Healthy ways of working with financial imbalances in relationships?
April 27, 2013 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. Through a combination of hard work, opportunity and luck, I find myself in my 30's with a very decent net worth. It's enough to allow me to feel very secure about retirement, job/career changes, health issues, supporting family, etc. and this security is probably the most important aspect of money to me. For me, money means security, safety, freedom. I maintain a very middle-class lifestyle, continue to work full-time and save at a reasonable rate. I've started to realize how much this factors into my thinking about long term relationships, especially marriage (and its attendant family joining) and financial co-mingling, and am looking for some perspectives on positive ways of managing these kinds of issues.

Most people I've dated in the past have not at my financial "level" (I would guess a typical range of 20-100x difference in net worth), but financial matters have never been much of an issue. I've always been sensitive to not making my SO self conscious about financial imbalances, in longer term relationships I've been successful and comfortable in dividing expenses proportionally with income (i.e. on an "ability to pay" basis). I believe most of the people I have dated would say I am a generous person (financially and otherwise).

That said, I have never been married and required to consider issues like:

Taking on an spouse's debts, which may be significant.

Taking on the obligations to in-laws. One form of emotional security that my wealth provides me is comfort in knowing that I can take care of my aging parents (either directly, or indirectly with the ability to change/leave jobs, etc). I find myself thinking about "what happens if/when my hypothetical spouse's parents need help? What kinds of boundaries are appropriate to draw as far as that kind of aid are concerned? If it came down to both my parents and theirs getting support, how would I feel about that division?".

Making big joint life decisions involving money. I find it emotionally challenging to give up the idea that a significantly greater financial contribution into the relationship "earns" me more say over decisions. For example, I imagine a disagreement over what school to send kids to, and I feel like if I'm paying more of the tuition, my opinion should count for more. I realize that there are many other ways to contribute to a joint life other than financially, but don't feel like I have a good framework for how to weigh these things.

A significant financial imbalance tends to lead me to think more transactionally about relationships, which in turn makes me feel icky. I find myself going into relationships thinking about how my financial means makes me a "good catch", and raising my standards for a partner.. thinking that "hey, I'm bringing a lot of financial security/economic freedom into a relationship, I shouldn't settle for less than ". Like wanting to be with someone "out of my league". As if money makes me better or more worthy. Which on one hand feels kind of gross.. and yet also seems very grounded in reality. I feel like the co-mingling aspect is a big part of what makes this so complicated for me: that not only am I bringing some significant concrete advantage into the relationship, but that it is then ultimately shared, that I am individually made less (legally) by it, and the feeling that that needs to be balanced/compensated for somehow. There's a real fear of being used, of being victimized by entitlement and having this huge source of security compromised.

To condense this to a single question: "what are some healthy ways to think of these kinds of issues in relationships with a significant financial imbalance?". I'm interested in hearing perspectives from both sides of the imbalance!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I find it emotionally challenging to give up the idea that a significantly greater financial contribution into the relationship "earns" me more say over decisions.

Hmm, you may want to work on this one. I am on the same side of the financial imbalance as you - on an average year, I make 60-70% of the money. I've never thought about overall net worth, but in briefly thinking about it between assets and retirement I started with roughly 25-30x what my partner did.

When we were less well off than we are now (paying bills was a month to month thing, though I did have retirement $ socked away) we split our expenses 50/50 because we couldn't afford any other distribution. I made more than Mr. Arnicae, but not enough to make it possible to consider other alternatives. As I've started to make more and more money, we came up with a new strategy (really, I came up with this strategy):

Every month we look at our income and our expenses, and we pay expenses based on our relative proportional income. E.g. if in April I made 7 and he made 3, I would pay 70% of our shared expenses (which we've agreed is basically everything - including large investment items like cars and electronics).

I struggle a bit with feelings of equity, but I know that splitting expenses down the middle would decidedly NOT be equitable to Mr. Arnicae and wouldn't demonstrate compassion for him and respect for his agency in our relationship and lives. That said, we generally agree on most of our large purchases. But, if we disagree on things, we generally try to table the decision and raise it again in a month or so, when each of us has had time to think about things and perhaps has new perspectives.

I think expecting to have a greater say in decisions based on your relative income is fundamentally inequitable way to behave in a relationship. Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to this inequity based on the fact that I am female and my partner is male, but I would be concerned that this would weaken your relationship over time. However, it is also something that goes on all over. I would suggest that open dialogue with your partner is the best way to move forward.
posted by arnicae at 5:26 PM on April 27, 2013

Money can wreck a relationship faster than just about anything else, so don't feel "icky" about having these thoughts. It's good to know where you stand, ethically and rationally, about money and how you deal with it.

I think that money imbalance isn't as important as values imbalance when it comes to finances. You can make more or less than a partner, and that can generally be worked through. Where I see people getting into trouble is when you have radically different ideas about how money should be approached. If you're a saver and your partner doesn't ever save, or if you're thrifty and your partner spends money without much thought...that can rip you apart.

One thing I'd advise is to have frank, up-front discussions about money early on in the relationship, so it doesn't surprise either one of you further along.
posted by xingcat at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I understand what you mean about 'transactional' relationships. I hate having debts to anyone, even family.

That said, you're also being an idiot. Money doesn't make you a better person; it just makes you a richer person. And being the richer partner may entail that you pay over the strict 50-50 split of your expenses as a couple (in other words, dividing expenses by percentage of total income) but it does not entail you to override your partner's opinion in things like schools--which, wait, why does that matter right now if you're not in a relationship, and don't have children?--because that's not partnership, that's dictatorship.

To give you a healthier example: my parents. They've shared expenses their whole adult lives, and my dad has always, always made more than my mom, in the later years by quite a large margin. But decisions like moving, buying a house, and which school to send us kids to? They always made those decisions together. The person who cared more, not the person who earned more, usually won.

(Hint: it was my mom.)
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

When it comes to things like decisionmaking about homes and schools, it will help for you to choose a partner not based on income but based on values. My parents had significant imbalances with respect to income, but they had the exact same ideas about what spending priorities for the children would be (such as with respect to schools and tuition), so there were never power struggles over these things. (thankfully. I can only imagine the mess that would have caused)

You will probably want to be with someone who you're on the same "level" with, culturally and professionally. My parents both worked well together because they were both "first-generation-college students made good", so they both had similar value systems about material possessions and needs (as in, no more than middle class, mostly) while at the same time were both professionally stable and could both hold their own economically without dragging the other down.

As far as family/in-laws, well, yeah. When you're the successful earner and your spouse's parents hit hard times/need a home care aide/need to move in with you/etc., this is where you "step up." While you shouldn't send checks to every ne'er-do-well-uncle (and this wouldn't be expected if you marry the right person), basically if you're the person who can afford a house with an in-law apartment above the garage, you're the one who has to take in the in-law(s).
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 5:33 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, ideally when you marry, what is yours is the other person's and vice versa. But I understand that in your situation that might feel troubling.

As I read your question I see the undercurrent as your seeing your money as your security. Maybe it might be wise to rethink that just a bit. No one is guaranteed that what they have today is what they will have next week, next month, next year....just like no one is guaranteed their health or for that matter their life.

You are more than your money, and whoever you wind up with is more than their money or lack thereof. Yes, you have worked hard, and provided well for yourself and that is admirable. But if that is what you base your worth, your esteem and your security might want to rethink that BEFORE you get into a committed relationship.

One other thing. Don't do what I see others in your shoes do-that is, manipulate or control other people with your money. That is all too easy to do without even realizing it. Don't be that guy.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:44 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not a wonderful book but you might want to page through Crossing the Tracks for Love: What to Do When You and Your Partner Grew Up in Different Worlds. There are a number of good, entertaining books addressing social/socioeconomic class out there (an Ask MeFi for another time?); that isn't one of them, but at least it addresses a few of the issues that can arise when somebody who didn't grow up with money ends up with it -- I suggest it here for use as a tool for self-analysis, not necessarily for scrutiny of potential partners.

I find myself going into relationships thinking about how my financial means makes me a "good catch"

Eh, for what it's worth, there's no way I'd marry you. You don't sound like a good catch. You sound utterly without noblesse oblige, for one. You sound preoccupied with money, and preoccupied with it in a -- I don't have a great way to put this -- "lower class" manner. You may have an "upper class" income, but the other parts of you are rough and need a lot of work. Some of your ideas are...

As if money makes me better or more worthy. Which on one hand feels kind of gross.. and yet also seems very grounded in reality

...startlingly vulgar. If you have been keeping these thoughts all to yourself, that's one thing, but if you have let on any hint of: I wouldn't want to marry somebody with debts, I would think my income gives me an elevated status in a personal relationship, I would be wary of caring for a spouse's elderly parents, and people continued to date you in spite of having even some of that on the table, I bet your fears of being "used" are actually grounded in reality because you were being used, because people not looking to date/marry for money would be completely repelled by this stuff.

Well off but not rich dudes with bad manners are everywhere; my guess (?) here is that you haven't got as much money as you think -- if what could reasonably be assumed to be a normal level of middle-class consumer debt makes you skittish, you are not rich -- and that the package you are offering includes, I don't know, bad table manners and other boorishness or a general lack of sophistication, because I can't figure out why else somebody would rank themselves as a "good catch" based solely on income. Re-assess "good catch" -- money did not buy you out of having personal foibles and failings -- and see if you still have the same questions. Are you still a good catch without money? Mentally erase the money and see if you should still have priority over a spouse in decisions about schooling -- does that help put things in better perspective?

You've made money you in your head somehow and this isn't an easily answerable question because you are asking about how another human being can have a relationship with your money, and it just doesn't work that way. So long as you think you will be "made less" by marriage, you shouldn't marry. This is probably all stuff to work on with a therapist.
posted by kmennie at 6:34 PM on April 27, 2013 [22 favorites]

Yeah, I dunno. Through a combination of hard work and luck, I've gone from being a person with a lot of credit card debt and no net worth, to a person with a nice nest egg, no debt, and an annual salary and benefits package that puts me in the top 2.5% of Americans. None of that makes me feel like I'm any more of a "catch" though, primarily, I suspect, because I'm a woman, so even though I generally date dudes who make less/have less, it's just not part of our culture's calculus of what makes a woman attractive.

Which I point out only to make you rethink how much of your position about your finances and what you can expect out of them is actually "reasonable" and "realistic" and how much of it is grounded in potentially sexist assumptions.

Alternately, think of it this way: if you dated a woman who was a billionaire and supported you financially, would you be ok with a life where she had more of a say in everything?
posted by pocketfullofrye at 6:37 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't say whether you are dating right now and whether the considerations of marriage are purely theoretical, or whether you are moving into that stage of a relationship.

I think you might find that by the time you are sure you want to marry someone, many of these issues have resolved themselves. I can't imagine thinking of "my money" and "my husband's money", because he is so much part of me that it is natural to treat everything as "ours". So I actually had to think about it for to recall who brought what into the relationship, and who earns more now. (And actually, I earn double what he does now, but he brought 30x more assets into the relationship originally, so these things can change.)

I think the most important thing is to have the same attitude to spending and saving, and then you will feel secure enough that you can relax and stop thinking about whose money is whose.

Finally, I think you need to be careful about the idea that your money entitles you to a partner who is "out of your league" in other areas. (I assume you mean something like, you could land a date with someone who is much better looking than you, because you earn much more than her.) The first problem with that outlook is that it makes you much more likely to end up dating "golddiggers", because hey - you said it yourself - they are people who are unlikely to be interested in you except for your money. Worse, people who genuinely like you for you and AREN'T interested in your money but also happen to be "out of your league" won't be able to convince you that it is true they like you for yourself. You will always be suspicious of their motives. Finally, what happens if you lose all your money for whatever reason? Do you lose your partner as well? Or what if your partner loses their corresponding charms (e.g. gets old, fatter)? Does your money entitle you to trade them in for a "better" version? I think this attitude is setting you up to be very unhappy.

I guess you know that and are asking for ways to get past it. So how about deliberately dating people who you think are more similar to you (in looks, background, intelligence, whatever), rather than ranking people who are different as "better" or "worse" and trying to aim for the top of an imaginary ladder?
posted by lollusc at 7:31 PM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I know what you mean about money=security. I always feel better knowing I have X amount in the bank just in case. But you know that that's an illusion, right? There is no security. Bad things can happen. So, who can you marry that you can go through bad things with?
I think you stand to gain a lot by understanding your self talk about growing up in a lower middle class family. Your perception of what that means about you could be a place to start.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:36 PM on April 27, 2013

Ok, one more thing: I want to give you an analogy that might help show that your problem could just be you haven't found the right person yet.

I was offered a job a little while ago, that is not my ideal job, but it's not bad, either. It's also at a low prestige university, and university rankings matter a great deal to most academics. I think I could be happy there, but I suddenly found myself wanting to test the waters and apply to a bunch of top universities, just to see whether I could land an ivy-league type job. I know that my CV could get me a job much better than the one I was already offered, and the main reason I hadn't applied more widely was geographical restrictions due to family.

Anyway, the thing is, I don't think I would be any happier at one of those top universities. I'd be sacrificing things like living with my husband for the added prestige of the employer, and sure, I guess some things about the job itself would be better, but many would not. What it came down to, is that I was thinking something like "If I'm not going to get my dream job, it would at least be cool if it is OTHER people's dream job, so that everything thinks I'm awesome for having it."

Now this is ridiculous thinking, and I realised it, and I didn't apply more widely (and didn't accept the other job either, for what it's worth).

I think you are doing something similar with your ideas about partners (sorry I said "women" earlier - I see you didn't specify gender) who are "out of your league". You haven't found anyone who is YOUR ideal match, and so you are trying to compensate by going for people who will gain approval and admiration from your family and friends.

I think that when you find the right person, none of the rest will matter. Even if I COULD trade my husband for a billionaire, a film star, or the best looking guy on the planet, I wouldn't even think of it. I wouldn't want those things when I could have him. I think if you meet the person who is right for you, you will feel the same way. The trick is to not limit your search for the right person to a pool of people artificially selected as "top league". If you can be happy with the right person who is "NOT out of your league", I think you'll be more secure in the relationship.
posted by lollusc at 7:45 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's easy to understand how you feel based on your experience growing up. We are all profoundly products of our environment, and I don't think you should feel in any way guilty or icky about who you are in terms of your relationship with money and financial security. And I don't think you can purge that part of your constitution, so it will be really important to talk openly and honestly about it with your partner. Communication is really by far the most important thing. You've already shined by being so self-aware, and that puts you way ahead of a lot of people in terms of the potential to manage this situation.
posted by Dansaman at 7:46 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a woman who has usually had more money than my boyfriends, even when I was living in a trailer, and this was always a problem. The source of the problem was really our different attitudes about achievement and money, and not the actual difference in income.

For example, I'm a planner, while the poor-fit partners lived in the present. I won't take on debt, while most of my exes had negative net worths. If I get a windfall, I spend a little on a treat and invest the rest in my business. My exes spent the whole thing immediately. These are huge differences that would strain any relationship.

You've honestly shared that you're tempted to feel you should have more "say" because you've made more of the money. I had the same temptation because it was my work and ideas and determination that made the money in the relationship, and it was painful to see this effort treated lightly by my partner. Money didn't just fall out of the sky into my lap, but some partners seemed to view it that way, and they wanted to spend it on video games or televisions or other things that really were for him, not for us. Again, the main problem was a different understanding of the "value" of money -- of the ideas and work that went into making it -- and not the difference in income.

It has helped me to change social scenes. In the alternative-y circle in which I used to move, accumulating money was seen as somehow bad and not tied to effort or ideas. The belief seemed to be that anyone with more than $X didn't actually deserve it; they must have gotten it through birth or luck or greed. My boyfriends seemed to believe that on some level, because they didn't seem to value what I earned and because they blamed the unfairness of the world for their financial struggles.

I've mostly shifted my socializing to other business owners and entrepreneurs, and the difference has been huge. We congratulate each other on achievements and cheer each other on. It has been a great change for me and could be a source of healthier relationships.

This is a long-winded way of saying, "Look for people who have a similar view of achievement and earning as you do." My entrepreneurial friends might have a lot less money at the moment than I do, but they're future-focused and see a direct connection between effort, ideas, and earnings.
posted by ceiba at 7:58 PM on April 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

Too much thinking about money. Marry someone richer than you, that way this will become their problem, if they are not already thinking in the same manner. Your biggest attraction/spouse deal breaker should be not having same financial perspective so chose someone who shares your view, not to mention networth
posted by pakora1 at 8:04 PM on April 27, 2013

Have you made an effort to seek out partners that ARE on your level? Dating someone on or above your financial level would be the solution to many of these concerns, unless you are actively interested in maintaining a power imbalance where you come out stronger.

If you truly believe that making more money means you have more say, then I could see you avoiding those women as the idea that you're suddenly relinquishing choices and say in your life due to the larger size of their pay-check... well. That would be an awful thing, wouldn't it?

And if a woman who makes less money would have to hand over that power for the privilege of marrying you, wouldn't you say that brings your "good catch" status down a few notches? Sure, she gets some stability, but it comes with an enormous price tag.
posted by Dynex at 8:11 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

What do you plan to do if one of you becomes disabled, or is a stay at home parent, or loses their job and finds it difficult to find another? Because those things happen, regardless of how well you plan, what you agree to right here and now, and none of those things entitle you to have more of a say simply because you are earning the money.

Put it this way - if you became disabled and your partner earned all the money, would it give them the right to dictate medical care? Food preferences? They earned it, shouldn't they get a bigger say in where money goes, by this standard?

That kind of thinking, that money = worth, is a vicious cycle and really, it's a pyramid scheme too. I say this as someone in a partnership that has gone from disparate incomes one way, to the other way, both of us having stints as stay at home parents and now on the lowest income since our early 20s and as of yet, we've never had a proper fight over money. I didn't get more of a say because I earned more, he doesn't get more of a say now. We are partners and married, not partners in a business. I mean, if as partners you both come to an agreement like that, then fine, but it's an agreement that necessarily undercuts the emotional aspect of a marriage and is pretty much a (big honking) bet that things will never ever change. One that, might I add, puts your partner at an enormous disadvantage due to things like lower income and maternity leave and so on - which is not something women ignore quite so readily any more.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:56 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's good that you're thinking this through, but some of the underlying assumptions in your question kind of depressed me.

For me, money means security, safety, freedom.

Yep, and a loving, loyal, committed partner means this too. It gives you the security and safety of being able to go out into the world knowing that someone at home has your back, and it gives you the freedom to focus on your work without worrying about your personal life. You can't put a price on that.

Taking on an spouse's debts, which may be significant.

Yes, and taking on a spouse's children, or psycho in-laws, or mental baggage, can also be significant. You probably won't get to cherry-pick the parts of your partner that you want to take on.

I find myself thinking about "what happens if/when my hypothetical spouse's parents need help? What kinds of boundaries are appropriate to draw as far as that kind of aid are concerned? If it came down to both my parents and theirs getting support, how would I feel about that division?".

You wouldn't have a spouse without your in-laws, think about that. Most people, once they are married, consider their two sets of parents to be mutual responsibilities, to be managed out of their mutual funds. If your hypothetical spouse loves her parents, and you love her, you'll want to help support her parents if it becomes necessary...for her, not for them.

For example, I imagine a disagreement over what school to send kids to, and I feel like if I'm paying more of the tuition, my opinion should count for more.

Really?? What if your spouse is spending more time doing homework with them, or volunteering at the school, or packing school lunches, or driving them to after-school activities? Does that increase the 'counting' of her opinion? By how much? School fees are a drop in the ocean when it comes to calculating the effort that goes into educating kids.

I find myself going into relationships thinking about how my financial means makes me a "good catch", and raising my standards for a partner.

Okay, just be aware that potential partners may also be going into the relationship thinking about how their outstanding qualities, things that just aren't as easily quantifiable as a bank balance, make them a 'good catch'. I'm not financially set up, but I think I bring a ton of other stuff to a relationship. Stuff that actually raises my standards for a partner waaaay beyond 'must be financially stable'. Don't assume that you're the catch that you think you are, just because of your financial status.

not only am I bringing some significant concrete advantage into the relationship, but that it is then ultimately shared, that I am individually made less (legally) by it, and the feeling that that needs to be balanced/compensated for somehow.

Your financial worth is not 'you'. Having someone in your life who loves you and protects you and will maybe bear your children, is HUGE in contributing to your quality of life. The idea that you could be made less by this because it would reduce your net worth on paper, is mind-boggling to me.

There's a real fear of being used, of being victimized by entitlement and having this huge source of security compromised.

Let me put this in perspective for you: I am a single woman with very little money, although I am smart, highly educated, and hard-working. Funnily enough, I am also wary of being used and victimized by entitlement. I am afraid of being used by men who exploit my kindness and loyalty and emotional generosity, and I am afraid of being victimized by men who think they can treat me less well in the relationship because their fatter wallet somehow offsets that.

Full disclosure: I have just started a relationship with a man who has, and makes, much, much more money than I do (or ever will), so maybe I am a bit sensitive on this topic. Because if I thought that he was thinking the way you do, I would drop him like a hot potato. Seriously. I'm sure you don't betray these thoughts in real life, but I still strongly urge you to start talking through them with a professional before they start souring your relationships.
posted by Salamander at 10:22 PM on April 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

I've both been all over this spectrum in various relationships, from totally dependent on my partner, to earning about 50% of what my partner makes, to breadwinner supporting my partner, to earning exactly the same amount as my partner. First off, I'm glad you're being honest with yourself about how you feel about this, because it really can and does breed resentment on both sides if you just go along with things without some healthy introspection.

That said, relationships will work differently than marriages. Relationships often involve splitting expenses in some way. Usually at this stage of things it's pretty socially acceptable to expect to split things roughly along the lines of your relative incomes. The person making more should pay for more things. It's totally okay to split the check if you want, but maybe offer to pick up the alcohol or somesuch.

When you live together, it gets a little fuzzier. You will have shared assets like couches and the TV and food. You will have domestic labor which is difficult to quantify. Trying to split expenses precisely will stress you both out. Strike a roughly fair balance with bills and major expenses and let the rest of the stuff slide. If you start to feel taken advantage of, speak up right away. I wish I had done this and instead the relationship slowly burned out because I was resenting him so much for not providing more.

Don't get into a situation where your partner couldn't walk away from the relationship if they wanted to. It's not healthy for anyone if they are forced to stay with you for financial reasons.

Don't ever loan money to someone you're romantically involved with. Either give it as a gift or don't give it at all.

Now, marriage is different. This is the one you'll want to think the most about, because by legal and spiritual definition it means sharing everything. You can't marry someone you're not prepared to care for NO MATTER WHAT they give you in return. Any financial responsibilities either of you have are now shared. That means taking care of all parents, all children, all debts, together. There are no loans, no transactions, no contracts between you. There is no "mine", only "ours". If you aren't ready to take that step with a person and never think twice about it again, you cannot marry that person. It will just end badly.
posted by annekate at 11:42 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing the idea that you need someone who matches you in financial responsibility and general outlook toward money. Matching on present financial status is much less important.

You are going to have to give up the idea that bringing more money to a marriage should give you a trump card in all discussions that touch on money. In any marriage, that's a no go. It sounds like you realize this, but let me affirm it.

> I realize that there are many other ways to contribute to a joint life other than financially, but don't feel like I have a good framework for how to weigh these things.

Well, there is the idea that you get married and keep separate bank accounts and divide up expenses proportionally. Lots of people do this. I suppose you could introduce a flowchart to aid in discussions where the fact that she actually did the childbearing and does more of the housework counts for 35% or whatever. To me this is nuts. It's marrying to get divorced, as they say.

Or, you choose to get married all the way. All the income is family income. All the debt is family debt. You take care of her parents like you'd take care of yours.

You should turn over this second idea in your head for a while and see if you can make it fit. You're not hiring an employee, you're looking for a lifelong partner who will have your back even if all the money disappears. Hold out for that.
posted by mattu at 8:38 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tangentially related, but you might want to check out Resource Generation.
posted by evoque at 10:24 AM on April 28, 2013

I am someone who did really well in high school and was expected to Be Somebody (like "millionaire by age 30") but instead was a homemaker a long time. I am now divorced. Men who find me attractive frequently make quite good money. I have boatloads of baggage on this specific topic from a marriage that actively undermined my career goals and an ex who had ugly bad habits with regards to our relationship to money. Suffice it to say, I have thought a lot about this issue from the other side since I keep getting hit on by men with money and the prospect of becoming The Little Wifey again makes me cringe and want to run screaming from the room.

Here is what I am trying to do:

Make sure potential romantic partners have opportunities to get to know my personal values, accomplishments, etc socially, before dating is ever a question. There is more to me than my income or net worth. Focusing overly much on that detail is not a healthy place from which to start any relationship.

I expect courtship to take some time. One of my favorite actors dated a woman for six years before marrying her and, in an interview, made a remark that suggests to me that worked really well. My assumption is one issue was his fame and money and taking time likely helped. So I think that's a good idea (not six years per se, just taking time and not rushing it). I feel like one of the problems with my marriage was that we leapt into it too quickly and, once we were smooshed together and joined at the hip, we lacked maneuvering room to make needed adjustments. Divorcing ended up the only way to get enough breathing room to get comfortable again. I don't want to repeat that pattern.

Frankly, I am also making career plans and I don't want to ever again be 100% financially dependent upon a man. One of my goals is to find a man who will support my career goals. From what I have read, heterosexual relationships tend to be strongly biased towards supporting his career (and thereby improving his income) at the expense of hers. In my marriage, I wanted to go away to school at one point and just see each other on weekends (which was the only time he paid me any attention anyway) because his job kept us in locations where I could not pursue my educational goals. I was accused of trying destroy the marriage. When I brought up how frequently his career took him elsewhere, I was told that was "different." So I have thought long and hard about the kinds of attitudes, behaviors, assumptions, etc I think a man needs to have so I don't have the same problem again.

So I would suggest you do some of the reverse of that. Money comes and goes. Personal values are generally somewhat more resistant to change. Plus ponder the possibility that your relationship expectations are rooted in a paradigm that will disadvantage a future wife. I think it is okay to have an old fashioned marriage but that only works if his income is viewed as "family income" rather than HIS. Really bad things happen when you want her at your beck and call and you want certain historical male privileges but you don't want to bring your financial assets fully to the table to get that.

Also, ponder this: If you think your money makes you a "good catch", you are explicitly looking for a woman who wants your money, probably more than she wants you. I suggest you be very careful about entertaining such a mental model. It sounds like a recipe for getting exactly the kinds of problems you say you don't want.
posted by Michele in California at 4:05 PM on April 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

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