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The first date: a time of wonder, excitement, and discovery. (No wait, that’s the introduction for Adventures in Odyssey.)

First Date BalloonThe first date: a time of heightened nerves, sweaty palms, and awkward goodbyes. Yes, that’s more accurate. But even though that’s all true, first dates are still exciting. I love the feeling of getting ready — a cup of coffee in one hand, a curling iron in the other, and a rabble of butterflies in my tummy just fluttering away like they own the place. (And yes, a group of butterflies is called a rabble. Consider yourself educated.)

No matter how bad the first date jitters get, I always remind myself and my friends that it’s just one date. No one every died from just one date. Well, except for those people you hear about on the ten o’clock news from time to time, but that’s neither here nor there.

I often hear women ease one another’s minds by saying, “Hey, if nothing else, at least it’s a free dinner.” But as much as we enjoy being treated to dinner, we don’t necessarily want a “free dinner.” Before you go on your women-are-so-hard-to-understand rant, hear me out.

[Enter Anna* stage left.]

Anna is a friend of mine who recently approached me with both frustration and laughter in her eyes.

“I’ve got something for you to blog about,” she said. (I’ve got to tell you, hearing this phrase has really become a highlight for me!) I was all ears.

Anna had just been asked out my a guy she knew. The ask, however, was compromised by what I refer to as “Penny Pincher Syndrome.” It started out just fine:

“Anna, I was wondering if you’d like to get dinner with me?”

No harm, no foul. But then it all took a turn for the worst:

“I’ve got a Groupon we could use.”

[Pause]

[Longer pause]

Wait, did that really just happen?

Anna, as it turns out, was thinking the exact same thing.

A Groupon? Really?

Now, I know we’re living through some tough economic times. Jobs are down, unemployment is up, money is tight. Unless your last name is Kardashian, you likely enjoy a good deal, and find the words sale and clearance exciting to read. But when it comes to dating, loosening your grip on a few extra pennies goes a long way.

At the beginning of a dating relationship, a woman wants to feel desired, pursued, special. This is accomplished in several ways, any combination of which will likely make for some great dates.

        1. Undivided attention: Includes eye contact and genuine engagement; does not include trailing thoughts, distant looks, or technological distractions (i.e., put the iPhone away!).
        2. Kind, sweet words: Includes honest compliments and a generally nice demeanor; does not include playa-playa slang or anything you’d hear on Jersey Shore.
        3. Paid-for meals: Includes treating a woman to a meal, drinks, or coffee; does not necessarily mean you have to pay for everything for the rest of your lives, so calm down! Eventually, if your investments pay off, you’ll live in a world called “joint checking.” Keep your eyes on the prize!
        4. Surprise gifts: Includes flowers, chocolates, or even a free mix tape CD iTunes playlist; does not include (in new relationships) extravagant gifts, expensive trips, or anything else completely awkward and hard-to-return if the relationship never matures into anything serious.

Bottom line: numbers one and two are the most important, but number three shows intention and pursuit — two important things needed to win a woman over. (Number four is optional, but quite effective, and can go both ways [men-to-women, women-to-men]. You’re welcome for the free tip.)

CouponsBut if you start off with your Groupon foot, Living Social knee, Moolala hand, or coupon-clipping elbow, you’re off to rough beginnings. Essentially, you’re saying:

“I’ve got a two-for-one meal deal. So, I’ll pay for my meal (like I would do anyway), and you’ll eat free.”

Translation: You’re a cheap date.

Ouch. That can infer a lot of things, but mainly that you’re not worth spending anything significant on.

I’m not talking bad about deal seekers or coupon clippers. Like I said earlier, everybody loves a good deal, including myself.

All I’m saying is to wait a few dates before you reveal your pile of almost-expired daily deal coupons or your frequent diner card or your stockpile of 57 boxes of angel hair pasta courtesy of Extreme Couponing, Episode #83. Once you’re more established in your relationship, you can let all your penny-pinching ways shine through, and spend your Saturday afternoons together brainstorming all the ways to spend the extra cash you saved.

Needless to say, Anna turned down the date and spent the night at home watching TV and eating a half-price meal from Whole Foods.

~Ruth

*Name changed to protect this frugal yet realistic young lady’s privacy.