“Good luck finding someone” was the response my friend Emily received when she suggested to a Bumble match that they keep their first meeting to one hour max. Hey, her intentions were good! She just wanted a brief, pre-date vibe check before going in two-footed, but her suitor was less convinced at the cut-throat approach. Still, Emily found others were more willing to try the experiment – like the man she met for a 7km run around Victoria Park and never saw again (thank you, pre-date vibe check) – and in this economy, who can afford to throw everything at an unknown proposition without taking a temperature reading first?
A trend that has been building for a few years, the pre-date vibe check offers a sensible pause before putting all your money on red, with people meeting for a walk, coffee, or a single round of drinks to avoid the cycle of money -draining, time-wasting, spirit-crushing first dates that swallow your evenings. “I tried to explain the pre-date date to a married friend and she found it baffling,” says Kristina, who has been using dating apps on and off for ten years. know the burnout of online dating.” Her strategy is to suggest a drink or two while having another social engagement lined up straight afterward as an out, saving “time, money, and the emotional expense of going on dates all the time.”
Kristina is half-Norwegian, which she says might make her a little more blunt than the English, as here she’s found British politeness often means bailing after two rounds comes across as rude. The financial difference between the vibe check and a full evening of winning and dining is significant too, particularly as the cost of living crisis kicks in. Then there’s the matter of free time, which an evening of ever-shrinking small plates and big gaps in conversation takes a big bite out of. “If the guy organizes to go for dinner, you’d always want to offer to pay half of it. But if it’s not something you want to do, you’re kind of begrudging of that,” says Kristina. “Not that it should, but I think it weighs more on men, too, because they think they should be paying for everything on a first date.”
“Years ago a friend of mine ended up going quite significantly into debt because he felt this pressure to pay for things or even go half at the most expensive restaurants,” agrees Alice Tapper, a behavioral economist, debt advisor and finance writer. “Now I think it’s shifting toward dating that feels in line with our own financial circumstances, prioritising yourself and your time, and not giving into these expectations we’ve been taught about how you have to date.”
This, though, may be changing for the next generation, with research showing that younger generations are breaking the taboo surrounding money and shaking off the stigma of splitting the bill or discussing earnings. The dating app Bumble has seen an increase in low-key dating, with data commissioned through YouGov this week showing nearly half of Gen Z and millennials preferring date locations that are cheaper in place of a lavish dinner or hefty bar bill. In addition, one in five people aged 18-34 said they were more likely to set themselves a budget for dating than at the beginning of the year. “There is a realisation that time is money and people want to protect their time,” Alice says. “Spending £50 on dinner you don’t enjoy when you don’t have time to see your friends, I think we’re realising, is a bit of a joke. Cutting things short and doing a coffee or walk in the park as a pre-date that’s low-key and affordable removes the expectations.”