Cost of Loving Crisis: how money is messing with relationships

The cost of living crisis is causing schisms in our love lives – whether it’s tension in your long-term relationship or ‘cash-candid dating’

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The cost of living crisis is causing schisms in our love lives – whether it’s tension in your long-term relationship or ‘cash-candid dating’

By Eloise Hendy11 Oct 2022
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

It is a truth universally acknowledged: a singleton in possession of a decent paycheck must be in want of a cohabiting partner. Okay, maybe that’s not quite how Jane Austen put it… but, with food and fuel costs rising, landlords squeezing tenants for every penny, and a marauding racket of pirates in government, people would be forgiven for thinking they had been thrown back a few centuries. That is, to a time when shacking up with someone was a matter of practicality rather than romance. There might be nothing less sexy than discussing how to split a bill or whose turn it is to buy toilet roll, but, in desperate times, business often comes before pleasure.

The harsh reality is, the cost of living crisis is causing a crisis in our love lives. How could it not? A recent survey by Stowe Family Law – the largest specialist team of family lawyers in the UK – revealed that 88% of people feel they have already been financially affected by the cost of living crisis. Naturally, anxiety and stress is at an all time high, with over half of Stowe’s respondents saying the crisis is causing friction in their romantic relationship. And its not just established couples that are feeling the financial strain — daters are also increasingly considering potential matches less for their ‘good sense of humour’ and more for their ‘possession of a good fortune’. Except, instead of Mr Darcy’s 100-room eligible-bachelor pad, now, most people’s definition of a ‘good fortune’ would probably be ‘can buy a round of £7 pints, and puts the heating on for an hour in the evening.’

“I am definitely a lot more skeptical with who I date,” Dylan* tells Woo, “because I think some people are less interested in romantic partnership, and more want to find someone to help them get through high cost of living.” Of course, there’s nothing surprising about people wanting a bit of support through a period of high stress and hyper-inflation. But, is anxiety about surging costs and stagnating wages pressuring people to rush into committed relationships before they’re really ready? Dylan certainly thinks so. “It seems like people want to move in right away, and I can’t help but think it’s to save on rent and bills.”

Yet, while having someone to share the cost of a one-bed with might be appealing in theory, spiraling rents and household expenses mean that, in practice, cohabiting is far from an easy fix. Carlotta, who lives in London with her boyfriend, said that they “have definitely noticed the cost of living over the past few months”, and have already started making everyday changes, from “how we shop, and always taking lunch in to work,” to “not really going out to eat anymore.” Carlotta recognises these adjustments aren’t likely to make a huge difference in the long run though, and is considering making a bigger change so she and her boyfriend can stay living together. “We've started talking about whether we want to stay in London anymore, which for me is huge. I was born and grew up in London and feel so connected to it, but I have begun to join my boyfriend in questioning whether it's worth me spending so much of my income just to survive here.”

“It seems like people want to move in right away, and I can’t help but think it’s to save on rent and bills”

It is undeniable that the economic bin fire we find ourselves in is leading people to assess their relationships in ways they might not have before. A young American woman who got in touch with me through Reddit said “inflation makes me not want to rush into cohabitation”. She also said she’s noticed that when her boyfriend stays at her house, “my grocery and utility bills rise. So I think being under the same roof would drive my bills up and it scares me.” This kind of fear is common. Lack of certainty, or reassurance that things will improve in the short-term, has led 66.5% of people surveyed by Stowe said they fear the cost-of-living crisis will negatively impact their relationship in the future. “My boyfriend refuses to live with me,” Jess* tells Woo, “so is just not going to turn his heating on and has bought an electric blanket.” Well, that’s one way to keep the spark alive, right?

In hard times, sometimes all you can do is try and look out for number one. When young people are relentlessly told by the daughters of Barons to ditch Netflix and avocado toast if they’re hoping to get on the housing ladder, is it surprising that some are choosing to forego dating and relationships altogether?

“I live in a rural area and used to date a girl that lived in a big town two hours away from me,” one young guy who also spoke to me on Reddit told me. “The cost of train tickets, eating out, and gifts would add up over time. Now, money is tight and if I want to remain responsible I can't allow myself to do it again currently.” Financial responsibility, it seems, is a romance killer. “At the moment I'm not dating,” he told me. “If I was, it would be someone near me,” but, “location and available resources definitely limit your options,” he said.

“I had to tell him I couldn’t even afford to get on the Overground. The whole thing was quite mortifying”

A couple of years ago, Rosie* matched with someone on Hinge who she really hit it off with. After a day or two of typical flirty back and forth, he suggested a date. The only problem? Rosie* was “totally skint.” She decided to swallow her pride and ‘fess up. “He was so nice about it, and said we could just go for a walk in the park near where he lived, with a bottle of supermarket wine.” Which would have been great, except, when Rosie said “totally skint” she really meant it. “I had to tell him I couldn’t even afford to get on the Overground. The whole thing was quite mortifying,” she says.

Yet, looked at from a different angle, maybe this story offers a bit of hope — a silver lining to this whole cost of loving mess. Rosie might not have seen it this way at the time, but she was actually ahead of a trend Bumble is terming “cash-candid dating”. New research from the dating app, which was commissioned through YouGov, has found that among people aged 18 to 34, talking about your money situation on a date is no longer taboo. Indeed, being honest and open about finances is now widely seen as a date-winner, with almost one in three people saying they think it’s more important to talk about finances with the person they are dating than it was at the beginning of the year.

Raising the topic of money and savings might sound like a scary prospect for a first date, but Alice Tapper, financial expert behind social media platform Go Fund Yourself, says it doesn’t have to be. “You can kick things off with questions like ‘Is work important to you, or a means to an end?’ Down the line, you might move on to bigger conversations like whether they prioritise saving and paying off debt,” Tapper suggests.

All this cash-candidness has, according to Bumble, led to a rise in low-key dates, such as grabbing coffee or going for a walk. Research from dating app Inner Circle backs this up, and also indicates that people might actually enjoy ‘low-key’ or ‘cheap dates’ more, with 29% of their survey respondents saying they feel more relaxed and a quarter saying it takes the pressure off. As Alice Tapper puts it, “being 10 minutes into a three-course dinner and realising there is zero vibe is an expensive but avoidable situation.” Choosing something less extravagant certainly shouldn’t spoil the chance of a connection, as apparently more than two thirds of people think you can get to know someone better when the setting isn’t too fancy.

It worked for Rosie at least. “After I owned up that even getting the train to walk around a park was a stretch, we arranged to meet at the Spoons round the corner from mine instead. He bought me a drink, and then I paid for second with a handful of loose change.” To her surprise, her original embarrassment melted away almost immediately, and they ended up having “one of the best dates ever.” Maybe this is the thing to cling onto as the pound tanks and the nights draw in — that it's still possible to have fun and connect with people. Indeed, as we all stumble from one crisis to the next, it’s never been more important to try.

*names changed