First date in Morningside Heights?

Hey Alice,

I am really impressed by this site. It is perfect for those who have those kind of questions that are personal, but at the same time apply to others. One quick scenario that as an upperclassman I have been asked about many times by first-year and sophomore guys, and I would be curious to know your response: Columbia undergraduate male casually meets another very attractive Columbia female. After some time, though male does not know her well, he asks her out and she surprisingly accepts his offer. Problem: Male is new to the city and male is also on fixed income, i.e. work-study & parent allowances, can only spend, say $25.00 on a date. Male really wants to impress female.(Consider that male must compete with other well-endowed males) But mind you, Morningside Heights is not exactly the cheapest place in the world. Given the Columbia neighborhood, what type of activities would you suggest he pursue? Are there some recommended local, reasonably priced, "dinner date" restaurants? I know some people suggest movies, but I have read that movies should be avoided in general... Reasoning: All you do is sit in a dark room and stare at a movie screen for two hours, little to no talking or interaction, etc. Should he suggest a band at the West End Gate, though he doesn't know her taste for music.... and provided they both don't get carded! What does he do??? Is there any good on-campus stuff?

— The First-Year Feeling

Dear The First-Year Feeling,

College students everywhere feel the stress of living on a budget, and you're right that Morningside Heights — not to mention the rest of New York City — doesn't always offer the cheapest options. However, with a little bit of forethought, you and your friends (of any gender!) can usually come up with some fun, local date choices that won't put a huge strain on your wallets.

Though there are definitely more expensive restaurants in the neighborhood, there are also those that make an effort to cater to Columbia students by offering lower-priced fare. Your friend may have to sacrifice a little ambiance in order to have a cheaper date, or just do his best to avoid sticker shock at a more typical date restaurant. Ordering vegetarian dishes, having appetizers or half portions of dinner, and sticking to water for a drink can all result in a lower tab. The best ideas for specific places will probably come from friends: some of them will know from experience any inexpensive restaurants that are still good for a first date. Restaurants in the area also often have specially priced lunch menus, so maybe a lunch date is in order?

There are cheap eating options that skip restaurants entirely. If either person has a kitchen, they can cook dinner and eat together in the suite or lounge, or have a picnic on one of the lawns. If things go well, they can go out for coffee or dessert afterward to better limit the amount they spend.

If restaurants still seem too expensive and cooking's not an option, there are other cheap or even free things to do around the area:

  • A walk in Riverside Park can be a fun, low-key way to spend an afternoon with someone.
  • Central Park is only a short walk, bus or subway ride away, and has miles of walking trails, fields for picnics or Frisbee, and free concerts throughout the summer months.
  • Columbia basketball games are right in the gym, free to students, and give you something to watch without limiting conversation the way a movie might.
  • Student dance and music group performances on campus will give you time to talk and might reduce the pressure of keeping up a continuous conversation. Check out the Columbia Events Calendar for listings of events on campus, which are often free or discounted for students.
  • Connect with the arts across the city by checking out  the discounted offerings from CU's Arts Initiative. CU students can get a passport to over 30 museums in the city — for free!

Again, your fellow students might know what the best places are. Another option is to think about activities you enjoy, and ask a date to join you. Do you love browsing used bookstores? Getting coffee and reading the whole Sunday newspaper on the weekend? Roaming the streets in search of vintage clothing stores? Chances are if you're excited about an activity, you'd be able to turn it into a fun date.

Regardless of which ideas sound appealing, your friend may want to scope out places ahead of time to be sure they're good choices. When there's music at a certain restaurant, is it too loud to talk? If you go after a certain time, will it be too dark or crowded for a first date? Does the venue where that a cappella group is singing have places to sit? Also, since on a first date you likely don't know your companion very well, you might offer a few options. That way, if it turns out your date doesn't like the kind of music playing or hates Italian food, another option is available. This can also help avoid an awkward conversation trying to come up with another plan on the fly.

More than anything, remember that it's personality that most impresses a date, not things like the location or the amount of money spent. If your friend presents the date options in a fun way, and approaches things with the right attitude, a first date can be successful no matter where it actually happens.

Good luck!

Last updated Apr 11, 2014
Originally published Dec 01, 1993

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