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Unhinged, A Dating Series: More Money, Fewer Problems?

Is financial stability just another excuse to stay guarded or a valid concern while dating?

Financial security was often a topic of conversation between my ex and me during our relationship. He hoped to be in a place where he felt he could provide for a family and, until then, he struggled to commit to something more serious.

Looking back, though, money issues never affected us. We made what we made, had the debt we had, and lived comfortably according to those metrics. We went on vacations, ordered takeout often, splurged on fine-dining restaurants, and counted sailing as one of our regular hobbies (hint: it’s not cheap).

And still, money was constantly cited as a reason (among others) why things couldn’t progress.

It’s a common theme. Financial security has been a consistent thread in my relationships and in my conversations, mostly with men, about what someone needs before trading singledom for a committed relationship. 

Greg (not his real name), my friend of about six years, is one of these men.

“There’s a variety of reasons [why I’m not in a relationship], but it all relates back to money. I don’t want to be a burden to any partner,” Greg says. “I have student debt that I always wanted to pay off well before I get married.”

When I talked to him about dating recently, he cited finances as a major reason why, at 38, he’s still not ready to have a girlfriend. 

At the start of 2020, Greg and I briefly dated—we made it about two months before realizing we had no long-term potential. He’s still one of my favorite people, though. He’s thoughtful, funny, and caring, and I sometimes wondered why he’s remained single.

Greg’s been off dating apps for a few years now. “If it happens, it happens,” he says, while also making it clear that he won’t be truly ready until his debt is paid off.

Sounds all too familiar. 

“I want to have the stability, or I want to have this perceived notion of stability through some metrics that I come up with and say, like, ‘Yes, I have the job and the right money where I feel somewhat okay with taking my eyes off of this section of things,’” Greg says.

For as long as I’ve known him, he’s had a stable job and made good money. From the other side of the phone, this feels like an excuse, a faulty plan that may leave him missing out on some really great women. I ask him what “financial stability” means.

His markers, he replies, involve paying off his debt and feeling secure in his job. In my mind, though, things can change in an instant, whether you’re the highest paid person at your company or the lowest. Or, the world could be hit with a global pandemic, which throws everything out of whack.

Nothing is ever guaranteed. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Isn’t partnership about weathering life’s storms together, finances included? I push him for more as he gets increasingly more uncomfortable with my line of questioning. 

“I think you can still work on [your finances] while with a partner,” I say, and ask where this way of thinking may have stemmed from. 

He shares that it mostly comes from watching his parents. “What I recall is my mom giving [my stepdad] a hard time for not being a decent enough provider,” Greg explains. “I could never be in a relationship with somebody that’s constantly disappointed with what [I] bring to the table financially.”

“Is there any possibility that their experience isn’t going to be yours?” I ask. “Is it a fear because of what you’ve seen, or because you’ve experienced it with a partner?”

“No, I haven’t experienced it… but I won’t allow myself to ever experience it,” Greg says. 

We go back and forth for a little over an hour. He holds steadfast to his view. I remain confident that this metric can’t be something that holds him, or anyone else, back from finding a partner (if that’s what their end goal is).

After a bit of research, I’m not sure if either of us is fully right or wrong. In 2019, a Pew Research study found both men and women earned more and were more financially sound in a committed relationship. Point in my corner.

On the other hand, money was found to be a leading cause of marital conflict in 2024, according to Forbes. And lower income couples have a greater risk of divorce due to money issues. Okay, point back to Greg. 

A 2022 piece from Business Insider says that millennials may delay marriage because of money more than older generations. But financial therapist Megan McCoy suggests that we may actually become wealthier if we get married sooner.

It seems to me that the right person would be open to adjusting their expectations for their partner’s financial situation. Or, for a time, they’d be happy to be the breadwinner until the person with debt can work through it for a more balanced partnership. 

“I am open to it. It’s just not a priority,” Greg says as he questions my argument. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this. But thinking about it now, me not giving myself the opportunity to do this because of a reason that’s obtuse…”

He trails off, and we sit in silence for a few moments.  

“It’s fear, Nicolle, absolute fear,” Greg admits. “I mean, that’s fundamentally it, right? I don’t want to be a let-down.”

There it is.

To put it so plainly is to face the fact that dating from a place of fear simply doesn’t work, no matter what your worries are. Falling in love is one long trust exercise—there’s no guarantee that someone will, for instance, read your column when they say they will, much less treat all the vulnerable parts of you with the gentleness they deserve. 

I think this is worth exploring. Greg isn’t alone in his thinking, and I’m not 100 percent correct in my assessment that finances shouldn’t hold you back from dating. But like Greg mentions, actually taking the time to dissect your reasons for not pursuing relationships may help you figure out what are fear-based hangups and what are real, solid concerns.

If money was the only issue standing between my ex and me, I fully believe we could have made it work. But it wasn’t the real reason we didn’t last, and it won’t be the reason he doesn’t work out with someone else.

And, look, even if a long-term relationship was guaranteed to negatively impact your finances (it isn’t) and to take up more time and require more work than simply being alone (it is), how many people would still seek love? Many, I’d be willing to bet. After all, the rewards of love go far beyond the material. 

And that may be well worth facing your fears.

As for me, I’ve been continuing to go on dates and meet people through my matchmaker. Others have slid into my DMs through this column. Some haven’t worked out, some are upcoming, and one made me laugh the entire evening (but that’s for another time).

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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