My Boyfriend Makes $160,000 — & I Make $80,000

Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Several months ago, we polled more than 500 women and found that when it came to dating, heterosexual women were oftentimes coupling off with partners who make significantly more money than them. So we decided to start a series where we asked women with salaries much lower than their partners to share how they deal with money. In part two of our series, we interview Liz, a 30-year-old writer in Brooklyn with a salary of $80,000. Her boyfriend's salary? $160,000. Tell me about your relationship. How long have you two been dating?
"I met my boyfriend about five years ago. We met on OkCupid and we've been living together for about a year." How did the two of you handle money in the early stages of your relationship?
"Because of the way we met, we just split things. It wasn't like he asked me out and I said yes; we mutually went out. It never bothered me. In fact, I preferred it. Sometimes, he would treat me to dinner or I would treat him, but it felt very balanced." Have things changed from the beginning?
"Well, when we first started dating, we were more on the same page, money-wise. It's changed a lot since then, especially in the last year or so. His salary has increased at a more rapid rate compared to mine." Was there a moment when you realized, Oh, he's making much more than me?
"I remember last Christmas, or two Christmases ago, our gifts to each other just started changing. He bought me a really nice bag and I think I bought him pajama pants. He was totally psyched about the pajama pants, but I felt so weird about having this bag that I couldn't afford to buy myself. It never bothered him — he was like, I have money, and I want to give you this thing — but it bothered me a lot. I could feel the imbalance even then."

I'm just very aware of feeling like a kept woman, because I did survive on my own for a very, very long time.

Can you talk about why it bothered you?
"I guess I'm just very aware of feeling like a kept woman, because I did survive on my own for a very, very long time. I moved to New York when I was 22, with $300, and I waitressed and interned full-time. I know how to do that, I've done it, and now I'm at a point where I don't have a low income, but still, compared to him, it's not as much."

How did you react to his increase in
expendable income at first?
"It's hard if one person has enough money to live a certain lifestyle, and another person has money for a different kind of lifestyle. Like when he ordered Seamless, I wasn't going to be sitting next to him on the couch eating instant ramen. And if he wanted to go out to dinner, it was hard for me to say, 'I can't go out to dinner.' So it was easier to hide it, go out, and then when I was alone, eat eggs for dinner. I didn't want him to know that I couldn't afford it. "So when he first started making a lot more money than I did, I opened a credit card, because I wanted so badly to not rely on him pay for stuff. I racked up a bunch of debt, like, $2,000, and I ended up just cutting it up. I paid it off, but I think I needed a bit of reality check."

Have you two started talking about it more or being more transparent about when you can afford something?
"I've gotten a lot more comfortable with it, and I think he understands my feelings better now, the fact that I need to pay for things sometimes. When we go on vacation, he'll ask me what I can afford. If he buys the plane tickets, I'll pay for the dinners, so it feels like I'm contributing. I'm not saying I accept gifts all the time, but if he does offer to pick up the check, when I can't afford to split it, I let him do that. But I would never accept money from him. If I had a dentist bill, which I need to split up into payments, I would never let him pay for that."

What about if you get married?
"That's something I've thought about. I think it would just depend on if we merge our finances or not. Because then, it would all feel the same, I guess. Hopefully, I just make a lot more money. I've found myself taking on more and more freelance work; it's not a bad thing, because it's what I enjoy doing. But I feel like I wouldn't run after opportunities that involve making more money if it weren't for the fact that he's chasing it, too."

How do you two handle paying for things now?
"For rent, I pay a little bit less than him. He pays for utilities, but I usually pay for the groceries. If we go out to dinner, we'll usually split it. Or say we do dinner and drinks, I'll pick up drinks and he'll pick up dinner. Big purchases, he generally pays for — if we go to a wedding, the hotel, flight, wedding gift, that kind of stuff. Things that would significantly hurt the way I spend money throughout the month. By now, it's almost an unspoken thing for us, where he can sense if I don't have a lot of money, but it's still something I think about a lot more than he does."

Once, I made him avocado toast and he was like, 'This isn’t dinner.'

Have other things changed since you moved in together?
"Our lives are so intertwined now. I do things for him that aren't financial, but are on the same level. Like, I'll cook and he cleans, or vice versa. If you take away the stigma of money, it's just about supporting each other in different ways. And now, we're a lot better at communicating about it. Like if he wants to go someplace for dinner and I get the sense it's racking up, it's his decision. Sometimes, we'll still go out, or sometimes he'll say, 'Let's go home.'"

What about spending habits? I find that I buy more expensive foods from the grocery store when I'm cooking for two.
"I know. I think I had avocado toast for dinner at least three nights a week when I lived alone. But once, I made him avocado toast and he was like, 'This isn’t dinner.'"
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. This is part two of a series, Not A Trophy Wife, examining how women feel about money — especially when they make less than their partners.

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