I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months and it’s going great – he is kind, smart, funny, creative, attractive, and good to me. We are on the same page about wanting to find “the one,” having kids, and our religion, and we share a thirst for life, travel, and new experiences. I feel a lot of potential for a future together.
My one concern is our financial compatibility. I have a high-paying job in software sales for which I earn roughly $260k per year. I went to a state school that was nearly free and then jumped straight into the workforce. Now at age 31, my net worth is over $500k. I have not shared any financial details with my boyfriend, though he knows I am well-off based on my lifestyle, which is modest but more lux than his.
My boyfriend took the academic and free-spirit route, attending a prestigious private university for undergrad, teaching abroad for a few years, and then getting a Master’s degree from an Ivy League university. For the last two years, he has been working at the same small company in a low-level position, making $60k per year, with no raises or promotions, while paying off student loans. I’ve made a few subtle comments encouraging him to explore other opportunities, but he seems to be happy where he is and has even implied that he thinks he makes a good salary.
I don’t expect my future husband to match me in salary, but it’s hard to imagine being with someone who doesn’t make at least $100k to pull his weight financially in supporting a family. I don’t seek an extravagant lifestyle; I want a 3-4 bedroom house with a patio and rooftop (~$600k in our city), I would like to work part-time once I have kids (or maybe even take one to two years off work), and I want to send my kids to a Jewish private school.
All of the above are well within reach on my salary and/or savings alone – it’s not an issue of having enough money. But I’m concerned about the following, given such a large discrepancy between our finances:
1. How my significantly larger earnings could impact the dynamic of the relationship. I don’t want to emasculate my boyfriend, and I also don’t want to “wear the pants.” I know that marriages in which the woman is the breadwinner are statistically less likely to last.
2. I fear that in the future I will have to “do it all” – make the money, put dinner on the table, and be super-mom (my first priority), which could build resentment.
Because I feel confident in my boyfriend’s ability to land a higher-paying job and advance professionally (despite his apparent lack of urgency to do so), I remain optimistic. However, as his girlfriend, I do not feel enthusiastic about giving him career advice, and I certainly don’t want to make him feel bad. He is anything but lazy in his hobbies and personal interests, but that ambition doesn’t seem to cross over into his career. Breaking up with someone over money just feels wrong (and unfair without a discussion first) and it’s simply not what I want.
Is this a situation that can be rectified with the right approach, or do I need to choose between accepting life as the super-breadwinner or breaking up due to financial incompatibility? Is my concern valid, or is it shallow for me to think this way? Your perspective would be greatly appreciated. — Not Interested in Being a Super Breadwinner
Yes, of course, a concern about being mismatched is always valid in a relationship if there are signs you aren’t in alignment. However, in your case, it sounds like this may be less an issue of financial incompatibility and more about figuring out whether you have compatible values (and goals for the future). Arguably, you value the kind of security and comfort that lots of expendable income provides. Your goals for the future include children, private school for said children, reducing your work load to part-time hours, and a romantic/ co-parenting partnership in which the labor is evenly distributed. Your boyfriend may share these goals! I don’t think his current career choice suggests he doesn’t though I can appreciate that his values may differ from yours.
Clearly, your boyfriend values education, hobbies, and personal interests. Maybe relationships are also of great value to him. And perhaps of less value is devoting his energy to advancing professionally for the sake of advancing professionally and earning more money. And at this point in his life, he might not have the motivation to advance professionally beyond simply the sake of doing so. He’s an unmarried, child-free man who is likely perfectly satisfied with how his 60k salary finances his life. He doesn’t have a spouse and a mortgage for a 4-bedroom house and private school tuition for a couple kids to worry about, BUT maybe if he did or if he thought those things were close on the horizon, he’d be more inclined to seek a higher-paying job. You and he both know that, due to his degrees from prestigious universities, doors would more easily open for him to that kind of job than for people who didn’t get the kind of education he did. It’s why those degrees are so expensive to acquire. And it’s probably one reason why you feel confident in his ability to earn more money. You just aren’t confident whether he has any ambition to do so, and you’re worried that if he doesn’t have that ambition, he won’t be a good long-term match for you.
To find out whether your boyfriend is a good long-term match for you, shift your focus from whether he has the ambition and desire to seek higher-paying jobs to learning whether he shares your goals and values. You know he shares a desire in finding a life partner – or, as you say, “the one,” and that he would like to have kids. But beyond that, what kind of life does he envision sharing with his partner and these kids? Does he also want to send them to a private Jewish school? (And to that end, how much does religion factor into your lives? Are you on the same page in that regard?) Does he want to stay in the city in which you both currently live? What does he imagine family life looking like? What kinds of family vacations does he envision? What kind of house (and where)? And, maybe most important, what are his thoughts about division of labor (all kinds of labor, including emotional labor)?
Obviously, the kinds of questions you need answered are ones to be asked not all at once in an overwhelming conversation six months into a relationship, but over the course of, hopefully, many more months. You’re still in the getting-to-know-each-other stage, and this is when these kinds of questions should start coming up more and more. It would be really premature to break up with your boyfriend at this point because you make so much more money than he does if you are sincere in seeking a good long-term match. There’s so much to being a good match beyond financial earnings. Such as: Is your boyfriend a feminist? Are YOU? If so – and I hope you are! – you should appreciate the choices and options you have. You’ve managed to create a life for yourself in which you could theoretically cut your hours in half and still make more money than many full-time workers. You could even be married to someone who makes less working full-time than you do part-time and afford the kind of lifestyle you want. But then the questions would remain: Is your partner going to contribute to the household in the way you want? Are you going to feel you are doing more at home because he is working outside the home more? Are you going to resent contributing more both financially AND in home management and childcare? Honestly, I think these are more pressing concerns than whether your boyfriend will resent you for making more money if there hasn’t thus far been any sign that he resents you now for seemingly making more money. And in terms of your boyfriend feeling emasculated, that’s a pretty sexist assumption if, again, you’ve seen zero signs of your boyfriend feeling emasculated by your success. And if you HAVE seen signs of that, this would be a good time to cut your losses and move on already.
All of this – the idea of your being a “super breadwinner,” the concern over financial incompatibility and mismatched values and goals – all of it is being considered under the umbrella of a pandemic which has covered the entirety of your whole six-month relationship. I know you want all the answers right now and you don’t want to continue pursuing a relationship that may not have a long-term future, but two things: When it’s wrong, you often know right away, but when it’s right, it can take a couple years to confirm that; and, living through a pandemic isn’t normal. Nothing is really normal right now. You and your boyfriend are really lucky to be gainfully employed and making solid incomes (yes, even the 60k salary). Maybe part of your boyfriend’s seeming reluctance to chance a better-paying job is, in part, because managing life in a pandemic feels ambitious enough. Or, he feels safe and secure in the job he has. Or, the job he has allows for plenty of time and energy to pursue things that bring him joy at a time when he especially feels the need to prioritize joy however and whenever he can find it. Or, maybe I’m projecting! But, it’s possible, right? At any rate, as you discuss some of the aforementioned themes and questions with your boyfriend, the context of our current situation needs to be considered, if not explicitly addressed.
My tl;dr advice: If your concern about your boyfriend’s salary and career ambition is the only/main issue in your relationship, it would be premature to move on. Spend some time discussing long-term goals with your boyfriend and what kind of joint income would be necessary to finance said goals. Check your own sexism. Instead of questioning how emasculated your boyfriend would feel by having a wife who earns a lot more, think about how YOU would feel having a husband who earns so much less. Are you sure it’s your boyfriend’s resentment you’re really worried about? How has your own socialization affected your vision of what a family should look like – what a marriage should look like – and how might that vision affect your pursuit of happiness? As you learn more about your boyfriend, it might be time for you to unlearn some of your own conceptions.