Navigating the dating scene as a single person in 2018 can sometimes feel like a part-time job - one you don’t get paid for. It’s time-consuming, energy-depleting and probably-more-emotionally-draining than most of us would admit.
Add to that the financial cost of playing the field, and sometimes staying at home alone - even with the threat of dying and being found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians a la Bridget Jones - becomes increasingly appealing.
But there are ways to offset the tax society unwittingly imposes on the uncoupled, which may even result in a better first date experience than a bog standard bottle of wine or clichéd dinner and a movie.
The trick, when suggesting such dates, is to appear creatively-minded and memorable, not cheap. A guy in his late-20s once suggested we walk up Auckland’s Mt Eden on a Saturday morning for our initial rendezvous. I couldn’t think of anything less appealing after a long night of post-work drinks: wearing activewear while trying not to retch as I got platonically sweaty with a stranger.
When I suggested brunch instead - which, frankly, was also going to be a stretch - he admitted to being low in coin. I was sympathetic, but it was a no-go. I wished him well with his future endeavours.
The guy who suggested buying a bottle of wine and getting drunk together in a park was also blacklisted. Apparently there’s a fine line being romantically rebellious, and being a bogan.
Here are some ideas for a first date - or a second, or a third - that’ll keep your bank balance healthy while maintaining your integrity.
The Mt Eden scenario is not to say walks are always a bad idea. Going for a walk can be a good way to break the ice on a first date, particularly if you live in a similar area and can meet somewhere locally.
For some reason, wandering alongside someone immediately removes the “interview” element that can creep in when meeting for the first time and you discover your companion isn’t reciprocally conversational - nightmare scenario. If you can’t think of anything to say in a moment, there’s nothing wrong with walking in silence while you both ponder your next move. If it’s going well, grabbing their hand is a good option.
Ideally, walk somewhere with a destination in mind - although save your mountaineering exploits for further down the track. Hoof it around a park or public garden, or along a beach with an ice-cream at the end (never choose vanilla. The other person will rightly assume you are unadventurous and dull.) Bring along a dog (yours, or literally anyone’s) and score immediate cuteness points.
Visit an animal shelter
Speaking of furry friends, why not pop into your local SPCA and have a cuddle with critters awaiting their forever homes. Strong anecdotal evidence suggests interacting with animals - especially baby ones - almost magically enhances the human’s attractiveness.
If you happen to be a volunteer dog-walker, bring the date along next time.
Feed the ducks
Hang in there - there are non-animal-related suggestions ahead. For now, why not potter to a riverbank, lakeside or pond and feed the birds. Gone are the days of halcyon naiveté, amassing one's mouldering crusts to bestow on local waterfowl: bread is carb non grata.
Lettuce, corn, and frozen peas are less lethal options. Seeds, oats, and rice are similarly life-sustaining, and more handbag friendly.
If you’re fairly sure your date isn’t a murderer, might I suggest driving to a lookout at dusk to watch the stars come out. If you’re trapped in a sprawling metropolis, head to the highest point - just like in the event of a tsunami - and watch the lights pop on below.
Take a thermos of tea or hot chocolate, a blanket, and some deep conversation topics.
Attend a market or a school fair
Visually stimulating, providing plenty of conversation topics, heading to a weekend market (in the morning or at night) or a school fair is a novel way to hang out. You can spend as much as or as little money as you like - buy a coffee at the beginning and drag it out over an hour or two, and stick around for some cheap eats if things are going well.
There’s a reasonable chance of running into someone you know, so devise ahead of time a way to introduce your date that won’t embarrass anyone.
You must have stated a desire to check out a particular antique or op shop - it works best if it’s located in an area with lots of them - but once you’re there, there’s the potential for a lot of laughs and great anecdotes to come out of the woodwork as you browse old curios, second-hand books, and - if you’re brave - try on others’ sartorial rejects. The more outrageous the better.
Bonus content: overrated first date ideas
Art galleries and museums
Unless it’s an exhibition opening at the former - free wine and canapés, anyone? - or you’re total art-and/or-history fiends, you’ve signed yourself up for interminable hours of very little conversation, feigning interest, and surreptitiously checking the time and wondering if it’s too early to suggest you leave.
Again, no chance to chat, and a fraught two hours of barely suppressed lust spent sitting next to someone whose hand/knee you keep “accidentally” brushing with your own. Don’t put yourself through it.