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The $200 Date Debacle And Other Musings On Today’s Dating Culture

“When I started exploring the evolution of how we talk about dating culture online, I got sadder and sadder the more I thought about it.”

By Michael Arceneaux
Published Feb. 21, 2024

Of all the topics that spark conversation online, none of them depress me more than dating and relationships.

I love my people, Lord knows I do, but many of y’all wear me out discussing the same topics the same way over and over again. To quote pomskeet from Reddit: “Anytime I see Black people discussing anything related to relationships on Twitter or Instagram I become a white supremacist for a couple seconds.”

I write about my life for a living and cover all types of subject matter — including dating and sex — so I understand the interest. We are human. We don’t want to be lonely.

Yet, Americans are lonelier than ever, according to a 2023 report from the U.S. Surgeon General. The relationships we form can be interesting and complicated, so understandably, we turn to platforms to talk it out with the hopes of making sense to others and ourselves. Social media was sold to us as a means for people to forge connections — especially those that might not have happened in real life. These platforms thrive off engagement — a like, a comment, a video response — which best explains why so much content, especially about relationships, is positioned as hypothetical situations.

When I started exploring the evolution of how we talk about dating culture online, I got sadder and sadder the more I thought about it. The truth is there has not been much of an evolution because our social media algorithms have done a number on us. The push for “engagement” has caused us to collectively communicate more with each other, but is it communication that actually elevates the conversation? Do people feel any less alone?

Some might, but that is not my online experience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. After two decades of being chronically online, here’s what I’ve noticed about the loud and confrontational dynamics of the online dating discourse.

The $200 Date Debate

The majority of the conversations begin with a singular moment.

Say, in 2015, when a screengrab of a story from a local D.C. news station site covering a survey from a random date auction site claimed that men spend $177 on a date, on average.

The argument over this particular price point happens every couple of months. This survey seemed to be conducted as nothing more than clickbait to stoke engagement with an audience always ready to tussle over this topic.

But really, why is it so important whether $200 is too much or too little to spend on a date?

Some would say it speaks to having standards, which everyone deserves a right to set based on their feelings. Fair enough. But once it’s clear that two people have different value sets, or more pointedly, different socioeconomic statuses, what is there to really argue about? Can’t people in this situation try to see if they can date through that difference? If they can’t, shouldn’t they just move on?

Why must people argue their position so vehemently?

“People are just so uneasy and antsy and insecure about dating and relationships!” said a close friend, who is happily coupled and much more enthusiastic about talking about relationships than I am. “[They are] looking for the one singular ‘right way’ to do it — and there just isn’t one.”

That’s a smart takeaway. I’d also add that the internet has more people interested in being “right” above everything else — as if that makes your life less lonely.

Although the $200 date debacle is one of the most infamous dating topics we’ve seen via Black Twitter and other Black spaces across social media, there are variations of the general debate over money and dating.

When The Cheesecake Factory Entered The Chat

Whether or not a man should be stoned to death if he took a woman to the Cheesecake Factory on their first date, ever so often, there is some person complaining about being taken to that chain restaurant. Most recently, in October, a woman went viral on TikTok for refusing to get out of the car when her date pulled up to the Cheesecake Factory.

On one side of the internet is the group hollering that Eddie V’s, STK, or some other high-dollar restaurant should be the standard. Often, those daters primarily want to flex on photos inside the place for their Instagram. Then, there is the chain restaurant gang, rallying to the defense of spots with big ass menus and wonderful brown bread.

Some voices try to bring reason to the argument — suggesting people just go out with someone with the same tastes and interests — but they are usually drowned out by virtual screaming.

Again, everyone has a right to their opinion, but perhaps people should understand that their standard isn’t someone else’s and date accordingly.

Quite frankly, when half of Americans say they can’t afford to pay their rent, I wonder why so many bother bickering about chain restaurants, but it seems like the debate will outlive us all.

When there aren’t arguments about date locations and receipt minimums, there are arguments about what constitutes dating and relationships altogether.

Does Netflix and chill classify as a date?

How much value should you place in a sneaky link?

When are you going to let go of your situationship?

Naturally, these questions and conversations have evolved into another new type of relationship: the delusionship. Admittedly, I did learn some things about delusionship after watching this term blow up on TikTok.

But for a more informed opinion, Bumble’s dating coach, Caroline West, Ph.D., explained it to Glamour: “It’s the infatuation that you have for someone you don’t have an established relationship with — someone you see on the train every morning, or someone you have matched with on a dating app but haven’t met up with yet.”

Celebrities Get Mixed Up In This Mess, Too

Speaking of delusion, there are also arguments about famous people in relationships.

I can think of no greater example than Future, his ex-fiancé Ciara Russell, and her current husband, Russell Wilson.

Future fans feel Ciara is somehow wrong for moving on — namely with a man they find “corny” who just so happens to make her happy — so much so that they have effectively trolled the couple for years. Whenever a picture is posted of Ciara and Future’s son posing with Wilson, his stepfather, there are plenty of men whining about what they would do in a similar situation.

I have seen those same people fail to grasp that it’s not your situation because you’re not any of those people. Shouldn’t folks be happy when a child is accepted and loved by their non-biological parental figure? Isn’t it best to focus on the child’s health?

Apparently, not when adults with caustic views about women and parenting want to project their beliefs onto others. For these critics, the situation doesn’t matter as long as it allows people space to express what they would do in a scenario, even if it does not reflect on their real lives.

The bottom barrel of Black media — some of the blogs that often print unsubstantiated gossip as news — bear the brunt of helping foster these debates with their posts. However, to the credit of average internet users, they, too, come up with nonsense that results in people arguing about made-up situations for several days.

Then, There Are The Topics That Stoke The Gender Wars

Who should eat first? The man or the woman? Should a woman make a plate for her man? Can a man make a plate for his woman and not misplace his manhood in the process? What about a woman who makes more money?

Such questions have been asked and answered long before the internet, but in the age of rising incels, these ideas feel dumber than ever.

The subgenre of “This Is Why You’re Single” tweets fits that same paradigm.

Sometimes, the tweets can be funny, thanks to self-deprecation, but they’re often rooted in some random man saying something flippant about a woman and why she’s not in a relationship.

Yes, I blame men more than women for this dynamic, but for what it’s worth, a lot of us are single for reasons beyond our control. There is widespread inequality, and particularly for Black folks, policies have caused generational damage. But hey, why not say a person is going to die alone simply because they didn’t want that free brown bread at the Cheesecake Factory on a date?

As much as people like to tackle dating and relationships, they also make room for arguments about sex. It’s rare to accomplish anything useful like destigmatizing sex work, better understanding of consent or how to practice safe sex.

It’s usually something like debates about ass-eating, who does and doesn’t perform oral sex, or how to finish. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but much like where people go on a date, everyone has a right to their preferences, so why police them?

These Tired Debates Often Show Up In Different Ways In Queer Communities

In the name of intersectionality, it’s important for me to not solely bash heteronormative dating discourse. I’m just as exhausted by the gays as I am the straights. Many queer people like to beat the same topics to death, too: tops and bottoms and what those roles say or don’t say about a person. Interracial dating and open relationships are also big topics that are mulled over and over again online.

I want to be clear that I am very sensitive to the reality that many queer people aren’t allowed to date and experience relationships with other people until much later in life. There is a real learning curve, and I get that intimately.

Having said that, much like the discourse between straights, I only see people talking at and through each other more so than I do any meaningful dialogue.

Some Black men should have their “preferences” interrogated, but generally speaking, we can’t always generalize others based on experiences we haven’t lived. Not to mention that when it comes to sex, people like what they like and satisfaction in one area doesn’t necessarily mean anything else about a person.

But again, reason and nuance are not the internet’s friends, so no matter the demo or the topic, more often than not, if I see a conversation about dating online, I know that if I scroll through long enough, I may end up regretting learning how to read. For my peace of mind, I have learned to stay clear.

The conversations often make me think of a circle (of hell, arguably) or perhaps a hamster wheel.

I want y’all to get off with me.

I didn’t write any of this to be a downer, but it might be time for change. Ideally, that involves touching grass more, meeting people outside with similar interests and seeing where it takes us.

I’m doubtful that will happen, but when Americans are lonelier than ever, and data shows we’re all having less sex, my idea sounds far more fruitful for connection than more online fights about eating ass or cheesecake.

Good luck to us all, though.