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The Salary Shift: How Your Money Affects Your Relationships

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Woman and dollar signI was one of the lucky ones. I came out of college with a great job that paid me a relatively generous salary. As a twenty-two year old with very few expenses, I was doing quite well for myself. Unfortunately, being one of the very few members of my peer circle that had a job that paid me more than minimum wage, I was instantly set apart. Making more money than the rest of my friends and anyone I dated was and still is a delicate situation that calls for tact, and forces me to be even more careful with my spending.

There is no point in complaining about making a lot of money. I am grateful and truly humbled by the fact that I have been lucky enough to earn a wage that is more than I need. But the second a guy finds out what I make, there is a noticeable change our relationship. Take Jacob for example. Jacob is a thirty year old filmmaker I dated about a year ago. Filmmaking was his passion, though, and not his career. Jacob worked about twelve hours a week at a local book store and literally made pennies on the dollar. He wasn’t upset by this and loved having plenty of free time to work on his movies (which were really great). On our second date, I offered to pay for dinner. He seemed shocked that I was willing to go Dutch, but I let him know that it wasn’t a big deal and that I would be happy to pick up our tab. At one point during the date, I mentioned how much I made. Jacob’s eyes literally lit up. The Salary Shift had happened. At first, I didn’t notice the shift. But as time went on, I was always getting dinner, or footing the bill for movies, concert tickets, and the like. Jacob stopped driving to my house all together, claiming that gas prices were too high for him to make “unnecessary trips.” Our relationship had somehow become a financial burden on me. I found myself worried on multiple nights that I wouldn’t have enough cash on me to pay our bar tab. Jacob was using me for my generosity and for my paycheck.

After a few weeks of dating, I wised up and dumped Jacob. But my woes didn’t stop there. My next beau, Sam, had almost the exact opposite reaction. Sam was a very masculine guy. He had somewhat antiquated views on gender roles, and when he realized I made slightly more money than he did, another type of Salary Shift happened. Sam had to pay for everything, no matter what. He wouldn’t even let me put change in parking meters. He constantly wanted to flaunt the fact that he had a good job and was entirely too materialistic. I know some may not see why dating a guy who wants pay for things would be a bad thing, but I was annoyed that Sam had to wear the pants in our relationship. I could tell that the fact that I was a woman who was making enough money to take care of myself bothered him. The fact that I didn’t need him to take care of me threatened his manhood, and eventually ended our relationship. There was no way I was going to let Sam’s insecurities make me feel ashamed for my successes.

There is a delicate balance to be found when one’s salary is larger than those around her. I am more than happy to revel in my natural tendency toward generosity and do so without expectation of getting anything in return. At the same time, I do understand that relationships require a certain level of reciprocity. It’s nice to have someone offer to pay for something, even though I can pay for it myself. To prevent the issues I had with Jacob and Sam from happening again, I am more upfront about this balance with my partners. I let them know that I like the give and take style of dating, and if they have any sort of problem with that, we can talk about it. This conversation saves us both the trouble of feeling awkward about money, and stops the Salary Shift from ever occurring.

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