Monday, September 24, 2007

Money and Relationships- Part 1

In a number of major American cities, women are earning higher wages than men in the same age range. In New York City, women between the ages of 21-30 earn on average 17% more than comparable men. Can I get an "Amen!"?

When I first heard about these findings, I forwarded the article to all of my friends. We talked excitedly about a huge step forward this was for women, how lucky we felt that the women's power in the workplace was growing just as we were entering our first careers.

But as Alex Williams' article in Sunday's New York Times goes to show, the increase in women's wages can have a negative effect on our lives outside of work. For many women, the fact that they make more money than their significant others has led to problems when dating men with lower-paying jobs. Sometimes it's not the women who have the problem, but the men, who can't get over their insecurity in dating a more successful woman. But oftentimes, it's the women themselves who are frightened or embarrassed by their own achievements.

Some women reported avoiding talking about themselves on dates, to make the man feel more comfortable. Others avoid dating men of their age group altogether. One woman talked about clipping the price tags off of expensive purchases, so as not to make her boyfriends feel threatened by her spending power.

I found the attitude toward money that these women had, conscious or not, to be really unhealthy. While I don't think flaunting one's income or professional achievements is polite, I don't think it's ever okay for a woman to be ashamed of these things. Men certainly aren't ashamed, so why should we be? We should be able to discuss things like work and money honestly, feel proud of our accomplishments, and be considerate of the professional and financial situation of the other person. Being proud and being considerate don't have to be independent of one another.

While every relationship is unique, I think there are a number of issues to consider if you're dating someone who's in a different financial situation from your own. I think it's really important to be able to strike a balance between using your increased income to make your partner happy without making him uncomfortable. The issue of gift giving is a difficult one, and I think both people need to sit down and have an honest conversation about what they feel is acceptable in spending for each other. Honesty can be hard, but it can save a lot of pain later if you're both upfront about what you expect in the relationship.

Another thing to consider is to avoid giving the impression your money comes too easily. The question of who "deserves" things often arises in relationships with an income disparity, where one person feels that they're just as hardworking, smart and capable as the other and resents the fact that they're making far less money. Both partners should respect the other for what they do, regardless of income, and avoid focusing on deserves what. There are sacrifices that must be made in every job, and it's important to think about the other person's career in holistic terms, not just their paycheck.

One sad aspect of this trend is that you'd never see an article about men feeling guilty for making more than their girlfriends. As women, we're so conditioned to think about success in other terms (our happiness, our relationships, etc) and not give much weight to the amount of money we make. I don't believe we should ever feel guilty about our successes- financial and otherwise- and if a man is unable to appreciate and admire our professional achievements, he's not right for us.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk about spending on dates (the dreaded "who picks up the bill?" situation) so be sure to check back. I'd love to hear what you guys thought about the article and the issues that arise in relationships surrounding money, particularly when you're dating someone who makes less than you.


Beans said...

I make far more than my boyfriend, as I am a recent college graduate working full time and he is still a student. We generally take turns paying when we go out, but I try to make sure I pay more often without making it obvious. He wants to teach after graduating and I am planning to pursue a less public service, more financially rewarding position, so we know I will always be a breadwinner, but we have discussed it and are fine with it.
Of course, we have been together nearly five years and have had plenty of time to work this out. Money has never been a big issue for us.

Jen said...

Given that more is expected of women, I think it's only fair that they make more. I pay for groceries because it's a woman's place to make the meals. I buy him clothes because he 'doesn't like shopping.' I pay for myself completely. The only thing he buys for me is dinner when we go out, drinks, and the occasional piece of jewelry. Our salaries have changed, but only in accordance with their expectations.

winnie said...

How is it the woman's place to make the meals? My boyfriend and i take turns cooking when we do cook and if possible we'll cook together. It's true he doesn't like shopping but I rarely buy him clothes because we are both particular about the fit and he has to try it on first. We basically share expenses and he has bought me expensive gifts more often than I have,but i make up for it by paying for more of the entertainment expenses.

And yes, it is true we are 25/26 yo and i make more per hour than he does. However, since i'm a freelancer, it works out to around the same amount yearly.

Anonymous said...

I make more money more often than my boyfriend as well. However, I never bring up the figures and as both college students and still being money tight even with my little income, we both respect the fact that we should be careful with spending and don't focus on who has more.

christine said...

Money has always been a difficult issue with me and my boyfriend. He grew up in a family where independence was key; if you want money, you go out and work to earn it. My family was all about helping each other - supporting those in schools, lending money for a struggling relative, and etc. Being a student, my family helps pay for my bills so I'm not working full-time. This causes a lot of resentment between me and my bf, who works five days a week as well as go to school, especially when it's Christmas-time or when we go out to eat. How do you buy a gift for your loved one without appearing like a "rich girl"? Fortunately we've been discussing this for awhile so (hopefully!) things will be better.

I love your views on this Meg, about how women should see their financial accomplishments as something to be proud of. I think it's just our culture has always taught us to expect the man to pay for everything, so when a woman earns more it's like gender roles have changed - she's the "man" of the relationship now. Also, I can personally sympathesize with those women who lie about their salaries/purchases, because I think a big factor of that has to do with self-esteem. Most women want a significant other to settle down with but still love them, so if most men are going to be scared off then you're just going to feel depressed about it. I know that's unhealthy, and yes I'm working on it with my boyfriend, but for other women it's tough.

tmp00 said...

I have female friends who make a lot more than me and I don't care. I've had boyfriends that made a lot less and some that made more. The solution for both was the same- split the times we go out between places that one or the other can afford and one or the other picks up the check. It's about the company, so I don't mind that he's picking up the $15 dinner for two and I am getting the $50 one. I hope the same would be true for the ones who made more than me.

Kelly Mahoney said...

Glad to hear women are getting their fair share.

I kept my personal finances to myself for as long as possible. Unless we were sharing bills and such, it wasn't relevant.

Anonymous said...

Gee, what a problem to have- so much money men find it hard to date you. Guess it's lucky both my husband and I have always been and probably always will be relatively poor. BTW, what fields are these high paying jobs in for women, bc I obviously missed the boat.

Jo said...

I'm a nurse, so I make more than my boyfriend does. He's a chef. (Note to all reality-chef-show lovers: most chefs make crap for money.)

It's never been an issue, really, that I make twice as much as he does. He occasionally treats me, but I treat him much more often. It balances out, since he feeds me home-cooked meals much more often than I feed him. He's remodelling my bathroom, but I bought him a pair of shoes after his dog destroyed a pair of his old ones.

Generally, in our relationship, money works out to be a great, big *shrug*.

It helps, of course, that we're both in our late 30's. If I'd been in the situation where I made double what a boyfriend made in my 20's, I could see it being an issue--for him, not for me. The men I know have gotten much less hung up on money and status as they've gotten older.

Liv said...

This is a very interesting discussion. My ex and I made about the same salary, although when we first moved-in together, I made way less. He was a total spend-a-holic and even though after a few years I was making as much as he did, he still spent way more of *our* money. Despite the fact that I made as much as him, he never really thought of it that way. He was always the breadwinner, in his (warped) mind.

Now that I'm single again, I've been thinking about doing and I'm intrigued (and slightly annoyed) by the fact that they have an "income" field in their user profile. You don't enter an exact amount or even choose to respond, but they have ranges to pick from if you do want your income level displayed. I find this so odd. I wouldn't want that sort of thing to affect my judgement of whether or not to go on a date with a guy, but honestly, somewhere deep down, it probably would. And that sucks!

Plus, I'm definitely not comfortable revealing my income, even though I'm proud to be earning what I do. I just think those things are best kept to yourself, although at the same time, it irks me that I feel a bit ashamed and afraid it might make a guy write me off because he felt threatened by it. I shouldn't have to to feel that way. Arg!

At any rate, I give props to the ladies who are raking it in and the guys who are cool enough not to sweat it. ;-)