Owners of bars where drunk young singles congregate may have suffered in the online dating economy, but in a broader sense, the ubiquity of online dating should be great for restaurants and other establishments where singles fumble their way through awkward first-date conversations. Thirty-one percent of singles met their first dates online in 2014, more than the 25 percent who were set up by friends, according to Match.com.
For those who dismiss dating technology like Tinder as solely designed for meaningless "hookups" based on nothing more than physical appearance, recent research suggests that Tinder skeptics are simply old-fashioned. A Northwestern University professor of psychology recently argued in The New York Times that for "those who would like to marry someday and want to enjoy dating in the meantime, Tinder may be the best option available now. Indeed, it may be the best option that has ever existed."
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Match.com reported this year that online daters are more likely to be actively seeking a committed relationship. Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor at Match.com, said, "Online daters are serious about finding love. More than 50 percent of singles have fantasized about a future together with someone while on a first date."
Indeed, all those dates can mean major bucks for the one picking up the dinner check or wine bar tab. Or, to put it in an actual single's terms, "Tinder? ...Man, you better take her for coffee and a stroll in the park, listening to street performers ... and then figure out if dinner is in the cards," said Malika Oyo, a New York City-based female risk-management consultant.
So how can one successfully online date on a budget?
Some straight talk for the guys: It's still difficult as a society to get past the idea that men have to pay for everything dating-related.
"Men pay for dates because 100 years ago women didn't have jobs," said Evan Marc Katz, a dating coach and the author behind the audio series "Finding the One Online." Katz also has been writing online dating profiles as an e-Cyrano for thousands of lovelorn clients since 2003.
"Now in 40 percent of marriages, women make more than men, but in today's world, if a guy doesn't pay, he'll be seen as cheap," Katz said. Katz added that when dating advances to a relationship stage, with "honesty, trust and transparency, you can set guidelines."
But before that point, the truth for guys who want to get from date to mate is that going Dutch is still stigmatized. "Psychologically, no one wants to go Dutch. It makes nobody happy, so don't do it," Katz said. "There is zero upside for a guy to split the check."
There's even some neurochemical support. "It feels good to be the generous person," Katz said.
Dating and data
There are approximately 2,500 online dating sites and apps in the U.S. and more than 5,000 online dating services worldwide, according to Online Dating magazine.
Tinder may be the fastest-growing of all the online dating platforms—The New York Times recently reported that it's nearing 50 million active users. Tinder users spend as much as 90 minutes a day on the app.
Both single women (54 percent) and men (36 percent) find misspellings and incorrect grammar to be the biggest text-message turnoffs, according to Match.com's Singles in America study.
The Match.com study also found that the top social media activities that turn singles off include airing your emotional drama in posts (65 percent men; 78 percent women), displaying too many selfies (46 percent men; 65 percent women) and asking you to un-friend your ex (49 percent men; 59 percent women).
American singles averaged $61.53 a month, or $738.36 a year, on dating, according to Match.com's Singles in America 2014 study. If you live in a big city, that sum will seem extremely modest, even for those trying to date on a budget. The figure even included the money spent monthly on dating services.
It's wise not to give too much weight to the Match.com spending figure, as 2014 was the only year its annual survey of singles included a question on spending. In addition, consumer prices vary widely across the U.S., and the average single only goes on 3.5 dates a year, according to Match.com, skewing the numbers. It all added up to about $82 billion a year anyway.
But some good news for guys: The 2014 survey also revealed that a majority of women (58 percent) don't want an expensive date and realize that you don't have to spend a ton of money to be a good first date. They'd rather their date keep it casual, as long as there's thought behind it.
In the 2015 edition of the study, 51 percent of single women said they don't care if a man makes as much money as they do, but 63 percent of single women would not date someone who has considerable debt.
Katz said the best way to avoid becoming an ATM and ending up with the "considerable debt less women will stand" is to think a little more creatively about dating venues and not default to what has been done a million times already.
"Dating on a budget takes a little bit of creativity, but certainly it can be done. I'd definitely skip the simple ideas, like going to a movie or meeting for coffee," said Chris Gholston, a digital marketing manager in Atlanta. "I'd want to do something memorable that requires lots of interaction so I can better gauge if we 'click' or not."
With that in mind ...
Are you experienced?
When it comes to planning a date, the newest way to summon a discount Cupid is to take a cue from the field of behavioral economics. Gifts of experiences can be a terrific way to save money. Here are 9 examples of what the behavioral economists mean:
1. A visit to the local farmer's market
If Nora Ephron were still alive and working on another one of her iconic romantic comedies, it wouldn't be difficult to imagine Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks sampling fresh fare at a farmer's market. It may work for you and your date as a setting that leads to a Hollywood ending.
2. A picnic in the park
The modern version of "cooking at home" but does away with any "cheap" concerns, due to all the planning that is required for an outdoor activity and the romance inherent in the setting. (A wicker basket is highly recommended to capture full effect.)
3. A bike ride
A different way to get physical, which is good for other forms of physical activity. According to Match.com's Singles in America 2015 study, 33 percent of singles that exercise two to six times a week had sex at least monthly in 2014, compared to only 20 percent of singles who rarely or never choose to exercise.
Gholston said that to test a date's sense of adventure, he asks her to go indoor rock climbing. "It's not a common activity (in my circle, at least), yet fairly inexpensive. It also requires a lot of communication with your partner. I'll get to see how well we work together, as well as how comfortable she is with her body and image. ... Afterwards, we can grab an ice cream cone, or some hot cocoa if it's winter. All in all, I'm probably only out 50 bucks."
4. An outing to an art gallery
Singles respond positively to art. Well, we're stretching this one: Fifty-one percent of singles told Match.com that they use emojis to give their texts more personality, and 37 percent say that emojis make it easier to express their feelings. Also, 52 percent of emoji-using singles went on at least one first date in 2014, compared to 27 percent of singles that never use emojis.
Mike Charles, an investment banker in Atlanta, said, "I would start with any one of the museums. The museum gives an opportunity to converse and learn something new."
5. A walking tour of historic landmarks
Remember the movie "Hitch," in which Will Smith played a dating guru? Hitch's go-to, impress-the-lady-with-his-best-move was to take her by jet ski to Ellis Island. It did't exactly work out (for reasons that don't really need to be explained), and the jet ski rental might blow your budget for a year, but the point remains: Historic landmarks—on foot—should not be overlooked.
6. An afternoon at the flea market
Not just for Brooklyn hipsters anymore! Flea markets can be a fun way to learn about each other's sensibility, style and tastes.
7. A meal from a food truck
Now as ubiquitous as dating sites, food trucks make for great lunch and dinner options. (Though waffles do not count as a meal, unless there's a piece of fried chicken or a pork chop on top.)
8. An afternoon matinee
Not just for toddlers, stressed-out mommies or the unemployed. Movies may be a predictable choice, but matinees are making a comeback. (Popcorn sold separately.)
9. A volunteer activity
Doing a volunteer activity together could lead to charitable feelings about each other. Looking for some ideas of causes that singles by and large agree on? According to Match.com, a majority of singles believe in a woman's right to choose (74 percent men; 81 percent women), in the legalization of marijuana (54 percent men; 48 percent women), in environmental protection laws (72 percent men; 76 percent women) and marriage rights for LGBT individuals (56 percent men; 60 percent women).
Hopping on a Greenpeace ocean raft to intercept a Japanese whaling boat may not be a wise first date move, but you'll find something.