Picking a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Hold Back Your Career or Bank Account

Many romantically-inclined people strenuously object to picking a partner based on any reason but love and attraction.

This, obviously, is a fairly new development in human society. In the past, and today in many other cultures, men have been (or are) judged by their ability to provide financially, and to a lesser extent, women by their perceived ability to be frugal or contribute to a household. In the current recession — in which traditionally male jobs have been lost at a much higher rate than traditionally female ones — it seems only a matter of time until this onus falls (at least equally) on women.

Even today — in 2010, in New York — I think men make career-based dating decisions more often than women do, and with little to no stigma attached. Among the young and ambitious, there’s plenty of “I don’t have time for a girlfriend” going on. If your male go-getter seems noncommittal, obviously there are many possible reasons, but a pretty common one is that he wants to get his act together before thinking about a real relationship.

Many articles have been written about the “career gap” created by having a baby. But there are plenty of hopeless romantics who create a half-dozen little gaps along the way, leaving holes in their careers every time they fall in love. Don’t allow your dating life to keep you from starting a business, saving up an emergency fund, reinvesting in your career, and financially planning for motherhood, if kids are a goal of yours.

I’m not a relationship expert, although I am aware that many how-to-keep-your-man experts recommend pulling back a bit, creating a sense of mystery, and maintaining a bit of a chase. I have no idea if this is really a good idea (it probably isn’t if you have to act really fake to pull it off). But keeping a focus on building your future is a natural way to maintain this bit of distance (and to keep from acting like a needy wet blanket, if that’s a problem you happen to have).

Also, we live in an era in which the average age of marriage is ever-rising. If you are dating with possible marriage in mind, you obviously must talk finances with your partner at some appropriate juncture. Marriage, especially when children are involved, is like running a generally unprofitable small business. You are looking for someone you want to have sex with and also share a freaking bank account with. Strange how many people there are out there with whom the first form of intimacy seems less risky than the second.

If you are not dating with marriage in mind, then you have all the more reason to avoid leechlike romantic partners who will only hold you back financially and professionally.

If you have had the experience, as I have, of moving from a (relatively) small city to a (relatively) large one, you may have noticed that people’s attitudes towards selecting a mate change markedly in response to increased availability. Immediately upon moving to New York, I found that I was much less interested in attending a second date with someone I hadn’t really taken to on the first (whereas, back in Virginia, I’d have given it a third chance to see if maybe the fifteen-hundredth sentence the guy had to say turned out to be a really special sentence). Similarly, I found that young men in New York were markedly less monogamous. There are just so many attractive, smart, fun women, I would marvel. And most young men in the city don’t even know any men under 30 who are married; it’s just not even on their radar.

I don’t know that there’s any point in judging this state of affairs. It simply is what it is. In small towns, people often find true love right down the street; in the city, people like to spend a decade trying out partners from a variety of boroughs and milieux. So, if it seems pretty likely that whoever you’re with right now isn’t someone you’re going to marry (or, of course, if you never plan to marry at all), then you really ought to limit your romantic life to those who aren’t going to hold you back — after all, you’ll be the one to suffer the damage that he won’t be around for.

Note that I’m not talking about dating to get ahead. I did once meet a woman who had so many powerful ex-boyfriends that she never had to network again; when she wanted a favor, she’d just call one up (and usually end up sleeping with him again). This type of behavior is well beyond the scope of this column. I’m not recommending using anyone. And I’m not weighing in on mutually utilitarian relationships, although of course an arrangement in which two people use each other to each get ahead passes an important test of ethics that unilateral using-based relationships do not. I’m just saying, as a woman who has cleaned up a formerly-shared apartment after a boyfriend has moved out only to find $338 worth of unpaid electric bills and a moderately urgent turnoff notice: rid your life of financial saboteurs.

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    • Nicole

      Great post, Lilit, but wtf happened to JEN??

      • Lilit Marcus

        Eep! I loaded Jen’s post for her and forgot to switch the byline. Thanks for catching that. In other news, I need some more caffeine.

    • meg

      hmm, i don’t think it’s de rigeuer anymore to share a bank account with your spouse. i’ve pretty much had a boyfriend since i was 15, several who were live-ins, and i’ve always kept a separate account. my parents don’t even share banks.

      anyway: great post!

    • georgeelliot

      Yes, I think that generally speaking it’s best to avoid co-habitating with anyone can’t keep his (or her) bills paid, but some women find nomadic roustabouts endearing. I do not envy these women.

    • Halima

      This is a great post. Personally, i am kind of old fashioned. I still go by the principle where i see my men as providers of my needs. This is not to say that i am a parasite of some sort. Sure, i work and am responsible enough to support him and also take care of stuffs without necessarily waiting for him. That said, it is important for women all over to understand the lessons of this post and be able to draw the line between romance and financial matters in relationship. In my opinion, every healthy relationship should enjoy financial freedom & stability.

    • Suzie

      I just came across this article via reddit.com/r/twoxchromosomes, and I just wanted to say that I really needed it right now. Thank you for sharing, and encouraging. It is reassuring to know that my feelings are justified, and that I am not alone.

    • “M”

      Thing is, though – as much as I appreciate this column and think it should be part of that curriculum along with Sexual Ethics that you mention … women of all ages are excoriated for thinking like this. Even if you keep mum about it and don’t mention it to people.

      I’d really appreciate some tips on how to bypass and/or silence that kind of judgment from “friends”, colleagues – and family – without resorting to excess antidepressants.