DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was trying to dig through your archive but I didn’t find anything on dating with a class disparity. A bit of context, up until the last few months I had all but resigned myself to the gauntlet of dating apps and coffee dates that go next to no where. Nevertheless being the filial son, I kept assenting to arranged meetings that my mother insists upon. It’s a modified version of what used to go on in my East Asian culture but generally it’s to allow the parents to gauge the potential of the match and take measure of the other family. For the most part things on this front went no where, but it did placate my mother who has increased the number of inquiries due to the fact that I am 31 and seemingly can’t catch on with anyone. Still life is funny in that I did meet someone who actually reciprocates (let’s call her Sheryl). Unfortunately it seems that our meeting was never intended because the intended person decided at the last minute to decline. The matchmaker, not wanting to waste a dinner reservation, called up Sheryl. The unintended part isn’t the problem but my mother being far thinking nosy person that she is has started warning me that there is a class difference and has not so subtly intimated that this other match (let’s call her Mirage) who I have yet to meet would work out better because Mirage will soon graduate from fancy Ivy League University.
I don’t mean to make my mother out to be some odious Tiger Mom because I do respect her greatly as she was the mastermind and driving force that lead our extended family into the middle class after the leaving rural China in aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. As a 12 year military veteran I recognize that my mom is dangerously savvy because not every immigrant goes from English challenged food server with only a high school diploma to senior water plant engineer and landlord. Still I know she’s not the Oracle of Delphi, but I am certain that class differences will be an issue eventually.
So what should I do to manage this difference in class? Due to a misplaced debit card on a Sunday and playing phone tag and site navigation with her bank I did learn that Sheryl doesn’t have enormous credit card debt and that she has some small savings. I should be happy for Sheryl that she has money of her own, but now I feel very guilty when she pays for an occasional meal. Are we supposed to have a frank conversation about money? Am I fool for being very taken with her two months in (we tend to spend both Saturday and Sunday of every week together in some fashion)? One of the silver linings about being in a dating stalemate meant that I was able to amass a dating fund surplus so how far should I insist on paying for things when I am willing and more than able?
I don’t often meet women who are willing to suffer baseball, help me explain things to my grandfather, and not get critical about my basement of unorganized nerd stuff. Rarer still to meet a woman who makes a habit of getting up close in my personal space, which I find incredibly, perhaps stupidly, hot. Granted there is a communications bump as her fluency in spoken English isn’t yet able to properly espouse the merits of Rin and Sesshoumaru and my fluency in spoken Chinese isn’t able to recite the Analects, but she makes going to Target fun. I’d never thought I would feel this intensely for someone ever again, but it’s happening.
I know there is also a honeymoon phase in play, but all the same, one month in and every first date with other women felt like a job interview for a position I no longer wanted. As for the speed of events, I guess being culturally compliant meant that there never was an awkward trust building phase as our parents already met and were character witnesses. So any ideas on how to talk about money and when it’s appropriate to do financial disclosures?
– Troubled Zentran
DEAR TROUBLED ZENTRAN: I’m not gonna lie to you, TZ: money tends to be the biggest source of relationship strife, right next to sexual compatibility. This strife can manifest in any number of ways, from stress over paying the bills, disproportionate contributions to the household budget, one person’s bad credit dragging them both down to spending habits to… well, you get the picture. In fact, for many men, making less than their spouses can actually cause other issues, such as erectile dysfunction.
But class differences can go beyond issues about money – in fact, class or status and money often don’t line up at all. Class differences can be more profound than even differences in race or culture, and even harder to penetrate at times. There can be differences in values, differences in what’s considered acceptable or expected behavior, familial rituals. Those clashes can cause friction, especially when one partner feels (or is made to feel) unwelcome because he or she is “not our kind, dear”.
Now somebody call Sir Mix-A-Lott because there’s a big ol’ “but” coming.
Mirage’s class doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be happier with her or more successful. While graduating from an Ivy League university implies future success, it doesn’t guarantee it, nor does it ensure financial stability. At the very least, she may very well be coming out of school loaded down with mountains of loan debt… and end up incurring even more if she is going to get a post-graduate degree. Meanwhile, someone with a blue-collar background and technical education may well be making five to six figures in an unglamorous-but-financially-secure job like, say, plumbing or electrical work.
All of this, however, is pretty far down the line. The time when you should be having an involved conversation about finances is when the two of your finances are going to play a bigger role in your lives together; i.e. when you’re living together. You two have been dating for two months. You are decidedly not at a point where you should be having long and involved conversations about your finances or your financial future. You’re still feeling one another out… this is not the time when the two of you should be thinking of plans any further past the next couple of weekends. Shacking up, getting married or otherwise entwining your bank accounts and credit ratings not only shouldn’t be on the table, they shouldn’t be in the same building as the table in the first place.
For right now, don’t stress about the future. Try to keep who contributes to the dates as balanced as you can. If you’re worried about her ability to pay, then plan cheaper dates. Just remember that a lot of people like to feel as though they can contribute or treat someone, even if they can’t necessarily do so to the same level.
Take your time with this relationship. Enjoy it for what it is now instead of letting the future steal the joy in exchange for what may happen down the road. You may well break up over things completely unrelated to money or economic class before it ever becomes an issue. Save the detailed financial talk until the two of you are going to actually live together.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)