It’s no secret that women have received lower pay than men since, oh well, let’s see, the beginning of time. But recently, we’ve been catching up. According to a survey by Queens College professor Andrew Beveridge, women ages twenty-one to thirty are earning more than their male counterpart—in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston, anyway. Other studies show that almost a third of working women nationwide now out-earn their husbands.
This should be cause for a month-long celebratory dance party, right? But you know what they say: “Mo money, mo problems.” Now that every city is flooded with a large population of beautiful, successful women, some of us seem to be suffering for our accomplishments.
“I’ve only dated guys who make less than me,” says Anna, a thirty-year-old researcher. “My female friends are much more financially ambitious than my male friends. They tend to support their boyfriends.”
I have been guilty of that. A few years ago, I got a promotion, which landed me in the six-figure category. Suddenly, I didn’t have to avoid “Ted from Citibank Student Loans” on the phone anymore. I was eager to share my wealth with my boyfriend, a struggling artist. We could finally afford to eat in chi-chi restaurants, I thought. But sadly, my success scared the bejesus out of him. I knew things wouldn’t last when one night he attributed my hard won success to “luck.” It wasn’t until later that he admitted that in some ways, he was just plain resentful.
But maybe it’s not so much envy as the famously-fragile male ego at play. Think about it: Just as we struggle with old-fashioned notions involving fairy princesses and “domestic bliss,” men have their own archaic social demons. Does financial failure challenge femininity the same way it does masculinity? Maybe. Maybe not. But as University of Chicago sociologist Barbara Risman recently pointed out in the New York Times, “Men have a sense of identity that comes with being the provider. Women don’t get the same benefit. There’s a sense that one has a double burden.”
So what about guys who make no attempt at being “the breadwinner”: the artistic ones. Hell, successful women are drawn to them like junkies to heroin. They allow us to exercise our maternal instincts and indulge our inner cheerleader, and we don’t give a hoot how little cash they have because we’re financially independent. They’re the male version of the trophy wife, racy and exciting.
Still, even those qualities get old. Cathy, a thirty-year-old book editor, sums it up. “It’s hard to date artists or guys in bands, because there’s this feeling that they’re not ‘working’ as hard as I am. It seems like a glorified hobby,” she says. “Around the three-month mark, I lose my patience. I resent that my money goes to support our mutual pleasure, where his goes to his singular passion.”
It’s not just arty types who aren’t maxing out a 401K. Melanie, a forty-four-year-old marketing director, has been dating a police officer who makes significantly less than her. “When we first got together there were fights about money, but it’s been a few years now, and we’ve gotten used to it,” she says. “He still gets down on himself for not being able to buy things or because it’s taking us a longer time than we’d hoped to save for an apartment. But in the end we’ve both matured a lot.”
The downside for Melanie is the pressure. “I sometimes wish that the roles were reversed, because I feel like our future is all on me ... but that’s just my ego talking,” she says. “It’s a partnership. He finds other ways to contribute and that’s cool by me.”
So do guys wish the roles were reversed back, too? In a recent Slate article, economist Ray Fisman conducted an experiment to determine the differences between male and female dating preference. It confirmed our worst fears. “In a survey we did before the speed dating began, participants rated their own intelligence levels, and it turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition: a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man,” Fisman said.
Ambition seems to be the key. When I met my current boyfriend, he was creative, which floated my boat, but the fact that he worked on Wall Street surprisingly got me hot and bothered. Instead of $2 Pabst night, he sprung for lavish dinners and tickets to a Hall and Oates reunion show (which we attended only half-ironically). He could afford to accompany me to my best friend’s wedding in Mexico, where he met my closest friends and family. It was the first time I had dated someone who, in addition to the other kinds of compatibility, was financially in-sync as well.
Three months later, he revealed that he’d been accepted into grad school. “Here we go again,” I thought, picturing our lives going from romantic vacations to Mac n’ Cheese on date night. Of course, I was madly in love with him, so I didn’t care. And luckily, we arrived at a compromise: if we eat Mac n’ Cheese, we put gruyere and truffle oil in it.
Which brings me to the ultimate point: Almost all of the women I spoke with expressed some misgivings about “dating down,” but most of their concerns were based on the negative feedback they’ve gotten from significantly poorer male counterparts. The expression I heard on repeat was, “I don’t care how much money he makes.” Love, for better or worse, has always been more important to those of us with XX chromosomes. We’re still waiting for some men to catch up on that one.
By Erin Flaherty