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  HOW TO HAVE A CHEAP DATE WITHOUT BEING A CHEAPSKATE.  
   
   
 

I have this friend. Let's call him TAB. In his blog, TAB rails against the axioms and norms that govern the dating world, especially in the status- and image-obsessed New York area. One of the dating norms that especially chaps his ass is the fact that men have to pay for all the dates, especially in the early going.

"The 1950's are over. It's a shared experience now in all factors. Your company is NOT payment enough," he said in one particularly pointed response to a fellow blogger who felt men should pay. TAB basically feels that now that women work for a living and can make as much or more than the men they date, it should not be a stretch for them to pay their way.

I personally don't agree. Since the men are the ones usually initiating the dating contact (a whole other can of worms), they are the ones who should pay for the date. However, I can understand how a guy like TAB, a man in his thirties who is trying to find the love of his life, might not want to bankrupt himself in trying to woo the opposite sex. To most men, the only thing worse than a bad date is a bad date that costs a hundred bucks. Of course, as much as a guy would love to take all his dates for a slice and a soda, that's a formula that usually leads to more muttered utterances of the words "cheap motherfucker" than to second dates.

So what's a guy to do? We at The Black Table sympathize with your plight; we've been on many dates ourselves that left us broke and lonely, pissed off that we wasted a good two weeks' worth of beer money on a night that ended in a handshake and the words "I'll e-mail ya." With that in mind, we provide the males of the species some ideas that will ensure that they have some money left in their wallets after a date and not come off looking like a distant descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge. In order to make sure these steps pass muster, TAB will provide comments, listed under the appropriately-titled heading "TAB's Take".

#1. Become More Artsy-Fartsy.

It doesn't matter where she lives; women appreciate art and culture a lot more than most men. Even "sensitive" hipster guys that live in the city find it hard to muster much enthusiasm for things like modern art, poetry, opera and ballet. So, most of the time, the man will pretend to be open to any suggestion his date gives, often getting stuck going to an event that's not only expensive, but boring as well.

The key, then, is to not just feign interest in "the arts," but to actually study it and find out where it is being displayed, read or performed. This way, you can actually find an event that might not only interest you, but will be either cheap or -- in the best scenario -- free. An author is reading his latest memoir at Barnes and Noble? You're there. A poetry slam at a coffee house? Golden. A photography exhibit at a local art gallery? Wonderbar! You'll look sophisticated as hell and not a cent will have left your wallet.

TAB's Take: Museums are a reliable favorite. Several NYC museums, such as the MOMA, the Jewish Museum and the Met, run "pay-what-you-want" promotions or free nights. The trick is to distract the date so she doesn't notice that you're paying nothing or a dollar for each ticket rather than the full entrance fee. You could point towards the far wall before you get the tickets and say "Look! Isn't that a Magritte?" and quickly grab the tickets and pay your pittance while she looks away.

#2. That Big Green Thing? It's a Park.

Everyone has a park within easy driving distance from their house or apartment. If you live in the suburbs, you're essentially surrounded by parkland (even if it's the trees behind the Wal-Mart where stoned teenagers sleep in shopping carts). It's big, it's green and it usually has areas suitable for a variety of activities, from jogging to Frisbee tossing to clandestine dry-humping, if the date goes especially well.

But things don't have to be that elaborate. Prepare a couple of sandwiches, buy some macaroni salad from the local ShopRite, grab a clean sheet and you're in business. If you want to involve alcohol in your date, you could probably get away with a box of wine if you don't want to spend a bunch of dough (cheap wine always tastes better outdoors). What's more romantic than a picnic in the park? Not too damn much. Just don't take her too deep into the woods, or she'll start to think that you're going to whack her over the head with a sock full of nickels and leave her to get eaten by coyotes.

TAB's Take: A brilliant concept. Not only is it inexpensive, but you get the date drunk on cheap wine so she doesn't notice. If it's an active park like Central Park, it also serves as entertainment, as you could gossip about the other people in the park that you don't even know, such as the ubiquitous joggers.

#3. Two Words: Thai Food.

One of the problems with dating, especially in the "blue states," is that most women seem to have a more sophisticated palate than most men. While guys don't mind eating just about anything, they're perfectly content to mow down a plate of Buffalo wings or a nice juicy cheeseburger more often than not. And, while many women would like nothing better than to do the same, they know that having barbecue sauce on their hands and rib meat between their teeth isn't an image they'd like project right away. So they often intimate that they'd like to go to somewhere more exotic.

But nothing makes a guy envision dollar bills flying out of his pocket than the words "I love sushi." Most other ethnic food isn't much cheaper. That's where the good people of Thailand come in. Meet your date for lunch at one of those busy Thai places that always seem to have a huge lunch crowd full of starving office workers; they're not fancy, but they serve good food and get you in and out quickly (which helps if the date goes south in a hurry). Since the dishes are mostly noodles or rice, they're often less than 10 bucks at lunch. Not only will you get away with a pretty decent meal for $20, your date will think you're worldly and interested in other cultures. Hopefully, you'll have had sex with her a couple of times by the time she finds out that you aren't.

TAB's Take: Good advice. Nothing kills a first date like mentioning "dinner" and "McDonald's" in the same sentence. Of course, if you don't like Thai food, you could always just have the water and let her eat. You can use the excuse "you notice that there are no dogs or cats wandering in the vicinity of this restaurant? I did. Enjoy your fried rice."

#4. Chuckles and Ha-Ha's Are
More Romantic Than You Think.

It never fails; it doesn't matter whether the woman you're staring at in that online dating profile is a lingerie model, freelance writer or computer programmer, the one feature each and every one of them seek in a mate is -- you guessed it -- a sense of humor. Granted, a lack of a beer belly and looks like George Clooney help a lot, but we men have to take these women at their word.

But what if you're not funny? Or you are funny, but find it hard to be funny in a tense situation like a first date? No problem; you can show your date that you at least appreciate humor by taking her to a comedy club. Go during open mike night; the admission is cheaper, and the "unintentional comedy" factor is high. If you don't want to pay the two-drink minimum, take your date to an improv show. It seems more sophisticated than plain old stand-up and only costs a few bucks for a ticket. (And for those of you who are thinking "Improv? They only have that in the big cities," fire up Google one more time. There are Comedy Sportz branches everywhere. What, you think you'd be able to get away without doing a little research?)

TAB's Take: On one date, I stopped in an open mike where I knew some of the performers. I stepped away for a moment and an elderly, perverted comic started flagrantly flirting with my date (even putting his arm around her). If you do this, try to go to an all-female-comics night. She'll appreciate the humor better, and it's not as likely that the performers will hit on your date.

#5. When the Going Gets Tough...
The Tough Go Shopping.

I'm not going to come out and say something as sexist as "women love shopping." But let's face facts: the vast majority of the women you date are going to like at least going out and looking at stuff, whether it's clothes, antique furniture or used CDs. Heck, you may even luck out and meet a woman who likes looking for throwback baseball jerseys and socket wrenches. But we do know that they like to look, touch and feel things before they buy.

So, take one for the team and suggest an afternoon walking around your favorite quaint little town or neighborhood. The quainter the area, the better, since tree-lined streets and old-timey lampposts seem to make even the most mundane errand dreamier. Failing that, a shopping mall will do, but it has to be full of halfway decent stores; a trip to the Electronics Boutique will keep you sane in-between designer shoe stores. In either situation, if you want to sit and chat, find your nearest ice cream parlor. A couple of cones and a park bench is all you're going to need at that point (see #2).

TAB's Take: I like this, because while walking, it gives something to talk about. If you're really lucky, and your date is something to look at, she might decide to model some revealing, designer SoHo clothes for you. If you're lucky.

#6. Sunday, Brunchy, Sunday.

This is a dangerous category here, because of the dreaded "B" word. To guys, Sunday brunch is pretty much defined as either "cigarettes and Fruity Pebbles at noon" or "a pastrami sandwich." Brunch can mean just about anything to your date, though, from an English muffin with butter to Nova Scotia lox on a bagel with a side of caviar and a pitcher of mimosas.

So you have to be careful. When you pick the place, you have to be able to balance cost with taste. As much as you may be tempted to go to Denny's and dive into one of their $4.99 Grand Slam Breakfasts, places like Denny's or IHOP not only make you look like a doofus, but a thrifty doofus at that. Pick a nice diner or café that has a good menu; omelets, waffles, pancakes, French toast, etc. If the words "capers" or "Beluga" appears anywhere on the menu, strike the place from your list. Oh, and make sure it's BYO, so you can put together some strong mimosas for half the price.

TAB's Take: I'm not that keen on this idea. The only way I would splurge for a Sunday brunch is if she slept over in my bed on Saturday night. Why get up as early as 11 a.m. otherwise?

 

Joel Keller is a freelance writer from New Jersey. He always has first dates at a restaurant he knows, so he's at least assured of a good meal.

The Anonymous Blogger is a computer programmer from the New York area. He swears he's never taken a date to Burger King, although he's tempted.