For Love or Money

What fascinates me about money is the personal side — how people feel about it, what they do with it or without it. Nothing gets more personal than romantic relationships. Do you consider a potential partner’s income or earning potential while dating? What about debt levels, or spending and saving habits? Sure, we can say money doesn’t matter – but apparently it still does.

Darcy Pond 2
My favourite Mr Darcy, who had 10,000 pounds a year, and was obviously in want of a wife.

I say “still does” because for a long time (pre-Pill, but especially pre-1900s), for a large part of society (middle- and upper-class women), their sole job in life was to marry well. Mainly because they weren’t allowed any other job. Jane Austen, who never married herself, knew this very well and wrote several novels about the situation in a time when female writers were rare. According to the article What Jane Austen Tells Us About Dating Today (which has a fabulous example of a Lizzy Bennet & Mark Darcy Tinder exchange):

“For a woman, accepting the wrong proposal (and it always was a case of accepting, rather than initiating) could prove still more devastating. Forbidden from inheriting and faced with towering obstacles if they sought to earn their own living, middle-class Regency women — even those blessed with large dowries — had to hand control of their financial, social and emotional wellbeing over to their husbands. They had few legal rights as singletons. But once married, in the eyes of the law they ceased to exist altogether, becoming possessions instead of individuals. A spinster, meanwhile, was forever dependent upon the goodwill of (male) relatives.”

Now, we’ve come a long way but let’s face it — women still make less than men. Except when they don’t. The economic crash in 2008/2009 changed things for many families in North America. When a lot of men lost their jobs, their female partners became the main breadwinner. That, added to more women getting more education and higher paying jobs, caused a shift.

Women have more control over their futures and more choice – and they’re getting more picky about those choices. In the article Why American Men are Getting Less Marriageable, economics and social dynamics are hitched: “employability and marriageability are deeply intertwined.”

“Either men don’t like their female partners earning more than they do,” Dorn says, or women feel like “if the man doesn’t bring in more money, then he’s an underachiever.”

I’ve joked that when it comes to dating in my 40s (I’m divorced), I want a guy’s bank statement, a criminal record check and three references (and his mother doesn’t count). We can pretend these things don’t matter, that when it comes to true love something as crass as money makes no difference, but until we recognize that it still does, we can’t deal with it honestly and openly. There’s a reason most couples fight over money more than anything else – it’s an unavoidable part of our lives and it’s so emotionally charged.

I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying it’s real. So what it comes down to is —

What would Lizzy Bennet do?

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