Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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August 3rd, 2009

Romance in a Recession

How is the economic downturn affecting relationships?



Tim is an unmarried 29-year-old with a master’s in statistics. He’d like to meet a great woman, get married and start a family, but he says the recession has stalled his progress.

“I don’t have the disposable income to go out on a date,” Tim told me recently. Plus, he said, his self-worth is tied to his career. After a few years of underemployment in jobs that haven’t been intellectually stimulating, even if he did have some more cash on hand he wouldn’t really feel up to dating.

“Manliness is rooted in a career, and it is demoralizing to work in positions that require little to no education and have little to no prospect of upward mobility,” said Tim. “All this leads to a sort of psychology where, while I’m confident I can support myself, I know I cannot support someone else and especially not a child. So instead of dating with the intention to marry and have children I tend to gravitate towards women who do not want to get married and do not want children,” he told me regretfully.

And Tim isn’t alone in feeling this way. The unemployment rate will soon top 10 percent, and it’s men who are bearing the brunt of the layoffs: According to the Labor Department, men accounted for four out of five job losses since December 2007, as jobs in male-dominated fields like construction, manufacturing and financial services have disappeared.

During the Great Depression, my grandfather dated my grandmother for seven years before he proposed because he felt he needed to earn enough money to provide for her, and for a future family. Are we seeing this trend all over again?

Men without college degrees have been most severely impacted, but all guys have been feeling the hit. (Women are being laid off, too, of course, but at much lower rates, and economists predict that by the end of 2009 women will make up more than 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history.)

Delaying marriage?

Talking with Tim brought back memories of my grandparents’ courtship during the Great Depression. My grandfather dated my grandmother for seven years before he proposed because he felt he needed to earn enough money to provide for her, and for a future family. Are we seeing this trend all over again?

It’s too soon to tell, but early surveys suggest some worrisome news, especially for those who were already struggling financially before the recession: Among young adults who say their economic situation is poor, some 32 percent say they are delaying marriage or having children, according to an April 2009 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey of 18 to 29-year-olds commissioned by Qvisory. And a June 2009 study from FindLaw reports that about 40 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds are delaying marriage, divorce or having children.

Recession Romance Survey

How is the recession is impacting your dating life? Are you going out on different kinds of dates? Planning a wedding, but downsizing a bit? Prioritizing different things in a mate?

Take the Recession Romance survey here and share your comments. In a future column I’ll post the results and responses.

At the same time, I’ve heard some wonderful stories about how liberating it is to date on a budget — a long walk in the park instead of the pressure of a fancy dinner — and how young married couples are finding that staying in (and turning the TV off) can mean more quality time with your spouse than a concert or the theater.

So I put it to you; I’m interested in how the recession is impacting your dating life. Are you going out on different kinds of dates? Planning a wedding — but downsizing a bit? Are you prioritizing different things in a mate? Share you comments by clicking here to take the Recession Romance survey, and in my next column I’ll explore recession romance for young adult Catholics.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Monica

    “Disposable income will get you a disposable wife.” Absolutely!
    My favorite date with my boyfriend of a year is still splitting a sub($9).I’m not sure why. I think eating something messy with your hands together is a weird bonding sort of thing.

  • Boomer

    I knew an older couple who told the story where the man got a job because someone sponsored his radio show and they got married on that money. 6 Weeks in the sponsor pulled out. “But we stayed married!” the man would always joke. And they did for over 50 years. Sometimes these “hard times,” which are hardly so hard for us gifted Americans as Laura points out, are in fact ways to draw closer in relationship. My wife and I do some volunteering as a way to not only give back but also have a budget date. We’ve had better discussions than ever because of this and have grown closer to God and others as well.

  • Laura Lockett

    Be oh so grateful that you have 20 bucks to spend on movies. Come on guys, get a grip! And, Tim, since when is ‘disposable income’ necessary for a date? Disposable income will get you a disposable wife.

  • Ray

    My friends and I have always found ways to have fun on small budgets, and generally our girlfriends/boyfriends and spouses were simply invited. The easiest way to enjoy things on a budget is to form a small community. Lots of the things Ronald said above: potlucks, board-games, watching dvd’s, rock band (don’t knock it till you try it!), hiking, canoeing, etc. Most of the greatest things in life are not high budget, and I think that these are very culturing things to do. We actually have to use a little elbow grease and social coordination to make things happen. This has always led to much more fun in my view.

    For the record, all of these things also apply to weddings. You’d be surprised at the skills your social network of friends and family can pitch in to a successful wedding party. Here’s the kicker, I have yet to go to one of these “home made” receptions that wasn’t an absolute blast.

    Of course, if you have no taste for the quaint or amateur-but-touching things in life, then a recession is just an unmitigated disaster. I feel for people who have this mindset. I feel for people who have to be waited on hand-and-foot. But I also hope they get over it. While the economy will heal up a bit (I think), I am not inclined to believe that we will “return to where we were”. Where we were was a falsehood to begin with; an artifice propped up on debt and careers to service debt. What we are experiencing is not only a recession, but a slight paradigm shift.


    PS: I disagree with the sentiment that manliness is tied to a career. I get it, it’s very American, but not a Christian attitude, and therefore I believe it should be re-thought.

  • sensei ronald panlilio

    yes I keep myself on a frugal budget. I tend to go on group activities with friends. So a bunch of us will go play tennis, or go running, picnics with volleyball and playing catch with softballs. Or cooking meals for people instead of going to restaraunts. If we do go to dine, we often do family style, order less plates of food and share it among all of us. One time I went to the beach and packed a cooler full of snacks, a couple books to read, and notebook to write in, and just sat back at newport beach. I know a spot that doesnt require me to pay for parking :), but still has a bathroom and shower nearby.

    We went to a college sports game, to watch cuz it costs way less than a pro game…

    I buy dvds used now, instead of going to theaters as much as I used too. So if I get 4 movies for 20 bucks, that is lot better than one movie for 2 people at 10 dollars each….and if its good we can watch it again…

    more potluck gatherings than before….Really the recesion is teaching me how to have fun with friends, get to know them and work on a budget…and we pray and praise together in our ministry group.. So we lift up our time and energy to the lord, and jesus is with us where two or three are gathered…he does not ask us how much we are gonna spend on a date, but he asks for our faithfulness, and for what we can offer in tithes, for everything we have is his gift to us…live simply, love deeply and unconditionally, be thankful for quality time, and touch, and service, and less expensive gifts, but still gifts that come from the heart like a story, poem, or song about your beloved…now we really must test the theory of whether or not we can love each other when money is not abundant…..in sickness and health, richer or poorer, until death do us part

    Sensei Ronald Panlilio

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