7 Fun (And Free!) Dates

Who said the search for love has to eat away at your savings? These surprising get-to-know-you dates won’t cost you a dime — really!

By Celeste Perron

f your dating life seems to be draining your bank account of late, we feel your pain. That’s why we’ve come up with some fun alternatives that don’t cost a dime and, say experts, actually provide a better way to get to know each other than the typical dinner/drinks/movie would. “When you take money out of the equation, you’re forced to be inventive and do things that require different types of interaction,” says Diane Mapes, author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. “It cuts through the financial garbage and cuts to the chase: Is this someone I can have fun with?” Try one of these adventures below, and you’ll have your answer—and that’s priceless.

Hit a gallery opening
These high-culture affairs are often open to the public (to find one, look in your local paper or put your name on some galleries’ mailing lists), but when you’re mingling with
When you’re checking out big-ticket art, the date won’t feel free.
stylish patrons and checking out big-ticket art, the date won’t feel free. And if afternoon dates aren’t for you, see if the gallery stays open late on a certain night of the week; many do. Plus, if it’s opening night, there may be a spread of gratis wine and cheese. But maybe more importantly, you’ll get some insight into how your date’s mind works. “How people respond to art says a lot,” says Mapes. “Is your date open-minded about unusual art or does she only like the classics? Where does his mind go when he looks at something?” The answers you’ll hear will be much more enlightening than conversation than you’d have over dinner and drinks.

Watch an amateur match
Little leagues, local schools and grown-up amateur sports leagues don’t charge for spots in the bleachers, and, unlike at a pro game, you can find a great seat that isn’t adjacent to a fan who’ll spill his beer on you when he jumps up to curse at the referee. “I once took a girl to a football game at the local high school,” says Jay Bixler, 27. “It was just as intense as an NFL game would have been and we had a blast.” You can liven things up by making bets on little things like what the score will be by the third quarter, which team will kick the first field goal, or whether the defense will ever intercept a touchdown pass. Call your local schools, colleges or parks and recreation department to get a schedule of upcoming games.

See a literary star
While most forms of entertainment — movies, plays, music shows, etc. — force you to cough up some cash, there is one performance you pretty much never have to pay for: book readings. Bookstores big and small are hosting increasing numbers of these events to lure in customers. “Some bookstores are even sponsoring group readings in clubs and taverns,” says Mapes. Pick a provocative author, and the reading should provide plenty of material for intriguing conversation at the end of the night.

Browse at a flea market or crafts fair
Flea markets and crafts fairs offer hours of browsing amusement for no pressure to buy—plus, it’s a great way to suss out someone’s personality. “I’ve found I can really get to know someone at a flea market,” says Emily Smith, 32. “By watching which booths a guy is drawn to and what items he loves or hates, you learn a lot about his tastes.” To
It brought out both of our playful sides.
give your browsing a bit of a focus you can make a game out of it—propose a competition for who can find the most perplexing item (What the heck does it do?) or put on your own mini Antiques Roadshow in which you both try to guess how much some weird old tchotchke is worth.

Head outdoors
Parks and other al fresco spots offer space to hang out and pretty stuff to look at for no admission fee. So find out your date’s favorite outdoor activity, whether it’s hiking, biking or just going for a stroll, then center your rendezvous around that. Another selling point of the active outdoor date: It can make you feel frisky in a way that sitting at dinner just doesn’t. “When I was first dating Geoff, we went on bike rides, rowed boats in the park, all that outdoorsy stuff,” says Molly Boxer, 30. “It brought out both of our playful sides, and it was a turn-on for us to see each other doing athletic things.”

Put your culinary skills to the test
Restaurants can quickly cut into your paycheck, but seeing as you two have to eat together at some point, propose this cost-free alternative: to dig through the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets and concoct a meal based on what you find. If it’s been a while since you’ve been grocery shopping, that only makes this proposal more playfully challenging. Need ideas for what to do with what you find? Search for recipes online, and don’t be afraid to have breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs (and frittatas) are easy!

Start a little competition
With the right opponent, a few heated rounds of cards (gin rummy is a perfect one for two players) or a session over the backgammon or Scrabble board can be more fun than money can buy, says Mapes. You can assess your date’s mental acuity or show off your own, and get a sense of how the two of you handle competition. Does it create a sexy Bogie/Bacall chemistry? Or is one of you snarling at the other by the end? Either way, you’ll learn a lot.

Celeste Perron is the former lifestyle director at Cosmopolitan and the author of Playing House: A Starter Guide To Being A Grown-up.
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