By Christen A. Johnson
Editor’s note: Meet. Assess attraction. Court her. (Or him. Or them.) Confess feelings. Discuss monogamy. Marry, maybe. Make babies, if you want.
In many ways, the mechanics of dating are universal, regardless of whether you’re black, white, brown or “a colorless person,” as Raven-Symone famously described herself to Oprah in a 2014 interview.
Still, race can color dating experiences in minute and major ways. Many say there are common, cultural threads, and we’re here to tease them out. Call it a labor of love.
On the ever-growing list of “things millennials killed,” dating fell victim long ago.
And how could it not? Practices like “ghosting” and “cushioning” have made trying to find love a childlike game, leaving most millennials just wanting a timely text back, and a date that doesn’t involve Netflix and chilling.
For the millennials who don’t partake in the pettiness, is a real date even in the realm of possibility, meaning in the budget for this month?
After all, unless you’re among the one out of six millennials who have stacked up $100,000 in savings, according to a 2018 Bank of America report, chances are you fall in the “broke” category.
While many millennials (ages 18 to 34) find it hard to take “future bae” out for a nice dinner, black millennials, specifically, can find dating to be a hefty undertaking.
“There’s this pressure attached to being black and dating,” said 27-year-old Demetria Mosley, a 2016 DePaul University graduate who works at a small newspaper in North Carolina. “Black culture is kind of flashy, but not in a bad way. We like to show off, eat good, and show folks a good time. So when you’re dating someone, people want to act like they have it.”
And by “it,” Mosley means money.
But dropping cash on dates might be especially difficult for black millennials because 55.4 percent (ages 18 to 29) said the amount they are paid does not allow them to fulfill their financial obligations, according to data from a 2015 Black Youth Project report.
“I started seeing someone in November,” said 24-year-old Kevin Whiteneir, an exhibition designer for Harold Washington Library, “and all my financial responsibilities started hitting the same time I wanted to start using my money recreationally because I was dating this person.”
Financial adviser Lynnette Kahlfani-Cox says this is a cultural and legacy issue.
“If a black millennial went to college or works a good job,” she said, “there may be some financial pressure from their family. We also know that African-Americans have lower rates of inheritance and net worth; being broke today is not a function of your earnings this year, it has historical factors that come into play too.”
Kahlfani-Cox, who founded AskTheMoneyCoach.com, explained that it can be easier for others to be further ahead, and not considered broke, when their parents paid for college or gave a down payment for a house.
In fall 2017, the United States Census Bureau released data on 2016 household incomes, showing that the median income for white households was $61,349, compared with a median of $38,555 for black households.
“It’s not playing the blame game,” said Khalfani-Cox, “but recognizing structural inequality.”
Khari Osborne, a 26-year-old graduate student at Aurora University, says being both a black woman and a broke millennial can make dating harder.
“I’ll date black men, white men, whatever, but if I’m dating white males, the response is different. The area I’m close to has a lot of money, and my dates are expected to rise to that too. If I don’t fit that mold right now because I’m broke, the relationship doesn’t end up progressing.”
Some black millennial men have a different struggle.
“I feel like I can’t date right now because funds aren’t coming in,” said Anthony Pereira, a 23-year-old master’s student at Binghamton University in New York. “It detours me from approaching women, because if I don’t have any money, what can I offer, besides conversation?”
Pereira comes from a West Indian background and says the culture believes that if you can’t “properly court someone,” then you shouldn’t waste their time.
“First impressions are everything. If you don’t have the means for a first impression, then why bother?”
He may be on to something. According to the 2018 Match.com “Singles in America” survey of 5,000 unmarried folks nationwide, 91 percent of women want men to “insist on paying” on the first date.
For as bleak as it seems, though, there is hope.
“The cutest dates I’ve ever had,” said Mosley, “I was super broke. I was dating someone, and we both like the TV show ‘Chopped.’ I had this hodgepodge of stuff in my fridge, because I was that broke, so we had a ‘Chopped’ date and utilized the lack of food I had. I put out some ingredients, we cooked and it was our first date. It didn’t require spending extra money, and after, we talked. That’s a cheap date too: talking.”
“Special doesn’t always mean expensive,” says Fran Greene, who suggests not having an expensive first date.
“Expensive could be a red flag, it could show that the person is more interested in impressing you, rather than getting to know you.”
Greene suggests cheap date ideas to help find love on a budget.
Be a tourist in your town. “There are places in your city you haven’t taken advantage of because you live there,” she said. “It can become such an adventure. If you live in the suburbs, go on a city bus and explore, or check out museums on the free days.”
Volunteer together. “Giving back always feels good. Charitable venues are the perfect way to see your date be who they really are.”
Get a Groupon. “For millennials, retro can be very cool. Go bowling, share an ice cream soda. Do something that is unique and different. When you date, try new experiences,” she suggests.
Kahlfani-Cox says that if you’re not fiscally fit, your overall well-being is affected too. Below, The Money Coach gives financial tips for a holistically improved life.
Avoid the YOLO syndrome. “Get into good financial habits early on,” encouraged Kahlfani-Cox. “If you spend like you only live once, then it becomes a way of life. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, if you’re spending more than you make, you’ll constantly be in debt.”
Have accountability partners. “Surround yourself with upwardly mobile thinkers who share your values. Have people in your life that will get it when you say, ‘I can’t go out tonight because I don’t have the money,’ or, ‘I’m choosing to save for this goal.'” If someone doesn’t support you in that, question if they should be in your inner circle.”
Keep your credit in tact. “It’s super important for millennials to have good credit. Employers are increasingly looking at credit reports, trying to determine who to hire and who to promote. Pay all your bills on time; one late payment can drop your score by 50 points or more. Credit also impacts your well-being. People with higher credit scores tend to stay married longer and commit to relationships sooner.”