by Karyn Polewaczyk
Over the summer and into the early part of fall, I dated a guy — we slept at his place after nights on the town, carved out time for couple-esque weekend activities, and in general, felt high with the buzz that accompanies a new romance.
That feeling came to a screeching halt when I wound up in the ER where I was diagnosed with a UTI — and slapped with a four-figure hospital bill upon release.
I started to do the math: Aside from the bill, I'd spent close to a thousand dollars on Uber rides, at least $500 on grooming (waxes, manicures, and pedicures), and plenty on clothes. Not to mention dinners that were, frankly, out of my budget (because I felt obligated to keep pace with his spending on me).
We eventually and amicably broke up, but I felt foolish for squandering so much on what amounted to a multi-month hookup. How much, exactly? Take a deep breath and then see how it all adds up.
All those waxes and manicures (and haircuts, and facials) are part of my regular upkeep — something I do for myself regardless of who’s looking, thank you very much — but there’s no denying that when dating, we generally up our grooming game.
That comes with a pretty price tag: haircuts in my Boston neighborhood cost about $100; bikini and underarm waxes are $50 and $15, respectively; a mani-pedi runs about $35; and a facial around $60.
If you’ve been in a relationship for six months — congrats, by the way — and tend to do those things every six to eight weeks, you’re looking at about a grand, not including the never-to-be-skimped-on gratuity.
I’ll toss the cost of a gym membership in here, too, since I mysteriously find myself working out more when I know there’s a chance I’ll be wearing fewer pieces of clothing. Depending on what kind you go to, you’re looking at anywhere from $10 to $250-plus a month, not including specialty classes like yoga.
Is It Worth It?
Yes. Taking care of myself, whether getting a good night’s sleep or indulging in a relaxing massage, is something that first and foremost benefits me — not my mate.
I’m a proud city slicker and haven’t owned a car in four years. But since there’s not yet an option to magically transport me from my apartment to a restaurant to another apartment, I’ve got to pony up to get anywhere.
I try to take the subway as much as I can — a monthly pass in Boston is about $80 — but there are times when:
- It doesn’t run past 1 a.m.
- I don’t want to take it past 1 a.m.
- I’m wearing clothes that are appropriate for evening, but not an early-morning commute, and
- I just. don’t. want. to.
Uber has been a godsend: getting me halfway across town (or about seven miles) sets me back about $15. Ending a date early and dramatically hailing a cab home — which, I admit, I’ve done — is double that.
I can’t say exactly how many dates I have a month — sometimes the universe is generous; other times it’s stingy — but on average, four. I buy the subway pass regardless; Uber and cabs set me back about $200.
Is It Worth It?
Getting places costs money — whether it’s a date or meeting — but depending on how I feel (wanting to make a killer first impression and rolling up in a black sedan versus schlepping along the snowy sidewalk) affects how much I spend.
The key is to pay attention: If you’re prone to getting tipsy after two glasses of wine and might opt for private transportation when you could walk, or if you let the date linger beyond the time public transportation closes (ah, Boston), then you’ll have to compensate for it accordingly. Letting things slide now and again is, I think, OK; making a habit of costly transport out of laziness is just that: lazy.
There are dresses, and there are Dresses, the kind that make a dramatic impact. I’m a minimalist by default, and I’ve bought almost all my wardrobe from consignment and secondhand stores, so I feel like I’ve got an advantage here. But sometimes, the occasion calls for something showstopping, like a timeless DVF wrap dress (that’s worth investing in). The classic version will set you back $325, not including bimonthly dry cleaning if you wear it once a week.
Shoes are another animal: If you’re walking, you need to make sure they won’t kill your feet. (In my opinion, cheap shoes — not necessarily in price, but in manufacturing — should be avoided at all costs, since they’ll hurt you in the long run with potential health issues.)
Heels may prop you up and elongate your figure. But really, it’s about the extra swagger you get from confidence. I get it from a pair of over-the-knee Frye boots, which set me back $300 on eBay a few years ago, or $425 if you want to get fancy and buy them retail.
And then there’s the fun part: underpinnings, which are like cake frosting you wear on the inside. I’ve found fast friends in brands like Hanky Panky, Cosabella, and Simone Perele, which are in the mid-to-high price range (a set from Cosabella costs about $150), but last a while if properly cared for.
Is It Worth It?
Wearing clothes that fit well and make me feel confident are worth every penny. And, yes, it’s fun to be a bit va-va-voom with cleavage-bearing tops and racy lingerie when the occasion calls for it, but for the most part, I’d keep that stuff on hand anyway. It’s eye candy pour moi.
This might be a bit TMI, but health should be at the forefront of your relationship — with yourself, before anyone else — and that includes mental well-being just as it does keeping your other parts healthy.
Getting screened for STDs between partners is a good idea, and is typically covered by health insurance, depending on your provider. If not, you can find free or low-cost screenings at places like Planned Parenthood (otherwise, you’re looking at lab costs in the low to mid three-figure range). Plus, protection: Condoms cost about $1 each, and birth control pills can run up to $50 a month, even with insurance.
Is It Worth It?
My dad said it best: Your health is your wealth. Even when I’m scraping by, I put it first — whether that means buying quality produce (a non-negotiable at this point in my life) instead of salon visits, or scheduling a gynecologist appointment before becoming intimate with a new partner.
Online Dating Subscriptions
OkCupid and Tinder, the preternatural cool kids of the Internet romance lunchroom, are free. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for — and while I have friends who’ve found luck on both, I err on the side of caution. Pay sites like eHarmony and Match.com will set you back $30 a month.
I skew old-fashioned here: I prefer to meet my mates in the wild, typically while out doing something that doesn’t involve trying to meet men. That’s not to say there’s no cost involved. There have been plenty of times I’ve dragged myself out when I really wanted to stay home in sweats because I wanted to create opportunities to meet someone.
Is It Worth It?
I’ve tried OkCupid a few times, and while I met a few nice guys, the amount of Magic Mike wannabes and not-yet-divorced dads far outweighed the men who were actually looking for relationships. So, pass (though I know a couple that met on Tinder, of all places).
As for nights out when I just want to stay home, the effort is worth it, whether the result is meeting someone — a romantic prospect, a business connection, a friend — or learning something. And if the event you dropped $20 on winds up being a dud? Call it a day, and mosey on to greener pastures (or home).
Dinner and a movie? Hiking and a picnic? A romantic weekend in Montreal? No matter how you slice it, the getting-to-know-you phase requires an investment.
Even if you like to let your mate pay — which I do, I’m not ashamed to say — you want to be prepared to pay your way (including home, if things go sour). If you go Dutch, you still need cash to cover the cost of being a couple.
A meal for two at a mid-range restaurant — artisanal pizza and craft beer, not artisanal lamb shanks and vintage Bordeaux — typically sets me back about $70. (Tapas are a great option, by the way: Sharing is fun, and can save you a few dollars.)
Theaters charge about $12 to $15 a person for admission, and I’m sorry, but no film is complete without a tub of popcorn (even if it does seem ludicrous at $7). One of my favorite dates of all time involved little more than sitting at a wine bar and talking for hours — at $12 a glass.
Of course, you can get crafty and do things on the cheap: go for walks, visit museums during reduced admission times, watch movies at home. But there’s something special about going to the symphony with a new beau — even if it does mean spending money to get there.
Is It Worth It?
At the end of the day, it’s about chemistry: a complex blend of attraction, alignment of values, and other intangible things that create the warm fuzzies. Sure, the spark might fade over time — but a white-tablecloth dinner isn’t guaranteed to elicit butterflies any more than candy and Cokes at the indie movie theater.
Whether you call it chemistry or compatability, it can’t be bought — but it does require an investment.