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.
(Incidentally, I debated with myself whether to change the language to include same-sex couples. While I do hope that everyone who is interested can get something out of this and other Bullish columns, I think a lot of what I’m talking about in this column is predicated on people conforming — for good or for bad — to certain gender norms. So I left it as-is, with “Boyfriend” in the title. But I’m just throwing in a shout-out; I did think this one through, and since I said “marriage” all over this column, I’ll add that of course I support everyone having the right to engage in matrimony and make all of the legally-binding and often financially perilous decisions discussed herein, plus receive free casserole dishes from distant relatives).
That said, here are some boyfriend-types to avoid:
The Boyfriend Who Obviously Doesn’t Bother With a Savings Account
I’m not talking here about the unemployed (although I would hardly give all of them a free pass — some people are unemployed due to the economy or other terrible circumstances, some people are temporarily unemployed as part of a natural and healthy cycle of career growth, and some people are unemployed because they are misanthropic, inept nitwits). I’m talking about anyone who buys stupid shit all the time, and then when his computer breaks, has no way to get it fixed. Do you want to attach your fortunes to those of such a man? Even if you are 20 and in college and not thinking about marriage at all, constantly being around someone like that is like trying to be on a diet around someone who’s constantly eating ice cream out of the carton. Watching someone else blithely buy fifteen stupid things makes it seem reasonable for you to buy just one or two stupid things.
The Boyfriend Who Initiates Sex During Your Most Productive Portion of the Day
As a college student, I regularly stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, getting things done. I’m not sure that this was actually the optimal strategy: once, at the height of all-nighter delirium, I wrote a truly senseless paper about Susan Sontag’s definition of camp, and I think my professor charitably viewed the paper as a demonstration of camp itself. That said, it is now unavoidably obvious to me that I can do one very-high-concentration activity per day, first thing in the morning. After that, I can teach classes, I can give presentations, I can fold all my hand towels into the precise folding schema that reminds me of a high-end luxury hotel, but I can’t, for instance, write this column. I therefore studiously avoid early-morning meetings; I never waste my best timeslot on something that could easily be completed in an inferior timeslot. (This is why I do my own nails late at night; if I get a manicure during billable hours, its cost to me increases by approximately 500%). You’ve been waiting for me to mention sex, right? No judgements here on when in the day people should be having sex; I hear some people don’t even bother to brush their teeth before going at it in the morning. I’m just saying, it had better be really, really great sex if you’re going to miss the most productive timeslot of your day. And keep in mind — the early thrill of a relationship probably won’t last as long as the phase of your life in which your most productive timeslot is the same as it is now. That is, while right now it seems sexy and romantic to be pulled away from your Etsy storefront as soon as you sit down to business, later it’ll just make you annoyed and broke. There are a lot of fish in the sea; you can probably find one who mostly shares your ideas about when to get it on.
The Boyfriend Who Expects to Use You as a Line of Credit
This sort of thing comes up when you live with someone. Say you decide to split the rent. Usually, you pick one person who’s in charge of physically mailing it in. Some landlords will take two checks, but I think most couples have one person pay the other person, and then that person sends in one check to the landlord. If you are that person, you’re sort of acting a bit like a bank. For instance, if the rent is due on the 1st, either your boyfriend will have to pay you far enough in advance for his check to clear before the 1st, or else you will have to have enough in the bank so that you can cover his half before his check clears. What I mean by a boyfriend “using you as a line of credit” is when your partner, noticing that you have often covered his half of the rent for a day or two during this check-clearing process, decides unilterally that you can cover it a bit longer — as in, “Oh, by the way, I won’t have the rent until the 8th. I figured that was fine.” This, obviously, ties up your cash. If you constantly have to keep a $1,000 cushion in your account to accommodate your boyfriend’s financial instability, that keeps you from investing that cash in a money-market account, in your own business, etc. That means you are acting like a bank without receiving any of the benefits of being a bank, such as government bailouts, pens attached to counters with curly little cords, and, you know, making a profit.
Of course, all of this goes for you as well. Some women feel they can get away with financial irresponsibility and that, much like professing to a big, strong man that you are bad at math, it’s sort of cute. It isn’t. I can’t imagine that this column is read by a whole lot of the kind of woman whose financial plan for the future is to marry an investment banker, but I guarantee that something those kind of men don’t find cute at all is buying Louboutins when you haven’t paid your student loan bill. (Dare I mention the Sex and the City episode in which Carrie realizes that she has spent $40,000 on shoes and thus cannot afford her apartment? Show that to any man and see if he can even sustain an erection afterwards). Similarly, being late with your half of the rent and trying to make up for it with sex? Men like sex, but that really doesn’t make them forget about money for longer than the duration of the sex act itself.
I’m all about reciprocity here: don’t be a sinking ship, don’t have sex with a sinking ship.