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  A Q&A With Michelle Singletary

Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Michelle Singletary

Today, about one married woman out of five is earning more than her husband, yet many young girls still grow up believing that men with no (or little) money aren't not worth their time.

Is there still a bias against men who earn lower salaries, or has increasing female financial independence made such thinking old-fashioned? And are men beginning to consider a woman's wages when looking for a suitable mate?

For background, read my column from this Sunday and browse an archive of my past columns and live discussions.

Please note: We cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations.

Discussion Transcript

Arlington, VA: Isn't it true that men often feel insecure dating women who have higher salaries?

Michelle Singletary: Welcome to another online discussion about money. This week's column about TLC's new song, "No Scrubs," certainly generated a lot of comments. I see I struck a cord (pun intended) with a lot of folks. I personally thought the song was unfair to men but many women and teen girls thought otherwise. So, let's talk money and men.

To the reader in Arlington I think that it shouldn't matter, at least when you are dating, what your dinner guest is making for a living. I mean why are men or women divulging their salaries over an appetizer? Sure, if you are headed toward marriage you should discuss what you make but if you are dating why is this the topic of conversation? My husband never knew what I made until he put a ring on my finger and we were headed down the aisle. Having said all that, I believe a man who is secure in who he is wouldn't be at all bothered by what his honey is making. Am I wrong guys?

Baltimore MD: As a high income 40ish divorcee in the dating pool, I find that my status, financially, comes into play with the lower income men I sometimes date...I always though it would be a relief to a gentleman that I did not need any help financially and could contribute equally or more that equally BUT I'm finding that it seems to make them feel I am too independent and do not need them. Comments? Anyone else having this happen...and how do you combat this perception?

Michelle Singletary: My question is how are these "lower income men" treating you that makes you feel they can't handle the fact that you make a lot of dough? And, if your income bothers them I say keep looking for the Mr. Right who will say, "Bring on the bacon baby."

Fairfax, VA: When my fiance and I first started working after graduating college I made significantly more money than he did. Both our parents were constantly making comments about how he wasn't paying his share and I was supporting us. Now he makes more than I do and nobody says a word. And both of our mothers work outside the home, so it's not that they are all still living in the past. There is still a definite double standard out there.

Michelle Singletary: You know the reason I wrote about TLC's song was exactly what you hit on. I feel bad for guys and the way we go around emasculating them because of what they do or don't earn. Certainly, you don't want a true scrub - a guy with no purpose in life other than to live off some woman - but I bet there are a lot of men earning modest means who would be great catches. So what if the woman is earning more. It's more likely these days that she will be anyway. In my household every penny that comes in the door belongs to both of us. My usband and I believe we are in a true "partnership" so this issue over who is making more is moot.

Rockville: Michelle,

I'm dating a woman I really think I could have a future with. I've always done my best to impress women. I wear Hugo Boss suits, drive an Acura, installed a big-screen TV in my town house. I just took my girlfriend on a great vacation to Las Vegas. But all of this has left me with a big Visa balance and not much savings. This woman I'm dating now is very impressed with these things and has very expensive expectations. How do I break it to her that I can't really afford to meet them? Or do you know a way to get more credit cards after they start turning you down?

Michelle Singletary: First of all in your future should be a little truth telling. How can you say you have a future with someone you haven't been honest with and especially about money. I'm sure you know that arguments over money is one of the top reasons why couples get divorced. I say you better start impressing your woman with a little bit of honesty. And, you might be surprised with what really matters to her. If it's money and materials that she wants and you aint got it honey then you better find another woman or you might seeing a bankruptcy attorney. Besides, here's a clue. If you are being turned down for credit cards you have a larger problem then your dating situation.

Alexandria, VA: Ten years ago, I helped put my wife through law school on a public interest salary. Now she is a partner in a law firm making $200K. All I have to say is YIPPEE!! While my salary has increased significantly too, she will always make much more than me unless I switch to corporate work. Marriage is about making it possible for both of us to pursue our dreams. It does not matter which of you makes more money as long as you both are free to achieve your goals. It seems a little Neanderthal-ish for guys to feel hurt if she makes more money. Likewise, my mother told me to stay away from women who care more about the content of your bank account than the content of your character. I think we used to call women like that gold diggers.

Michelle Singletary: Now that's the kind of man I like.

Recently, I won a major journalism award which came with some cash. I called my husband to tell him about it and he said, "All right, what are WE going to do with OUR money."

Atlanta, Georgia: Why we have been hypnotized into believing we need material things for happiness rather than long-term wealth building? We need to teach our daughters and sons financial knowledge, "self-responsibility" rather than seeking a man or woman "with money" to provide for us. We show our kids the end result of his-her success "the wealth" yet we fail to show them the effort it took to get there. This lack of education leaves the door open for pigeonholing our little girls into seeking the apparently "wealthy" brother for personal gain. What can we do to break this cycle?

Michelle Singletary: You break the cycle by not rejoicing in songs that call our men "scubs." It's not cute. It's not funny. We should all be pointing out and discussing the messages our daughters get about men that connect their self-worth to money.

Detroit, MI: At what point do you ask how much he earns -owns his own business-?

Michelle Singletary: After you and he say "I do."

Okay, maybe a bit before that. But personally discussions about a person's income shouldn't matter unless you are talking about getting married. You should talk about money before that big event. But if you are dating around, it wouldn't be a question I would ask or have a right to know. What you want to know and should be mindful of is how he or she is handling their finances. Are they too lavish? Do they seem too cheap and ungenerous? Are they screening their telephone calls for creditors? You should be looking for clues that indicate what kind of values they have about money and are they values you share. Because you could have a guy earning $100,000 but has no intention of sharing it with you.

McLean, VA: My comment isn't exactly about women making more money than men, but it's along the same lines.

I am a college-educated woman, and if I date a man who has no degree or went to a less prestigious school I am considered dating "down" by family and friends, even if he is kind and hard-working. Yet if a male with the same background dates a woman with less education no one thinks anything of it. I have seen this firsthand, and the double standard makes me sad. Any thoughts?

Michelle Singletary: Sounds like to me you need to keep the kind and hard-working guy, stop listening to your family and get new friends. I don't have to tell you that if you are lucky enough to find a good man and he's making a decent living then you have hit the jackpot.

Somewhere, USA: My hubby aint no scrub. He makes a decent living. But I make more, like you said. My question is, what gives him the right to decide how we spend it? Since I contribute the most of the money, I think I should have the final say over whether he can go on a shopping spree to buy new clothes and scuba equipment.

Michelle Singletary: Sounds like to me you both need to take a little bit of that money you are making and see a marriage counselor. You aren't his mama and he isn't your dad. So why are you two trying to use money to control each other?

DC: Wow, Rockville, you're really trying to impress the wrong women! Sure, lots of people are impressed by big spending, but are those really the ones you want to spend the rest of your life with? Particularly if you can't afford it....
On the scrubs issue, I can understand both positions. I do think you should have your life basically together in an economic sense -- show that you can have and keep a job and live on your own -- before getting married. That's true whether you're male or female. Otherwise, how do you know you're getting married for the right reasons? And so I'd stay away from men or women who haven't demonstrated they're capable of living independently. It's just like someone who can't live without someone else's emotional support -- you gotta go it alone before you can get together.

Michelle Singletary: Good point. Couldn't say it any better.

Bethesda: Michelle,
My girlfriend left me for another guy who makes half my salary. I've told her that she would be much better off with me, and I've even offered her a car and a generous allowance. But she insists she'll be happier with him. What else can I offer to win her back?

Michelle Singletary: Sir, with all due respect, I would suggest you take to heart the old phase "Money, can't buy you love." Sounds like you want a tramp not a girlfriend.

Silver Spring, MD: I think you can judge a lot about how a prospective mate will share financially by getting a close look at his family. If you sense money problems or issues with his Mom and Dad that you wouldn't like then you should be on the lookout with him. People can change, but as they say, apples don't fall far from the tree.

Michelle Singletary: As the poem goes "children learn what they live." While I agree with you that people can turn out quite different from their parents they do often pick up the same money habits. The lesson here is to look for someone who shares in the same values you have about money. That's why it's important to have talks about money with a prospective mate.

Well, that's it for today. Great questions. Hope I helped. I wish you all well in the coming weeks. Don't forget to join me in two weeks for another discussion about money.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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