First dates should feel like an easygoing, organic conversation, but advice on how to spark that flow ranges from interview-like (“do you have a dream you’re pursuing?”) to awkward attempts at being offbeat (“could you fight a bear?”) You’d think by now, in an age of dating-site filters and swipes, we could just cut to the chase and ask people what we really want to know: How much money do you make?
That’s a joke. Sorta. Well, not for everyone. Even though a survey last year found that salary ranked last on a list of seven factors most people find important when determining whether to keep seeing someone, it seems some people still want to know how much paper you stack before moving things forward.
Sounds shallow, right? Hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
On a subreddit for shaming shitty people, there’s a post by someone whose date apparently asked for exact digits before wasting her time. “I would really like to go on a date with you,” reads the screenshot, “but I’m not sure your salary would cover my expensive lifestyle. Do you mind me asking how much money you make?”
The Reddit jury took no time in reaching a verdict:
It’s Reddit — it could be fake, a joke or a complete outlier. But it’s a worthy example. Materialistic as it is, there’s something to being blunt about what you want and honest about the fact that money matters to everyone (to some degree).
Studies demonstrate that. Most people still marry within their social class and race, and so, even if we aren’t admitting it to ourselves, we find people to fall in love with because they seem “just like us” in more ways than we might ever make conscious note of. That means we’re pairing off with people who seem to be from similar schools and neighborhoods, with roughly similar life goals and values.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t individuals with agency and unique preferences, it’s just that many of us consider it gauche to bring these things up explicitly. I don’t have to say outright I want to marry someone who went to college and who isn’t particularly religious, but that’s because I’ve narrowed down the pool this way already. But more and more of us are swiping to hook up in the first place, which means our dates aren’t necessarily from work or our friend group; they haven’t been vetted by the usual observational channels. So how do we find out these details about career ambitions, education, general class and taste and future plans if not by asking directly? Life is short: How long do I have to wait before finding out?
What’s more, many of the values we state easily as acceptable and valid — to travel, to live in a city, to own a home, to start a family, to practice self-care, even to eat organically or order a nice meal — require some money. If you just so happen to be the sort of person who wants the things we all seem to indicate wanting on most social media, then what we are ultimately saying is we want the right person to do them with, with enough money to fund them.
So I put the question to my Facebook dudes I know (because the scenario I’m parsing is a woman asking a man) to see if there was any way to ask someone point blank if they bring home the bacon to a degree we could see combining our lives with.
Surprisingly, most of the men said it wouldn’t offend them if it were done in the right spirit.
“I’m fine with it,” a man named Tom said. “People are generally too prissy talking about religion, politics and money. Mature adults should be able to talk about all three.”
MEL colleague Hussein Kesvani explained a similar stance. “Coming from a culture where ‘dates’ often do have marriage as a precedent, it’s usually spoken about in the context of ‘if we get married’ questions — where you’d live, kids etc.,” he wrote. “And the subject comes up very quickly when you aren’t in a presumably high-paid profession like law, banking and finance etc. So it’s pretty straight up ‘Do you think we could afford to live in a semi-detached house?’”
While a few men indicated that you simply don’t discuss these things — it’s tacky, after all — most of them said if asked, they might be a little surprised, but if the answer was returned in full with the same spirit of disclosure, they wouldn’t mind. It’s really about how you do it, and why you’re asking.
“It would catch me by surprise but I’d tell the truth and not make a fuss about it,” MEL colleague Eddie Kim told me. “Assuming the context is, like you mentioned, that we’re having a good time and both in the mood to share more personal details, in general. If a woman just dropped that question in a random lull, and I’m already not vibing with them and feel their personality is more on the ‘shallow’ side, I’d probably judge them as one of those L.A. girls who want a certain lifestyle from their guy. It would kind of be a nail in the coffin.”
But if it were framed as part of a larger discussion of seeing if your values and goals line up? No problem.
“I think it’s fairly common/normal to have a ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ conversation on a date,” Ryan told me. “That could easily lead into a discussion on goals, ambitions, dreams (including family, marriage and adult stuff), etc. The woman could then ask if the guy’s current job/career could get him to where he wants to be in life. Basically, if poised in a ‘Where do you want your life to go and how do you plan to get there’ type question/conversation, it wouldn’t come off as shallow at all to me.”
But some men told me that even if it’s shallow, it still helps you understand where you stand with a potential date.
“Any such question is appropriate and I would answer honestly, but the asking of the question tells more about the asker than the answering party, and sets the precedent that maintaining said salary is important to the asker,” Jonathan wrote. “To wit: If I lose my job and can’t find decent work for an extended period of hard looking, will this person remain committed to me through such tough times? If not, this person doesn’t really commit to relationships based in real love, only conditional, transactional love. If that’s your jam, then it’s cool, just find someone else on your level.”
What’s more, money woes are a commonly cited reason for divorce, and Americans are particularly bad about talking about their salaries. A study last year found that one in five Americans don’t tell their own spouses their salary. Only 60 percent of women, and just over 52 percent of men do share that information. Just under half wait until marriage to fess up.
This is not a good thing. That doesn’t mean we should be revealing our salary as quickly as we order the first appetizer, but it’s considered a fairly disastrous practice to be anything but transparent about income and debt when you’re serious.
But the key word here is serious, and most of us would prefer to be liked before we have to audition our bank accounts. (One survey of 2,000 Brits found that waiting until you get serious is the overwhelmingly preferred time to reveal earning power.)
Viewed in this light, the responses I got from men can be read two ways: The first is that men still simply expect to be evaluated on income as they have been since income could be earned, and that they expect to make more than their female counterpart, so knowing up front that a woman is looking for a certain level of income is good information, even if that information just ends the dating more quickly. It’s refreshing because they know it’s coming eventually.
A second interpretation of the responses I got from men could be that their attitudes reflect a natural progression of women earning at historically higher levels than ever, and exercising their right to be put on par as equals (or at least near earning equals) with the men they want to share their lives with. Or at least to find out if they’re earning in the same ballpark.
For what it’s worth, there are women who’d want to know a man’s salary and not actually like the fact that it was insanely high. In an essay at Forbes, a woman trying out online dating reveals that she was excited to meet a potential match until she saw his salary range listed on the job site was $250,000 to $500,000. With her own earning power at a mere $60,000, she assumed she’d be out of his league.
While it’s true, she notes, that men care less what women make than the reverse, studies have still found that men who make over $150,000 get more matches on dating sites — but so do women, implying men might like to know a woman’s salary just as much.
Taken together, perhaps we’ve all accepted that it takes a lot of things to make love, and the world, go around, and money is one of them. Given the cost of living in major cities, own a home and start a family, we may have begun to admit and accept that income preference is no different than liking a certain hair color or a person who’s fit over sedentary.
People want to marry someone they can do things with, and it takes money to do stuff. Plus, maybe we all do want our equals, in every sense of that word, and maybe it is starting to go both ways.
“No one wants a second date with a loser,” a man named Jerry told me. “Unless it’s a loser with extreme potential.”