Credit: Mei Yao

Love & money: is dating dead?

How does money (or a lack of it) influence relationship decisions? True love might be priceless, but the process of finding it isn’t.

The price of the average two-year Canadian courtship, from first date to wedding day, cost over $60,000 in 2016, according to this annual Cost of Love analysis. That includes major expenses like an engagement ring, honeymoon, and the wedding itself. But even for those who are just testing the waters with potential paramours, the costs of dating can quickly add up.

Between access to online dating sites and marrying later in life compared with previous generations, young people have the option to date more people and for longer than any before them. So it’s no wonder that just one year of dating can cost more than $10,000, with the average price of a night out ranging from $20 for a casual dinner to nearly $300 for events like concerts or shows. South of the border, another survey found that average American adult spends over $20,000 — and five-and-a-half years of their life — on dating before getting married.

Finding The One in Vancouver

Now add to that the cost of living in one of the continent’s most expensive cities — Vancouver — and young adults here are forced to navigate some tricky financial territory along the already arduous path to finding a partner.

“Even a bad date might be two or three drinks, and it adds up,” says Stephanie, a 30-year-old media professional who didn’t want her last name published. While it’s commonly accepted most young people in Vancouver aren’t exactly flush with cash to drop on an expensive first date, there’s a certain art to putting your best foot forward while keeping costs in check.

How people financially (and emotionally) survive dating

A crucial survival skill for most singles in Vancouver is to come up with creative ways to limit their investment — personal, financial and emotional — on a first date, says Stephanie, but some strategies are better kept secret from the person sitting across from you at dinner. “I once booked two dates back-to-back down the street from each other at two different places because I didn’t want to waste the makeup or the outfit and the time and energy,” she admits. “My friends made fun of me, but I thought it was kind of hilarious.”

Few singles expect a lavish output on a first meeting, adds Sylvia, a 33-year-old law student. Especially when taking an online meeting into the real-life arena for the first time. “When it comes to dating apps the first date has to be a quasi-date. It shouldn’t be anything you’re too invested in because there’s a huge chance you’re not going to get along with the person,” she says. “Even a meal is too much of a commitment, in my opinion.”

The quasi-date

But even on a “quasi-date” things can quickly go sideways if the two parties have differing views on where the line is between keeping things casual and just being plain cheap. One example of this occurred between Sylvia and a guy she met on a dating app. In keeping with her protocol, they agreed to meet in the park for a casual drink. “He brought the beer and that in itself was cool,” she recalls, “but I remember bringing my growler with me in case it did go well and we wanted more beer and I could pitch in on my half.”

It did not, however, go well. The first sign of trouble came when Sylvia’s date revealed his chosen libation as “the kind of cheap American beer you pass over at the gas station.” After Sylvia’s date rejected her suggestion to split something more to her taste from a nearby craft brewery things quickly went downhill. The clincher came at the end of the night when the man offered to sell Sylvia one of his offending beverages in exchange for bus fare home. “When he did that I was like: you’re literally the cheapest human being I’ve ever met.”

Both Sylvia and Stephanie insist making an effort doesn’t have to mean spending lots of money. Rather, it takes an investment of time and planning. But being willing to spend a little money, eventually, is important as it demonstrates interest as well as a willingness to commit other resources toward the relationship if it progresses.

The two-tiered dating system

Stephanie’s current boyfriend, for example, won her heart in part because he took her out for a concert on their third date. It was a gesture made all the more significant because she knew he was on a student budget. “It’s that effort he made and how difficult it was at the time to do that that I found touching,” she says.

But does all this hedging and calculating suck the romance out of dating in a city with a reputation for being a tough place to find love? Possibly, admits Omid, a 31-year-old engineer.

Omid estimates he went on five or six dates a month—the majority with women he met online—before meeting his current girlfriend (offline, it bears note) this past spring. Although Omid always offered to foot the bill during his online dating blitz, he admitted he was rarely out to wine and dine people he’d only encountered on the Internet. “On a first date I’m only trying to see if there’s any chemistry, I’m not trying to impress them,” he says. “I really just want to see if we want to get to know each other beyond being friends.” On the other hand, women Omid would meet “organically,” usually got a little more from him because there’d already been a chance to get a sense of the potential for chemistry.

The result is a kind of two-tier dating system that, Omid and the others admit, might be diluting the overall experience of finding romance in the modern era. But Omid sees a net benefit to being exposed to the wide dating pool the Internet provides. “Going on a large volume of dates has helped me figure out what I’m looking for in a relationship,” he says.

And in the end, that knowledge has value all on its own.

 

This is the first part of a two-part series on how affordability challenges affect dating and commitment for young people living in Canada’s most expensive city. Read part 2 here.

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