Maybe a few years ago, when the economy was better and jobs were more plentiful, a single on her first date might be treated to a bouquet of flowers and a fancy dinner at the most chic eatery in town.
Now with the nation’s employment picture far from sexy — 14.1 million workers were unemployed in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — relationship experts say men and women are adjusting their ideas on what makes a great date. Online dating is still going strong, but expectations are changing — men and women are relaxing their standards on a potential mate’s job status.
Joel Koosed, director of the San Francisco Bay area-based The Meeting Game Salon, which hosts evenings of conversation and icebreakers for single men and women, says many have moderated their requirements for potential mates to be employed or have six-figure salaries.
“So many people are out of work and underemployed and having financial problems,” he says. “For many people, I think (unemployment) would no longer be a deal-breaker.”
It’s not for Lauren B. Jackson of Alameda, Calif. Jackson says she likely would have not considered dating someone unemployed when the economy was better, but now the 22-year-old beauty school student says she’s relaxed her standards a bit.
“I’d date someone who doesn’t have a job,” Jackson says. “Definitely the economy has changed my feelings about that.”
That’s also true for Gina Favro, 28, of Walnut Creek, Calif. She’s been on dates with men who are unemployed and looking for work, sometimes paying for the entire outing herself.
“I’ll date someone if he just got let go from a company and is looking, but if he got laid off two years ago and is living in his parent’s basement, probably not,” she says.
Koosed, who also is single, says it’s not so much the money or the job that is important to him.
“What I am looking for in a first date, and what most women are looking for, is generosity of spirit,” he says.
April Braswell, a dating expert, relationship coach and contributor to the third edition of “Dating For Dummies” (For Dummies, $21.99) says that although singles are generally looking for financial stability, they will be more forgiving of someone who has just lost her job — as long as she shows motivation to get a new one.
“They want to see and they want to hear about things you are doing and how you are taking action to get a job,” Braswell says. Although the first date is a get-to-know you adventure, you should talk about the networking you’re doing, the people you’re connecting with or the resumes you are sending out by the second date.
“Just mention your job search without complaining how hard the job hunt is in this economy. Talk about your search just the same way you would lightly converse in a positive manner about your workday,” she says.
And as to how to answer that inevitable question about what you do for a living even before the first date?
“In this case, they’re trying to make conversation,” Braswell says. “Keep it focused on your career, rather than your job. Practice what you’ll say a little bit, but think of it in terms of carrying on a conversation and storytelling.”
But before you go on a date, you have to find one. And singles are looking to save money before they step out the door. Although it seems like the opposite would be true, when the economy crashed in 2008, the online dating site Match.com had its best quarter, says Match.com relationship expert Whitney Casey.
“To have your best quarter in the worst economic times I think is an astounding realization,” Casey says. “Sometimes the first things to go are gym memberships because people have lost their jobs. But it seems the last thing to go from their budget is love.”
“I think they look at online dating sites as somewhere they can actually save money,” Casey says. “You can eliminate useless dates. You can really lower the amount of bad dates.”
While smaller paychecks might mean skipping dinner at expensive restaurants, when couples do go out, expectations about who pays and how are also changing.
“A year ago or two years ago it would have been a deal breaker for most women if the guy didn’t pick up the tab on the first date, whether it’s coffee or dinner,” Koosed says. “For some women it is still a deal breaker, but for most it’s not. I think that’s changing slowly. If you’re talking a dinner date, it is more likely to expect people to split the bill.”
Match.com’s Casey says new couples are also more willing to accept a date paying with a coupon from a daily deal site than they were in years past. In fact, five years ago Casey did a study of Match.com daters, many who said they would rather a date’s credit card be rejected than them offer to pay with a coupon. Today, coupon promotions are accepted ways of finding new places to eat or play on the cheap, she says.
“It’s become really hip and cool,” she says. “I think today nobody wants to get taken and paying full price for something is for fools.”
Paul Falzone of eLove, a matchmaking service since 1974, says singles don’t have to impress one another by ordering the most expensive cocktail or having the best seats for the stadium concert.
“It’s impressive to remember someone’s favorite meal and going to the market and buying fresh produce to make it,” Falzone says. “It’s more important to show the person you care, than showing them how much money you have. Brainpower is relatively inexpensive if it’s yours.”
BY THE NUMBERS
According to a Match.com 2011 survey of 5,000 singles on its site:
29 percent of singles reported that they were “very stressed” by the economy and money concerns and 84 percent described themselves as at least “slightly stressed.”
37 percent of men and 19 percent of women believe that it is always the man’s responsibility to pick up the check on the first date.
50 percent of singles would be open to dating someone unemployed if they found the person interesting.
46 percent of women say it doesn’t matter how much their potential partner spends on a date.
58 percent of women said they don’t want an expensive date.
46 percent of women said they are fine with their date using a coupon.
65 percent of women spend more than $50 preparing for a date.