women, I’m already spending more than him before I’ve even walked out of my door.
Then there is the actual date itself. While previously I wouldn’t have thought twice about meeting someone for fancy £15-a-pop cocktails at a central London bar, now I suggest low-key pubs with £3.50 pints, or pandemic-style walking dates in parks fuelled by gin in a tin.
Sometimes not trying too hard can be more romantic. But often the stress of cost-saving makes it less so. I recently lied to a date about being allergic to dairy so we didn’t have to spend £4 on a tub of tzatziki. He was understandably rather confused when, somewhat tipsy, I later spent 30p on a Freddo chocolate bar.
And don’t forget the cost of travel. Again, this is likely to have a greater impact on women who, late at night, feel safer getting a taxi home rather than taking public transport. I certainly do — hence my high Uber bill when I’m dating someone.
There’s another change, too — I’ve started inviting people round to my house for dates far sooner than I would have before. After all, a bowl of pasta in my kitchen costs far less than a London restaurant supper.
Unfortunately, it can often lead to things becoming more intense than they would in a restaurant: just because my bed is nearby does not mean I’m ready to jump into it with someone — but it does mean they think I am. It’s led to some awkward moments and I’m aware that it’s not the safest way to date.
If I do head out, there’s the matter of who pays.
Previously, I’d always insist on splitting the bill, even if the person I’m dating offers to pick up the tab. It sets the tone in terms of power dynamics and I’d hate to feel indebted to anyone in the early stage of dating.
Now, though, I’ve ripped up my rulebook; if I’m going out with someone who I know earns more than me — and they insist on going somewhere out of my price range — I let them foot the bill. I’m not exactly thrilled about this, but suddenly, it seems that I can’t afford principles.
That said, I would find it difficult to date a man who insisted on paying for me because the patriarchy said so. Or one who argued with me about feminism when I offered to split the bill — this has happened before and, believe me, there’s nothing less attractive than a pompous misogynist. I’ll take a free drink here and there, but I have to draw the line somewhere.
And that’s the thing. When you go out with someone you’ve exchanged a few messages with on an app, you have no idea what you’re getting. I’ve been on enough terrible dates by now to know that there’s a high chance my evening is going to end with a crushing sense of disappointment along with the credit card bill for that new top.
So, with a limited amount of disposable income to play with, I’ve found myself prioritising other things above my exceedingly expensive dating life. Dinners with old school friends. Brunch hangouts with former colleagues. Buying presents for people’s birthdays.
These occasions are almost always a worthwhile investment. Going on a date with a stranger I’ve just matched with on Hinge fares less well when subjected to a comparative cost/benefit analysis.
Take the time I once spent £30 on three glasses of wine on a date with a man I’d been speaking to on an app for several weeks. Add in taxi fares and the evening cost upwards of £50. And for what? A few hours of measly small talk with a stranger who was far less charming in person than he was over text?
It doesn’t help that dating apps themselves seem to be upping their costs. Ostensibly, all of the mainstream services — Tinder, Hinge, Bumble and co — are free. But now, almost all of them offer premium memberships to make it easier for users to find love.
On Bumble, for example, a ‘boost’ membership (£20.99/month) gives you the chance to rematch with expired connections and extend matches by 24 hours. Tinder’s Plus service (from £4.99/month) offers unlimited likes and gives you one boost each day, putting your profile at the top of the pile for other users.
My current app of choice is Hinge, where I’m often cheerily informed that I have ‘no likes yet!’ but am encouraged to ‘try boosting your profile’, which means spending £6.99 to get my profile seen by more users. Or I could spend £17.99 to ‘superboost’ my profile for 24 hours.
Once I would never have even considered spending money on a dating app, but now it feels like the only way to meet people on them.
My fellow singletons are struggling with the cost of loving, too. August, 33, a blogger and life coach from Birmingham, has been single for one year and, after failing to find love on the apps using their free services, started looking into some of their premium offerings.
Olivia writes: ‘So, I’ve decided to take a dating sabbatical. Not only do I not have the money, I simply don’t have the time or energy…’
‘It was so much more expensive than I thought,’ he says. ‘I realised that meeting anyone was out of my budget. Even just paying for transport and going for a drink at a pub would be out of reach right now. My priority is saving money and increasing my food budget to cope with rising costs. I suspect I won’t start dating again until the spring of next year, when energy prices have hopefully been lowered.’
Another friend in her early 30s recently gave up her monthly membership to Raya (an invitation-only app popular with celebrities) when it increased its subscription prices from £9.99 to £16.99 a month.
‘I found that there was less active interaction between myself and other users compared with other apps, which was frustrating when I was paying for it,’ she says. ‘When things are becoming more expensive, the stakes of dating are raised as you’re risking greater premium by agreeing to take the leap and spend your cash on meeting a stranger.’
And, of course, even if you do go on a date with someone you like, they may not feel the same. Cue another financial risk.
One 29-year-old friend of mine recently lamented how she had spent £40 on outdoor cinema tickets for a second date with a guy she had met on Bumble.
He didn’t show up — and, unable to sell the ticket to anyone around her given that they already had their own tickets, the friend wound up watching the film alone (and a little drunk).
As if modern dating wasn’t complicated enough, the cost-of-living crisis has sucked all the fun out of it; an experience that should be characterised by free-spiritedness has become just another insipid exercise in cost-saving.
So, I’ve decided to take a dating sabbatical. Not only do I not have the money, I simply don’t have the time or energy. The only thing I’m taking to bed this winter is my hot water bottle.
MEN ARE FEELING THE PINCH, TOO
By Max Wooldridge
Modern dating often feels like root canal surgery for the soul as you weave through the mixed messages and brutal rebuffs. And now, thanks to the cost-of-living crisis, the whole thing has become even more painful. Suddenly, there are other more pressing considerations than: ‘Will I find my soulmate?’ Namely: ‘Can I afford to keep looking for her?’
The truth is dating is expensive. First, there are the site subscriptions. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for and the best ones cost around £30 a month. Then there’s clothes, travel, meals, drinks, even coffees out. It all adds up. And being 55, I’m old school and like to pay on a first date.
Strangely enough, it took a super-cool (aka surly) waiter for a sea change in my approach to dating. It was during a first date in a bar near London’s St Pancras a few months ago, as the economic crisis was taking its first bite.
The barman had never heard of a lager shandy, or more likely, he deemed himself too cool to make one for my date. After we informed him of the ingredients he delivered a can of lager and a bottle of lemonade to the table. The bill came to £25 for two drinks, which I paid, wincing. Surely, I thought, there must be other — cheaper — and more pleasant ways to meet?
With funds more scarce, maybe it’s time to become a little more inventive in our approach to dating. Perhaps we should put extravagance on hold and ditch the smart clothes and fancy restaurants.
If you are curious about someone you’ve still got to meet them. But an hour over a takeaway latte, as you stroll around a park, is ample time to see if there’s a connection.
The champagne is on ice, too. Now I’m more likely to suggest an ice cream parlour or a free museum. Or even better, to compare favourite views of London — be it from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park, Primrose Hill or Nunhead Cemetery.
Suddenly root canal surgery can feel more like a routine check-up — and a whole lot less expensive.