5 Hard Truths About Dating While Broke
Underemployed? Living with your folks? Then your love life is totally and utterly screwed, if the internet trolls are to be believed. This despite the fact that you're probably awesome, statistically normal, and might actually be in the majority. More than a third of all Americans aged 18-34 now live with their folks, making that the most common living situation for them. Yes, more common than being married. That means 22.9 million Americans are currently trying to figure out how to balance finding true love with getting their moms off their backs about leaving laundry in the dryer. In Canada, that number's even higher, at 34.7 percent ... and a whopping 42.1 percent in my province of Ontario, partly due to how long it takes to build an igloo and hunt enough elk skins to carpet it.
Toss into the mix that 51 percent of U.S. Millennials are underemployed and a further 12 percent are unemployed, and there's a good chance that if you're under 35, your #1 dating problem isn't that you're so flush with money that you can't decide whether to take your jet to Tahiti or Cabo this weekend.
And if that's the case, dating can get really weird, really fast. I can tell you from personal experience that ...
You Start Thinking People Only Care About Whether Or Not You Have Money
Let's start off by acknowledging the obvious: Dating can be expensive. Going out to things like nice dinners, movies, and black market organ auctions ain't cheap, and traditionally in Western culture, men are expected to pay for that kind of stuff ... or at least be able to pay.
While a bunch of society has caught up to the fact that women are people too (with, GASP, their own money!), way too many dating books and columns aimed at us gals still make a big deal about making sure the person you're going out with is "financially stable." That puts a lot of pressure on a guy to act like he's not secretly checking his bank balance under the table when you order dessert.
You all can argue among yourselves about whether you think the rule should be that all dates are split 50/50, or that the guy pays for the first date, or that one of you pays for the dinner and the other pays for the sins of their followers, or whatever. But however you split it, I hope we can all agree that if you ask someone out, then show up penniless and expect the other person to pay for everything, you probably won't get a second date.
Take it from personal experience, it also sucks to be asked out to an awesome concert or event when you're so broke that you're Googling local food banks, because no decent human being wants to be seen as a gold digger who's only dating to rack up entries for her foodie blog.
But the harsh truth is that there are really good, non-gold-digger reasons to wonder if someone's financially stable before your hearts and bodies get entangled. Because unless both people are just in it for a one-night stand, if one of you is perpetually jobless, then the other could end up working two full-time jobs to take care of you both.
It's actually not shallow to ask yourself if it's going to be a healthy relationship in which both people contribute equally, even if you end up deciding it's OK if one of you contributes in ways that aren't financial. Or to consider "Huh, if I get involved with the smoking hot girl who's $30,000 in credit card debt, still expects her parents to bail her out of parking tickets, and has never held any job for longer than a month, will I spend the rest of my life in the red while working 60 hours a week to barely keep us afloat?"
It's just smart to look at the long term before emotions get too heavy. Despite what Bon Jovi might tell you, being perpetually broke isn't actually romantic.
Sure, crashing in his van to live on love with his scruffy musical friends might seem romantic at first, but there are only so many cramped gas station washroom stall hookups you two can have before you start to think that maybe dating a guy who owns his own bed wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
Spending Money On Big Dates Now Can Ruin Your Relationship Later Down The Line
Despite what your gut might be defensively screaming at you, I'm actually on the side of the broke person here. I've been that broke-ass, and it sucks, trying to mask your broke-assed-ness. That said, I have a serious question: Do you have any idea how much money women spend to look that good for you? While you're complaining how unfair it is that you're expected to pay for expensive dinners -- and I totally agree with that complaint -- let's not overlook the ridiculous amount of money that women pay for hair, nails, clothes, skincare, waxing, and so much other stuff to give the illusion that they're perfect, naturally hairless beauty queens. Don't even get me started on the cost of lingerie, one of the most expensive and least durable things a woman will ever own. I've known women in brand-new relationships who've dropped hundreds of dollars on sexy little lace things to perfectly suit their new guy's hottest fantasies, only to see it left shredded on the bedroom floor in six seconds flat. They might as well have just taped $50 bills to their naked bodies and then ripped them up together. (Which I'm sure is someone's fantasy.)
My point is that multiple, totally unfair standards can coexist at once. And yeah, there are obviously going to be some guys out there who blow money on new clothes, and some women who throw down their credit cards to pay for meals and dates. Bottom line is that if you blow a shitload of money you can't afford to during the wooing stage, then by the time the relationship is strong and solid enough that you're moving in together, you might also be looking at some pretty substantial debt. You're now spending the rest of your lives together, trying to pay off your "impression stage" dating. That is a huge strain to put on any relationship. And if the relationship doesn't connect? You might as well have just thrown a match on that cash and put out the fire with your tears.
But even if you don't end up digging your own financial grave, there's a very practical, common misconception that arises when things get comfortable. When the money runs out, the one who's used to being treated is going to be thinking, "Why don't we do all the things we used to do? This relationship isn't as fun, exciting and spontaneous as it used to be." Meanwhile, the other one is going, "Why don't you ever dress up and make an effort like you used to do? It's like as soon as you got comfortable with me, you stopped giving a shit." And in both cases, the answer is, "Because back then, I was spending money I didn't have. And that's not sustainable."
The mechanics of the relationship fundamentally change, because mathematically, they have to. And by then, you've sabotaged your personal financial future and the future of your relationship.
So how do you avoid that? Do you come clean right off the bat and say, "I can only afford meals that are ordered by saying a number"? Well, that's kind of the problem, because ...
Telling The Truth About Your Situation Can Feel ... Tricky
I once had a friend whom I thought lived with the word's most interesting cast of zany housemates. Every time we went drinking, he had the best stories about how one of them found a baby skunk and tried to build it a box bed, or threw their new bright red shirt in with his whites, or invited a door-to-door Mormon missionary in for dinner because they thought he and my friend would hit it off. It was two years before he finally confessed that he actually lived at home with his parents, brothers, and grandmother.
While we're adding to the list of stuff that's totally unfair, in society, we tend to judge people before we really get to know them. And when you're in any kind of "transition" phase, like being unemployed, working a temporary job until you can get a real one, or living at home, it's not always easy to answer basic questions like "What do you do?" and "Do you live around here?"
When the answers to those questions are "I'm an accountant for Money Business and I own a condo in the Gold Moneyville," then your date can hide a yawn behind their hand and move on to discussing what they're binging on Netflix. But if the answer is "Well, I used to have an amazing small business and owned a house with my ex. But then my business went under and the relationship ended, so right now I'm living with my folks and working at my dad's horse-tickling business until I get back on my feet," that might dredge up way more deep and personal stuff than you're willing to share over your first cup of coffee.
We can all agree that lying about basic personal stuff can come back to bite you hard in the ass if a relationship develops. Bullshitting about your life isn't the best way to start dating someone. Eventually, they'll get suspicious about why you two are always steaming up the car windows around the corner from your house instead of going inside and introducing them to your wacky "housemates".
So instead, you get good at turning every tricky conversation into a wacky "Thanks for asking- hey, what's that over there?!" diversion tactic. You make sure you've always got a handy story ready to explain away your unemployment when someone innocently asks if you "had a good at day at work." You look for ways to spin the conversation onto the parts of your life you're proud of or excited about, like your future dreams and goals, and away from the parts you're not ready to talk about yet. You become a master at quickly switching the focus of a conversation onto the other person and getting them talking about themselves.
It's not that you want to lie or hide anything. It's that it's perfectly normal to want to avoid talking about the tricky or hard parts of your life until you get to know the other person better.
You Learn To Date Without Dating
Can we all just agree that the traditional model of dating sucks? Once you've managed to attract an elusive other by tempting them to swipe right on a carefully posed picture that looks absolutely nothing like everyday you, you get to dress up like a fake version of yourself, go to a fancy place you'll probably never eat at again, and make the kind of scripted small talk that only happens in bad comedies. Then, no matter how kind, sweet, interesting, cool, intelligent, or determined you are, you face the risk of being rejected just because you don't have tons of disposable money to throw at this elaborate game, or because the current story of your life doesn't fit society's specific definition of "success." Though admittedly, today's climate has lowered that bar to mean "still alive."
It's no wonder so many of my most interesting friends have given up on "dating" altogether. If your life is in transition and you want to find somebody totally awesome who understands that, sometimes you've got to look at ways of throwing out the old playbook and writing your own.
Like, you learn to just hang out with friends and let a relationship evolve without actually going on any formal dates. Maybe you hit up free interesting events in town and schedule them around not shelling for meals. Maybe you throw a game night or movie night, and invite them to come hang out casually with you and your friends. Sometimes the best way to meet somebody awesome is through a friend and not an app. Which is why I often just showed up at a friend's house and started eating their food without warning or permission. My definition of "date" is a gray area.
I understand that may not always seem possible, and sometimes you have to get creative as shit in order to pull it off. But I've known plenty of people in long-term relationships that started off with "My friend is having a party on Friday night. Want to go with me?"
Good News: Living With Your Parents Isn't As Bad As You Think
Confession time: Some of the hottest, most creative, interesting, and fuckable people I know are underemployed and still live with their parents for a variety of reasons. They're starting interesting businesses, going to school, in the military reserves, using their parents as a home base to travel, saving for a major goal, or giving back to their families. In a place like Toronto, where almost 50 percent of Millennials live in multi-generational homes, the question isn't whether the seemingly interesting hottie you just met on Queen West still lives at home, but why they do.
Finding out the answer might require asking some deeper, more interesting questions, and that will tell you a lot about who they are as a person. What are their long-term goals? Do they have an actual plan for achieving them? Or are they just eating Cheezies and playing video games, hoping a music contract is going to land in their lap? What are their relationships like with their parents, grandparents, and siblings? Do they have a curfew and expect their mom to do their laundry? Or are they outside at six in the morning, chopping wood or taking grandma to chemotherapy? Do they have their own room, or do you have to fuck on the roof?
Learning those things will tell you much more about that person's "true self" than any date. Does the fact they live at home mean they're lazy? Or that they're resilient, took a couple of hard knocks in life, and are going to come back fighting? Does it mean they value family? Does it mean they're actually a better person to build a future with than someone with their own place and a "good job," but who only cares about themselves?
Either way, it's going to mean talking about stuff a lot deeper than what bands they like or what their opinion is of the latest Marvel movie. And I'm not pretending for one moment that it's easy. But again, if the whole reason you're in this dating game is for more than a one-night stand -- to find someone who you can build an entire life of experiences with, until one day you have basement dwellers of your own -- it can be worth it.
Unless you're legitimately living at home because you're a lazy piece of shit. In which case, get a job, deadbeat.
Mags writes books about dead people and kissing, and is thankful that she no longer lives in somebody's basement. You can bother her on Twitter. Bring cookies.
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