Dating? – I’m In It For the Free Food

July 19, 2019

“I mean, if it’s dinner, I’m not going to say no, so that I don’t have to go home and cook.”

Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely surprising—she says she wasn’t very interested in the guy when she agreed to go out with him—but it wasn’t a letdown either, because he paid the bill. While her heart wasn’t in it, her stomach was: “I mean, if it’s dinner, I’m not going to say no, so that I don’t have to go home and cook,” she told me.

Trejo says that when she goes on a date where food, not romance, is her priority, she doesn’t feel bad, noting that she still makes an effort to be an engaging dinner companion. “If it’s a guy that’s inviting me out, I do expect them to be the one to pay,” she says. “But I am also bi, so if I like a girl, I like to be the dominant one and then I will go and pay.” And when she is the one who gets asked, she’ll sometimes still say yes to an otherwise inauspicious date. “If it involves food,” she said, “I am always down.”

In the age of online dating, media outlets have been fascinated by women who are in it for the food. Often they are portrayed as wily and deceptive, a category of person to be cautious about. 

But men do it too. Esteban Rosas, a 26-year-old resident of Phoenix who works for a credit-card company, says he often gets messages on Tinder from men he isn’t particularly drawn to, but a few times a month, he’ll take them up on their invitations to meet up if he has nothing else going on. Recently, he’s gotten some free pho, and the tab for the nicest meal he’s ever been treated to by someone he wasn’t interested in came in at more than $200. “I do always reach for my wallet, because I’m also not just a mooch,” he said. (He often picks up the tab himself when he’s the one presenting an invitation.)

“It’s kind of what you do nowadays in this whole dating-app world,” Rosas added. “It’s just like, if I’m not going to get anything out of it romantically or a relationship out of it, well, at least I can get a free dinner out of it.” But to him, this represents a downside of apps that can make dates so quickly and readily available, in the sense that any given date becomes less important when it seems there are plenty of other opportunities out there. This can end in a scenario where “no one’s actually taking anything seriously,” he laments.

Ultimately, people probably need to be “Extra Careful” when swiping on men too: Last year, a 45-year-old man in the Los Angeles area was alleged to have deceived a series of women he met online, going out to eat with them and then ducking out before the bill arrived. One woman says he ordered more than $100 worth of food in one sitting. (He was later sentenced to 120 days in county jail after pleading no contest to three misdemeanor counts of “defrauding an innkeeper by nonpayment” and one misdemeanor count of petty theft, and ordered to stay off Bumble and Plenty of Fish while on probation.)

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