When I tell my friends that the last time I had a girlfriend was during my freshman year in college in 1998, they respond with disbelief.
For them it’s bemusing to fathom that a man who is well-traveled, gainfully employed, bilingual, degreed, childless, not living in his mother’s basement and debt-free could go 16 years without being in a relationship and years at a time without having sex. What people don’t understand is that my income isn’t as high as many would expect, and it makes me feel insecure about how women may view my current professional station in life.
I only began working full time in my 30s; I spent all of my 20s traveling around Eastern Europe—mainly through Peace Corps, Fulbright and language study-abroad programs—and earning degrees. I consider myself a very late bloomer who has just recently realized I can make a living keystroking breaking-news stories and Brooklyn Renaissance-ing my way into a literary career. As intellectually fruitful as my 20s were, my worldly and academic sojourns did little for my bank account. All my education and travel were fully paid with scholarships, so I guess that means something.
But I wasn’t climbing any corporate ladders and adding zeros to my salary year after year during my 20s, like most women my age were doing, so I find myself financially incompatible. I can’t say that I’ve dated dozens of women who’ve told me as much, but my female friends have given me the impression that someone like me doesn’t bleep on their “He is dating, and perhaps marrying, material” radar.
Most of them are making six-figure salaries, or near that amount, and insist that their partners make at least as much. I’m a senior editor at a website—not an entry-level money earner, but I’m not making six figures, either, so I’m pretty much out of their league with regard to dating. Of course, I’m acutely aware of the fact that many black women have “dated and married down” economically, but I surmise they’ve grown weary of doing so. Complaints about men taking advantage of their financial status pervade most conversations I hear over why many women prefer to only date men who are their economic equals. For the record, I’d have no issue dating women who earn more than I do, and I’m not exclusively pursuing women with deep pockets, so don’t tweet me your foolishness.
When I took to Twitter several days ago to ask my female followers if they would date a man who earns less money than they do, all replied, “Yes.” In fact, many of them balked at my claims that I have a hard time dating because of my income. I’ve also been told that my background in Russian affairs and European wanderlust lead many black women to assume that I only date white women. To the contrary, I’m only interested in sistas. (At the egging on of my former boss, I wrote a funny piece about my type of woman called “Sophistiratchet” a few years ago that I encourage you to read, if you have a sense of humor.)
Most women are also shocked that I’ve gone as long as five years without sex. While I’m as sexual a being as any man, women aren’t disposable to me. I’ve never been able to engage in sexual relationships without establishing some emotional intimacy. Yes, such men do exist.
Some of you will quickly dismiss me and conclude that I’m penning this piece as a cheap attempt to evoke sympathy from female readers. That’s not the case. I’m writing about this because women have repeatedly asked why I, a man who wants to date and eventually marry, find it challenging to do so. There is, indeed, a swath of men in the dating pool who feel they are boxed into a space in which their incomes have yet to catch up with their professional statuses, thus making them less appealing.
For every woman who says she wouldn’t mind her partner making less money than she, there are just as many who do mind. Men like me who are professional late bloomers can conceivably find such dating pools nearly impossible to access when women at this age are beginning to think long term. And I repeat: I don’t have an issue with my financial status; it is something, however, that I find many women care about, and it makes me not even try to put myself out there at all because I feel I won’t measure up in their Excel dating-requirements spreadsheet.
You don’t hear us discussing it often because we’d have to admit to our fears of not feeling valued because we aren’t where we are “supposed to be in life.” Think about it: Thirty-four-year-old men aren’t supposed to be five years removed from an internship and expect to find a woman who will view them as potential relationship material. Most women my age have children and may see a man who makes less than they do as another mouth to feed. I’ve been told this, in so many words. Remember that society views me as “old” and “late in the game,” too. Being a man doesn’t make that any less challenging.