It’s easier for men. And I’m not talking about how it’s easier for them because they’re socialized to assert themselves or because they get paid more than us or because they’re naturally more set up to succeed at standardized tests. I’m not even talking about how they essentially get to call the shots in dating or about how they’re generally considered to be a gender that “gets better with age.”
I’m talking about how when they start looking around for potential partners in adulthood, they don’t really have to worry about what the girls do for a living. Waitress? Actress? CEO? It doesn’t really matter. They get to date the girl, and not the career, they want.
It’s not the same for women. From a very young age, it was drilled into my head that I should marry well. And by “well,” my well-meaning relatives weren’t talking about finding someone kind or sweet or funny. They were talking about lawyers and doctors. They were talking about hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs. They were talking about men with MBA’s from Harvard who’d more than lived up to the expectations such pedigrees tend to inspire.
And the problem, for me, has been that those lawyers and doctors and hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs and MBA’s from Harvard haven’t always been that appealing. And oh, how I’ve wanted them to be. My problem is that I essentially don’t relate to people that aren’t creative. I’ve tried, so many times and in so many different ways, to care about the nuances of the Japanese stock market or the crucial elements of commercial real estate. I’ve also told myself that not caring is okay—that you don’t have to love what someone does for a living in order to love them. But, time and time again, when I’ve forced myself to get involved with someone who’s not in a creative field—or doesn’t have a creative desire—I’ve eventually become incredibly conscious of the fact that I am, indeed, forcing myself. And forcing just isn’t a word that goes particular well with dating. After one of those experiences, I’d inevitably give myself permission to go back to getting involved with what, alas, seems to be my type: artistic, dreamy, often utterly unstable and more than potentially mentally ill men.
Helen doesn’t get into any of this in Sex and the Single Girl. But it’s clear from the way she discusses men that she’s not talking about dreamy writers and actors who somehow manage to make the fact that they don’t have insurance or a car or a place to live or all three oddly charming. She’s talking about future husbands and future husbands, she says without saying, are successful and stable.
I get why she doesn’t spend any ink explaining this to us. People rarely get into the topic now. It’s simply not discussed. The fact is that some women date writers while others date brokers and men simply don’t have to worry about these things. If they bring home a woman who’s never worked a day in her life, or has only worked odd jobs while waiting to meet a man who could support her, this isn’t considered notable. Yet a woman who brought home a man like that would have somehow failed in her quest.
Look, dating is difficult enough without throwing money matters into the equation. And I still don’t know how much money does, in fact, matter. You talk to some women who say it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one. You see others who manage to make it work while putting in 80-hour weeks at the office and taking care of the kid while helping to support the kid’s dad as he pursues his dream of rock stardom.
Back in Helen’s day, these things were more clearly defined. Women didn’t really have the luxury of falling for charming artists if they wanted to eat and send their future progeny to college. And while women have a variety of options we didn’t have back then—options for which I’m profoundly grateful—that old message, that we need to marry well, never disappeared from the value system I was raised in. “Marry the first time for money, the second for love,” my mom once joked. Or was she serious? The message I got, as far as I understood it, was that I needed to marry well and be successful—and nobody ever told me that the pursuit of success might have a negative impact on my ability to marry well. (A successful male friend recently confided in me that he’s thrilled his wife doesn’t want to work—that she’d be “less of a good wife” if she did.) While there are all sorts of examples of women who are the main breadwinners, I think the ideal scenario is true equality: two people, both pursuing their passions, both contributing to the income, both on equal footing.
Most successful women I know say that they just want to be with someone who’s as successful as they are. But often the ones who are as successful as they are want to date women without big careers—ones who will be less demanding, more accommodating…better, as my friend said, wives.
Helen was able to land, as she says on the first page of S&SG, the man she wanted—the uber successful film producer David Brown—so it is possible, then and now. It’s just that this aspect of dating is harder for women. And what makes it even harder is that we’re not really allowed to talk about it in mixed company. So I’m just going to say it: money matters. It did then and it does now. And Helen, who, after all, devoted a whole chapter to the green stuff—Chapter 6, “Money Money Money”— knew that better than anyone.