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I want to date but I moved back in with my parents. What do I do?

The question: I'm a 26-year-old man living in Vancouver with a stable job . I've been single for almost two years and I'm ready to get back into dating. The past several years I built a sizable amount of consumer debt. I realized my problem and made tough changes to my lifestyle in order to eliminate my debt by sticking to a strict budget. I expect to be debt free within a year and a half. In order to do this, I had to move back in with my parents and get rid of my car. Dating requires money, and living at home without a car, in my opinion, makes me very unattractive to a girl. Should I continue to live like a monk until my debt is paid off, but risk giving up the chance of meeting someone in the interim? Or should I set aside some money to date and push back my debt-free day?

The answer: I think it's great you're being so fiscally responsible and definitely want to encourage that – though, to be honest, it's a bit of a case of "do as I say not as I do."

Debt-free: wouldn't that be nice? All my life I've been up to my eyeballs, starting from when I finally emerged from school, at your age, with two Master's degrees and a mountain of student-loan debt, determined to be a writer.

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Those early days were rough. I played a cat-and-mouse game with my student-loan creditors, who were not best pleased. One letter began with the salutation FEDERAL WARNING, and threatened if I didn't get a job, they'd issue me one.

I ate sardines, which I hate. (That smell, which stays on your fingers for days, is the smell of failure: "Well, Mr. Eddie, I must say I was impressed by your résumé, and – sniff, do you smell that fishy smell? – anyway as I was saying, we have no openings right now, but we'll be sure to keep in touch.")

But that's the era when I met my lovable wife Pam. She didn't seem to care that I was, to use her phrase, "poor as a church mouse." She made her own money! Sisters are doing it for themselves, these days, brother.

What she did care about: I worked hard and was going after my dreams and goals with the energy, drive and single-minded purpose of a super villain.

And I guess that forms the core of my advice to you. You've got a stable job and are living with your parents to become debt-free. Good start! Let's build on that. Where are you going from here? What do you want?

Once you figure that out, point your life and efforts at that goal like an arrow to a bull's-eye and let fly. As long as you do that, you can date without money.

But don't wait until you're debt-free to move out of your parents' house. Twenty-six is time to leave the nest. Having to pony up rent every month will put a healthy fear into you and light a fire under your derriere to go after your goals.

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Plus, I think you're probably right: living with your parents is a total romance buzz-kill. You could take your date to the nicest restaurant, but she's still picturing your mom and dad doing your laundry, making you little snacks, tucking you in. Putting off dating isn't the answer, either. You might miss out on Miss Right! Finding love doesn't necessarily conform to some schedule you've formulated.

The mistake many in my generation (X) made was putting off settling down until they were "ready," then when that moment came: bupkes. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. Single, available people: Poof! Gone.

You have to have some respect for God, fate, the universe, whatever you want to call the forces that help to shape our ends and realize the right person might come along when it's not convenient, when it's the last thing you want and are ready for.

(In my case, I'd sworn off women, put my Queen-sized bed out on the street – it was a poor neighbourhood, it was gone within the hour – and bought an army cot, which made "dating" Pam a little awkward, at first.)

So get out there soldier and mix it up with the rest of us! Run towards the pain! Swallow the same shame and rejection we all have in vigorously pursuing a) the next level of your career, and b) the little black dress of Ms. Right as it disappears around the corner of various bars, nightspots and house parties.

Look at it this way: If you do find a woman willing to take a chance on you, at this stage of the game, you'll always know she's not into you solely for your money.

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