On Twitter, I recently saw the following question:
I saw a post saying “Men should spend at least $1000 on a first date.” What ya’ll think?
The answer is, obviously, “no”. At least if that’s denominated in US dollars. But that’s not the interesting part. The correct answer to what a man should spend on a first date is: the price of admission to a museum, zoo, art gallery, or similar. And, as far as possible, during the day.
There are several reasons for this, mostly related to the function of courtship, but some of them are practical, too.
To get the practical reasons out of the way, one wants to make a good first impression on a person in a first date, and people are at their best when they have something to do. Even an excellent conversationalist does better with material to hand, and most people are not excellent conversationalists.
The other practical reason is that museums, zoos, etc. tend to make people comfortable. First dates can be awkward and a setting that will put both people at ease is helpful.
When it comes to courtship, the benefits are several fold. The first is that it is a demonstration of patience on the part of both parties. Marriage requires large amounts of patience; being willing to demonstrate small amounts of patience by being among people, and with a purpose, on a date, helps both to show this to the other. (Also frequently one has to wait for the people in front of one.)
Going to a museum, or to a zoo, or some such place will also inevitably involve some amount of minor inconvenience. How people bear up under minor inconvenience is extremely useful to know in marriage. How people bear up under great inconvenience may be more important, but most days involve minor inconvenience, and if a person handles it badly, that will add up to a lot of problems, over the years.
Zoos, museums, and the like also involve some amount of making joint decisions. If one wants to see the polar bears and the other wants to see the orangutans, the couple will need to work out which to actually go see, or at least the order to see them in. How good people are at making joint decisions—actually working them out and not merely something unsustainable like one always deferring to the other—is extremely valuable in marriage. (I would hope it would go without saying that if a person shows themselves to be selfish and demands to always have their way, this is a huge red flag; in case it doesn’t go without saying—it is.)
A final benefit is that most zoos, museums, etc. are physically large, and large amounts of walking will slightly tire people out. What people are like when mildly fatigued is also very useful to know, as much of marriage will be spent when one, the other, or both are a little tired. When they have young children, it will be spent when both are very tired.
When you sum these benefits up, a first date at a zoo, museum, or the like will work well to show both people whether a second date is worthwhile. It will teach both people a great deal about the other, but under conditions which are pleasant and favorable.
Oh, and while it is cheap in terms of money, going with someone to a zoo, museum, or the like is a significant investment in terms of time and effort. How much a person appreciates that is also useful to know in a marriage, both because effort is more important than money (especially above a certain minimum), and because in any case it is (very frequently) more available in marriage, too.