I’m in my 30s, single and I have a high-paying job.
I didn’t mean for this to happen.
I never cared about marriage or starting a family. By default, I chose to focus on my life and career in my 20s. I think if I were going to do it again, it may have been easier to do family first and then career. Though it would seem that having a career and a high income would be an attractive asset in the dating world, I have found it to be more often a liability.
What I Mean When I Say I’m Rich
For some background, I live in DC, home to tens of thousands of interns, students, and federal government workers. In DC, lawyers make some of the highest salaries in the city (whereas in SF or NYC, say, tech founders, bankers and people in many different industries can make much more). What this means is that when I date, 9 times out of 10, I’m dating a man who makes less, often a lot less. As of late, I generally make 2-3x more than my date, but I’ve dated men with bigger income differentials (students).
Does my career/salary hurt the kinds of men that respond to me online? I have no idea. People don’t fill out questionnaires. I do know that the income differential has caused rifts in my relationships though. I still haven’t figured out how to navigate the issue of who pays. If I were a man dating a woman who made a quarter of my salary, I would pay for at least half, but more likely I would pay for most things. But as a woman, it’s less clear what my role is.
Entering Unchartered Pay Disparity Dating Territory
I remember I had a fight about money with my ex, who we shall call Bob. He brought up that I was contributing less than half toward our food budget. We never discussed our salaries but it was understood that I made considerably more than him. We were both earning good money though and neither of had debt or high expenses. Combined we were likely in the top 2% of incomes. We went to nice but not extravagant places.
A few weeks before the fight, I had actually thought about whether I was contributing my fair share. When Bob and I went out to eat, one person would pick up the tab. My family is Asian so splitting the bill is a bit foreign to me. I detested the idea of a couple keeping spreadsheets to ensure each side was paying exactly 50%. I was hoping for something easy-breezy and motivated by love (*in the future, maybe spreadsheets are the answer).
But I also thought about fairness. By my calculations, I paid for about 1/3 of the meals out and he paid 2/3. I also cooked often and would plan and shop for the meals. I would cook somewhat expensive or elaborate meals – slow-roasted pork belly, chicken pot pie, paella, baked salmon, pork loin banh mi, katsudon donburi. By my rough estimates, I figured I was paying for half our total meals (eating in and eating out) though I was spending less because cooking is cheaper than eating out.
He was resentful. And I was resentful that he was resentful. I felt like he didn’t recognize my efforts. Also, I was resentful because if I made less, this wouldn’t have been an issue. My cooking would have counted as my contribution towards our “couple-y” expenses. But because I made more, I should pay for more. It didn’t seem fair.
What is Fair in Love and War
Of course, I’m sure it was fair. If I were a man, I’d pay more. When I was younger and making an entry-level salary, I dated a lawyer. He paid for most of our dates and he would cook as well. The tables had turned. But I wasn’t ready to pay for more than my half.
Now in my 30s, I’m learning to acclimate myself to paying more. I feel that this is the right outcome. If I had married when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in the career I am now. Many of my ex-boyfriends made good money. I doubt I would have had the ambition to make more if I already had a good source of income (from my hypothetical hubby) to support me. I went to law school in a small town, and I’m not sure that many men would have followed me there. If I had had children, I would have taken a break from work and I’m not sure I would have returned.
Because I didn’t focus on family, I have a career. Because I have a career, I have a high-paying job. With that high-paying job comes certain responsibilities like paying for more. This is the price of change. I’m working on my resentment.
Why I’m Still Worried
A woman outearning her husband increases the couple’s likelihood of divorce. Being nominated for the Best Actress Oscar (a sign of a woman’s success over her male significant other) increases her risk of divorce. When a woman earns more, she might resent her husband for earning less. The pay differential may change their dynamic. Her husband might be jealous at her success. These are not great things, but they are natural things. You can be a part of a team and still be jealous of your overperforming teammate or resentful of your underperforming one. I’m sure the rest of the Cavaliers all envy LeBron and LeBron may get tired of carrying his teammates. We would like to think that this jealousy or resentment will stir in us ambition to greater self-improvement or empathy but for many, it’ll be corrosive.
I don’t feel ashamed that I will likely date and marry a man who earns significantly less than me. I would be lying, however, if I said that I don’t worry at all about ill effects due to outearning my spouse. I’m learning to get comfortable paying for more. He will have to get comfortable with me earning more. It’s a whole lot of uncomfortable. I guess that’s what happens when you buck societal expectations. It’s for the best, but it doesn’t feel that great when you’re learning to change. I think they’re called growing pains.
Some will say, oh it’s ok because the men who are uncomfortable with your success aren’t right for you. I think a lot of men are or would be uncomfortable with the success of their female significant other. Many men don’t have to deal with this scenario – as the typical case is still that the man earns more. But we live in a society where it’s expected that the man earns more. Men can brag about how happy they are to be kept husbands – but the fact that they can brag about that shows that that’s not the norm. It’s generally uncouth to brag. If a woman were to brag about being a trophy wife, she’d be derided if she wasn’t being sarcastic. Trophy husbands get the best of every world – they get to work less, brag about that fact, and get lauded for being supportive. Meanwhile the bread-winning wives are warned that their husbands will likely have an affair.
Most of the women I know are dating or are married to men who make more than them, often significantly so. It seems really stupid and backwards to want to feel like a princess who is funded by her prince. I will admit that I had had a little hope in the back of my mind that that would be the case for me. Maybe I could be Meghan Markle.
If this is a big problem? HELL, NO. If it were, I could just quit my job and become a receptionist. There are easy options to go from higher-earning to lower-earning. I realize that this is a great problem to have in some ways. I don’t have to rely on some rich man to pick me. I can support myself. I can be single if I want.
Turns out, in my own fairytale, I’m the prince. And I’m learning to be ok with that.