Why It’s (Obviously) OK to Date a Guy Who Makes Less Money Than You

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You can be serious about a guy who makes less than you. In fact, to assume he has to earn a certain amount—or out earn you—is a limiting belief that’s becoming less true by the minute.

Why? Because the tide is turning, particularly among young men and women. Time reported in 2010 that in an analysis of 2,000 communities, a market research company found that in 147 of 150 of the biggest U.S. cities, the median full-time salaries of young women were 8 percent higher than those of their male peers (and in Atlanta and Memphis, women were making 20 percent more).

(This hardly means the battle for equality is over, since women still earn roughly 80 cents to the dollar of what men make for the same positions and same education. But that’s a whole other story.)

My point is this: If you’re a young woman and out to date a man your age, and you happen to live in a big city, there’s a good chance you’ll earn more. That may be uncomfortable for you—and quite possibly, for him, too. But that doesn’t mean you have to live and date in an awkward state. It means you have to do what we all do to get beyond an old idea: Adjust your thoughts and your actions. Here’s how.

First, realize this is a good thing. The fact that you can pursue a successful and rewarding career gives you tremendous freedom—not just to choose and do and live the way you want, but also to date whomever you want. He is more than his ability to foot a bill, and you are more than your need for him to do that.

Stop looking at a relationship as a zero-sum game. Some women worry about embarrassing or intimidating a man if she makes more. As if that means he loses, or that he’s some kind of failure as a man. That’s not how it works. You have your career, your education, and all the things you’ve done to make you who you are. And that doesn’t mean you “beat” him or that he loses to you. You don’t owe an apology or a concession, and neither does he.

If you’re a dermatologist and he’s a high school chemistry teacher, then yes, there will be an income discrepancy. What ultimately will matter is the kind of lifestyle you both gravitate toward, not who makes more. You’re both responsible for the dynamic in your relationship—the challenge is to stop relying on money to write the rules for you.

We’re not talking about the right to vote, folks. We’re talking dating. It’s a relationship, not a balance sheet.

For God’s sake, let him pay if he wants to.
If a man offers to take you out, let him. Thank him. Do not, I repeat, do not get into an awkward arm wrestle over a check. He’s not a man because he pays, but if he chooses to take out a lady, that’s his call. And to assert your independence (feminism, whatever) by insisting you must pay for yourself, or for the whole thing, just because you make more, is straight-up insulting. I can’t tell women enough: Let him pay. He doesn’t have to be a CEO to take you out for sushi. (More on how feminism f’d up my dating life.)

“But I want to it be fair,” is the cry of women who feel “bad” about earning more. We’re not talking about the right to vote, folks. We’re talking dating. It’s a relationship, not a balance sheet. He doesn’t have to pay all the time—and if it’s a point of contention, it’s worth discussing. But don’t push back just because you feel your paycheck warrants it. (Unless you’re willing to spring for first-class tickets and he’s on a coach budget.)

His opinion about money matters more. It’s a given that no one wants to date a deadbeat, a mooch, an unambitious slug (and yet, people do!). While you don’t need a man to sweep you off to St. Bart’s to show his affection, you should know if this guy wants to really go places with you, literally and figuratively. And that he won’t hold your success and earnings against you. In fact, he should be proud.

His thoughts about money, not what he makes, is a better litmus test: In my late 20s, I dated Jeff, a boy of modest means who seethed with jealousy and resentment at anyone who had money—including his friend Arnie, who happened to be independently wealthy.

One night I called him out on it. I said, “Jeff, you seem to be angry at people who have money, and it bothers me. Because someday I want to be one of those people myself!” He admitted he didn’t feel he was “good enough” and that bothered him. We ultimately parted ways for a range of reasons, but it wasn’t because of what he did or didn’t have at the time, but the way he saw himself in relation to the “have’s” that was the bigger problem.

Real love and care has little to do with what you can afford. A real partnership is one in which you BOTH support and provide for each other.

He can still take care of you. What woman doesn’t want to feel a man is taking care of her? Of course you do. And a man likes to feel he’s taking care of his lady. This doesn’t mean he has to have a bigger number on his paycheck. Caring for may have traditionally meant footing the bill, but real love and care has little to do with what you can afford. (Ask anyone who’s married to a rich douchebag.) A real partnership is one in which you BOTH support and provide for each other.

A confident, self-possessed man (you know, the kind you want to date?) will be impressed by a woman who has done well for herself. My boyfriend, who’s several years younger than me and makes a fraction of what I do at the moment (and moments change), finds it a big turn on. (Read what else to love about dating older women). But he also takes care of me, in ways that matter most—making me delicious meals, spending time together, holding my hand, and generally being a calming and steadying force in my life. Something money cannot buy.

The reason it works is because I appreciate what efforts he makes, and let him know it. And he’s not the least bit resentful or intimidated by what I earn (though he shakes his head at some of the ways I spend it). So when we realized that I paid more in taxes last year than he earned, we had a good laugh about it. And then he said he needed to take my clothes off.

Terri Trespicio is a writer and lifestyle expert. Visit her at and on Twitter @TerriT

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