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Market for Romance Goes From Bullish to Sheepish

Niko Papademetriou said unemployment is "definitely putting stress" on his relationship with his girlfriend.
Niko Papademetriou said unemployment is "definitely putting stress" on his relationship with his girlfriend. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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"They're spending more time at networking events, happy hours, with their guy friends -- trying to get leads on jobs, rather than spending it on women," she said. "I feel bad for the guys who don't have jobs."

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Bad enough to date them? She smiled and shook her head. "I guess I'm kind of traditional. So if a guy can't really take you out or doesn't have the money or the state of mind to take girls out, then it's not going to go anywhere."

Even in this post-feminist age, the vast majority of those interviewed said men pick up the tab on dates. But some women said they have lowered their expectations. "I look for free things that we can do together, and I'm more conscious about the money that he is spending," said Laura Sambataro, 22, of Bethesda.

Jamie Fabrizio, 26, a Catholic school teacher from Arlington, said a man doesn't have to spend a lot, but he has to act like an Alpha male.

"Guys should be bold; whether or not they have money doesn't matter," she said. But if a guy asks her out, she added, she expects him to pay for dinner.

It's unlikely then that either she or Huddleston would date Paul Almeter, 25. Since business at the Annandale construction company he owns has fallen 50 percent, he has come up with innovative ways to cut down on the $600 to $700 he used to spend each month on dates.

He takes his dates hiking, which is free other than gas. He takes them on his motorcycle to visit wineries, or to a baseball game.

"I'm more inclined to tell my girlfriend to come over to my house and hang out with me than take her to D.C., definitely. "

In the end, he said, a loving relationship should be able to thrive without the rib-eye steak and Moet.

"How much you spend on a girl, I think that's superficial," he said. "If you call her at the end of the day, send a text message in the middle of the day and ask her how her day's going, that's more important than spending money."

Lindsey Schwalb, 22, of Arlington said the financial crunch has made men she knows more amenable to settling down. "People are looking for some form of stability. Instead of someone you have to impress monetarily, they want someone they can concentrate on spending quality time with."

Welsh said he is scaling back on dating costs while he builds a new business, an Internet marketing company.

"Now I'm more inclined to take a girl to a good ethnic restaurant," he said, whereas before, "I was constantly worried about being judged for how much money I was spending."

Not that there isn't judging. "One of the first questions is: 'What do you do? You own your own company? How many people work for you? Are you working at home or do you go to an office?' They are literally sizing you up." And, he said, he doesn't blame them -- especially if the girl is beautiful. "They can afford to be picky."

And although he used to go on several dates a week, he said, he's now pickier about whom he asks out. "It's shown me that it was silly to spend money on girls that I may or may not like."

Papademetriou has delayed plans to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring. He is considering a career in government, which pays much less than investment banking but is less volatile. And his unexpected financial straits have led him to look harder at himself.

"Inadequacy," he said. "I can't harp on that word enough. I just feel inadequate. Why have I not found a job yet? And what if this happens eight years from now when I'm married and have a 2-year-old? Do I go through this again? Do I trust myself that I can pull it off? And I do, but in the midst of it, you definitely question yourself."


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