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Inside the Dating Mind: Analyzing Who Pays These Days and Why

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According to research presented in January of 2014, more than forty million people in the U.S. have tried online dating. Whether or not these hopeful singles found success online (only 10 percent of that number "quit" after three months), that's still a whole lot of dates.

At a time when we're increasingly meeting people online and have no way to predict whether there will be that special spark, and maybe dating several people at a time or in rapid succession, many are looking to date cheaply without looking cheap. Available income and geographical location are certainly significant considerations, but in a possible fledgling relationship, how do we strike a balance when broaching this potentially awkward subject?

Well, first of all, there may be some good news. From a purely economical standpoint, dating expert Leonardo Bustos explains, "Internet dating is far and away the most practical and economical way to meet someone."

"If you go to a nightclub and try to meet women, you can run up a hefty bar tab in no time," Bustos explains, "and your odds of meeting someone you really connect with are pretty dismal."

He adds that with online dating, you're at least meeting people who are also looking.

But when it comes down to paying on dates, it's a fine balance and daters' viewpoints really run the gamut.

That's why I reached out to men and women, anywhere on the spectrum of sexual orientation, to get their thoughts on the subject. I wanted to know not only how they make dating cheap, but not "cheap," but whether it matters and what it means.

33-year-old Alex Zorach has been happily dating his girlfriend for two years and has practical advice -- what you could call "DIY dating."

"My girlfriend and I first hung out at a potluck tea party that I hosted at my apartment," notes Zorach. From there, they switched off cooking dinner for one another.

Now, the two keep their finances entirely separate apart from the occasional gift. It's the ultimate utilitarian romance and it seems to be working for them.

29-year-old Stephan Watts, a single, straight male, has a slightly different approach.

"I absolutely pay every time," Watts says, "No questions asked."

He also explains how he keeps the price down. "One way to reduce the cost of a first date is to just meet for a cocktail or beer to test the waters," he says. "Save the expensive dinners for when you've established that it is worth it."

Jason Weberman, another dating coach, echoes Watts. He lays out a five step dating plan to keep prices down until the relationship gets more serious.

Sounds reasonable enough, though, some have little control over their dating expenses. This often applies in extreme circumstances, when love trumps all else. For example, 27-year-old Sonia Hendrix, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, is in love with a man who lives literally across the country in California. They have been dating for six months.

"I cannot even begin to tell you how expensive our long-distance dating has been for the two of us," Hendrix says. "Actually, yes I can. Just in the last six months, we've spent a combined total of around $5,500."

Hendrix and her boyfriend have no qualms about splitting the costs.

Bustos, our dating expert, believes who pays depends on the situation and one should only pay if they believe it is the right course of action. Other responders agree with Bustos, saying whoever initiated the date should pay (it's worthwhile considering how often men do the asking vs. women so as not to skew our observations). However, this advice carries frighteningly hyperbolic repercussions.

"This seemingly small gesture says a lot about who you are, and what you'll be like over the long term. If you don't feel like paying, and she thinks you should, then you aren't meant for each other and you're wasting each other's time."

Matt Fellows, another dater willing to speak, relays a horror story. He took a girl out to a couple expensive meals (breakfast and dinner) with pre-made plans to also take her dancing. Once they got to the venue, however, she immediately disappeared, only to be found later, dancing with other men.

"I made the sad walk of shame back to my car and drove myself home while she danced the night away with someone else on my dime," says Fellows, who's pretty much over it now, but likely won't make the same mistake again.

Finally, Anthony Recenello has harsh words for men who are reticent about spending money on dates: "Listen, if you feel you're wasting money taking women out on dates that don't go anywhere, then you shouldn't be going on dates."

Unfortunately, there were no responses from same-sex couples, which has the potential to complicate the situation according to normative paying practices (e.g. man pays for woman). And, these normative practices are likely the reason for the overwhelming responses from men with strong opinions and memorable personal anecdotes. Surely, we're not stuck so far in the past as to have so few responses from females on the subject. While their responses do vary, we shouldn't let men do all the talking.

Dollar signs aside, hopefully the conversation will prompt more men and women to think critically about what it means to let certain practices stick with us while the rest of the world continues to evolve. And, maybe save a buck in the process.

Whether you choose to pay or not, and depending on the situation, Bustos's point about a person's "character" -- should you choose to believe him -- remains. If someone believes strongly in a certain practice against all odds, that does say something about their character.

With all these differing viewpoints, the financial aspect of dating these days seems nothing other than awkward territory. But, millions of brave people still manage to do it everyday and hopefully they talk about when it's time to split the bill.