I took a man out to dinner -- once. It was Valentine's Day and since he had always paid the bill in the past, I thought it would be a sweet gesture to pick up the check. But when I saw that it cost $80 for dinner a deux at a neighborhood Thai restaurant where we often dined, I wished he would snatch the bill back and say, "It's the thought that counts." After all, he made more in a month than I made in a year. But a deal was a deal.
Though I'd prefer to date a man who makes more than I do, it seems that many sisters feel differently. In response to the question "Would you date a brotha who made less than you?" 52 percent of ESSENCE.com visitors said yes. More than one-third said it doesn't matter. And only 14 percent responded no.
Prince or pauper?
Heather Gittens, a 34-year-old project coordinator for an interior design firm, says she would willingly date a man whose bank account was less bountiful than her own. Since she's financially able to do for herself, Gittens says, "it's more important for me to connect with someone spiritually and intellectually -- someone who makes me laugh."
When Gittens dated a man whose money was tight after starting his own business, she didn't mind throwing in a few extra bucks here and there. But she does draw the line with jobless men. "If a brother is in transition and at a lower financial point in life, that's one thing. But, if they really don't have a job, that's another! If I had to pay for everything, I might become resentful."
Mo' money, mo' problems
Some of the women who steer clear of men who make less said it was because the men had a problem with it, not them. When it came to light that Michelle Harris, 32, an auditor, was raking in more dough than her ex, he almost choked on his dinner roll. "From that moment on," Harris says, "everything was, 'Well, since you make so much money you can pay for yourself' or 'Can I borrow a few dollars?'" Harris soon ended what she terms a "dating disaster" and vowed never to put herself in that situation again.
As many couples know, money can wreak havoc on love. "Money is often just a big stick one of the people is swinging around in order to get the upper hand," says William July, author of Understanding the Tin Man: Why So Many Men Avoid Intimacy. "It's only a problem where there exists a struggle for power and control. Money shouldn't matter if people are really functioning as a couple."
To avoid conflict, July advises women to look for "spiritually awake" men whose self-esteem isn't tied to their salary -- whether it's high or low. And the female ballers should refrain from using their big bucks as a way of putting a man down.
Give and take
We could all take a page from Tawana Wright's book. After dating a man who felt threatened because she earned more, the New York City Board of Education employee learned to tread lightly on the male ego. "Sometimes it will make a man feel like less of a man," says Wright, 28, about her eagerness to pick up the check. She has found a clever way to work it out with her current beau, who she says earns a bit less than she does. "He'll pay but I know it has set him back," she explains. "So later that night I'll say, 'Here, hold on to this,'" while slipping a couple of $20's in his hand. In that way, she supports his self-respect while also showing him that money's not the bottom line in their relationship.