Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why It Matters How Much Your Date Earns

The modern and politically correct opinion on the subject is that it doesn't matter how much a potential dating partner earns. Obviously in real life, however, it does matter (or else we wouldn't all be obsessed with talking and reading about it).

Studies and happy hour conversations everywhere have shown repeatedly that women prefer dating partners who make more than they do. This may make us all sound like gold diggers, but interestingly men also prefer to be the bigger earners. We can chalk this up to traditional gender roles and how we're all still more comfortable with them deep down, and we can argue about whether that's good or bad. My point is only this: it DOES matter what your potential dating partner makes. Usually.

Well Heeled Blog had a recent post on this issue which I found very thought provoking. She doesn't care that her hubby earns less than she does, and she describes a few of her friends who have different opinions on the issue. They are all in very different situations though, and after thinking about it I had a revelation:

When you are very young or very old, income may not matter as much in a relationship because spending and savings preferences are not as ingrained. But if you are searching for love during your prime earning and spending years (around 25-55), then your potential partner's income matters a great deal.

Young and Old are Unencumbered
If you are young and broke - in high school or college or even grad school - then it doesn't matter who earns more or has more. Not only are you both working with little money (and instead sharing plans and dreams and hopes alone), but neither of you are likely to have established major spending and savings rituals yet. When you're really old, conversely, you've already lived your life and saved and spent and now you probably just want to cozy up to that cutie at the retirement home and have great conversations more than anything else - you're sharing memories more than tangible goods or future experiences.

Folks In Between are Pickier
These days however, when most people are looking for a dating partner or spouse they have already developed specific lifestyle preferences, including savings expectations. This makes finding and choosing a partner a lot more complicated because regardless of what is politically correct to admit, both men and women realize that the single biggest contributing factor to your lifestlye - for better or worse - is going to be the person you choose to share your life with. And lifestyle is usually based at least loosely on earnings.

Me Myself and I
I'll use myself as an example. I'm in my late 20's and earn a lot - close to 6 figures. I live in a condo that I own in an urban center, I max out my retirement accounts, and I still have enough leftover to shop at Nordstrom, travel abroad regularly and grocery shop without checking prices. In theory I don't care what my date earns - as long as he earns enough to participate in my lifestyle without requiring me to support him while also saving an amount I feel is appropriate.

In other words of course I care what he earns.

The partner who earns more will inevitably end up subsidizing the spending/saving habits of the other partner. Men, as it turns out, are more comfortable with this. One reason is that many of them grew up with father breadwinners and they are conditioned to want to protect and provide for the women in their lives. Women, on the other hand, often find it difficult to subsidize a male partner. One reason is that it limits their ability to choose to become stay at home mothers in the future, a situation which many anticipate - or at least don't want to rule out.

All that said, I would never rule out dating a person simply because he earns less than I do. First of all, incomes are volatile and you never know what someone may be worth in the future. But also there are more important things to me than my lifestyle, such as finding chemistry, companionship and one day starting a family with someone I consider to be my best friend. If I meet someone who earns less than I do but is seemingly great in every other way, I'm sure I'd be happy to downgrade my lifestyle and change my expectations in order to date him.

But I realize that getting comfortable with that would be easier said than done. And I am aware that whatever my date/boyfriend/parter/husband earns DOES in fact matter. It will impact our relationship on every level - our lifestyle, our goals, our plans, and even our future kids' opportunities.

It's not politically-correct to say your partern's income doesn't matter; it's delusion. Relationships are hard enough. It would make things a lot easier to meet someone who shares your spending and savings preferences in general.

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