Nina Smith

When She Earns More Money Than Me

Filed By Nina Smith | December 03, 2007 7:10 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: money

“Perfect love cannot be without equality.” - Scottish Proverb

Awhile back, a well-known personal finance blogger posed a question (primarily to straight men) as a way to learn if they are / would be bothered by their wives earning more money than them. Some of the comments were quite interesting if you care to click over to understand how heteros rank money in their marriages.

I think it’s a fascinating topic because I’ve always thought that people assume roles in relationships based more on earnings than gender. For obvious reasons, this is easier to prove in queer partnerships. Case in point:

In a previous post at Queercents, I likened my first partner to Helena, the wealthy lesbian socialite from The L Word. Partner #1 was much nicer than Helena (and nowhere near as good looking) but over time I witnessed a huge shift in power. The shift was subtle at first. I was taken by the gifts, the expensive dinners, and nice vacations. But then all of a sudden I found myself in a relationship where she held the power and control.

I learned during this period that the person making the most money in the relationship maintains a certain amount of control and leverage with a lot of the decisions.

Lorna Wendt founded the Equality in Marriage Institute in 1997 after her public divorce and fight for equality put her in the national spotlight. She writes:

Equality in a relationship has many dynamics. Essentially, for a partnership to be healthy, both parties have to feel equally valued in relation to emotions, lifestyle, finances and objectives.

Since money permeates practically every aspect of life it makes sense that this can be a big issue in relationships. For example, Partner #1 earned 20 times more than me. Yes, 20 times… that’s not an exaggeration. At the time, I was 27, self-employed, and making less than $30,000 annually. She was thirty and had just been given control of her mother’s business worth millions… it was long term care related and her empire has only grown with the graying of America. God love her. Life is easy when you’re rich.

The problem back then was that she was wealthy. I wasn’t. I recall one trip to New York where I thought we were there to meet up with my best friend. When she said that she only wanted to meet him for lunch and I insisted on dinner and the evening, she said:

If you want to pay for the weekend, then we can do whatever you want.

Hello… I could barely afford cab fare uptown let alone the two nights at The Plaza she was sponsoring. We had lunch with my friend.

We were together almost three years and during that time I gained weight and this was a big issue. Mind you, she was chubby from day one, but deserved the thin girlfriend because she was rich. Of course, she didn’t actually say this… but it was apparent even unspoken. She ordered dessert, I chewed gum. And yes, before you ask… she always paid for dinner.

She called the shots and had first right about anything that required money. Most things cost money. Get the picture. I know I’m painting her into a monster when she actually was quite lovely in many ways. Not to mention… the sex was adventurous. She was a fun person. All my friends loved her. Life of the party. Easy to be when you’re rich.

But it wasn’t the life for me. I learned then that equality is important. So maybe you don’t have to make the same amount of money but in my opinion the decision making about money needs to be equal. At least that’s what works for me. And life is better when you get to eat dessert.

What do you think? Your thoughts appreciated below.

Nina blogs about money over at Queercents where this post is part of the weekly Sleeping With Money series.

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I think more than financial inequality, the personality of the person and how they are likely to behave by seeing this gap of financial status is what's key in determining whether things can work out or not.

That comment she made to pressure you clearly showed what a shitty human being she could be. Conversely, there are plenty of couples with financial inequality who do not see unequal balance of power in their relationship because the financially-superior individual either does not have such a personality conducive to these kinds of actions, or where this person actually interprets his/her fortune as the fortune of both so long as they stay together, with equal claims to financial power by both sides.

I had a boyfriend like that once too, Nina. He went out the window with his first, "Well, I paid for..." comment. Forget that. Who pays isn't important if you're a team.

In theory, I think Lucrece and Bil are right. But I don't let anyone pay for me because it gives up too much power. I'm a big fan of splitting expenses. Like if I pay for dinner, you pay for the movie.

Lucrece: You're right... some couples can make income disparity work in a relationship but a lot will depend on the behavior of both. After that experience, I only partnered with people in the same ball park with my income. I didn't want to test behavior again.

Bil: I agree. Tit-for-tat is no way to live in a partnership.

Serena: Splitting is good when income and expectations about lifestyle are the same. It didn't work with my ex because she wanted to do things and live in a way that I couldn't afford so I often "had" to let her pay. Because of this it was hard to maintain equality and the power definitely shifted over time.