I don't recommend doing this, but if you google “would you date a single mom” all kinds of nasty, nasty stuff comes up — nearly all of it written by dudes. Their screeds include: We're bitter. Our kids will always take priority over men. Drama with our babydaddies consumes us and threatens prospective boyfriends' safety. And the most common of all:
We're filthy gold-diggers.
I have mixed feelings about that last charge. Intellectually, I accept that many women are hot to marry a rich guy. Or at least a man with more money that she has. Whether that is right or wrong is for another post. This post is about whether that is really the main motive for women — moms especially — in their dating. I appreciate that has been money has marriage motivator for both men and women for millennia, but I simply don't see that in the women I know — or even know of. Nearly all of of the women in my circles — professional women who earn their own livings — are like me in that they want men who are their peers: guys who they like to hang out with, jibe with their friends and families, share values and goals and all that other stuff that sounds so cliche. But it's true.
The women I know personally also identify with what I'm looking for when it comes to a man and his money.
In all my dating over the past few, post-divorce years, here is what I've come to accept about myself when it comes to dudes and money: I need to be with a man who is at least as professionally ambitious and successful as I am. That may or may not mean that he makes more money than I do, but it definitely means that he can support himself, any kids he has, and can afford to go out for a decent meal whenever he likes and take a vacation once a year. Most of the time feels like he is living up to his potential in this world. I believe people change, but I also believe that by the time you're in your late 30s or 40s (the age of men I tend to date), your track record is more or less evidence of what's to come. I also appreciate that a guy who has way, way more money than me probably wouldn't be a fit for the long-term, as evidence cited in the book Getting to 50-50, which cites research that found couples who earn about the same and do about the same around the house have the best chance of avoiding divorce.
And the money/business/success is just one part of a complex package that includes a whole lot of connection, emotional maturity, intellect, passion, love and the ability to crack me up and screw the shit out of me all night.
All of which leads me to this story:
About a year after I separated from my husband, my friend Betsy decided I should date. She turned to her husband. “Kris, who do we know that is single and normal?” Notice she didn't ask: “Who is the perfect man for Emma, and is he available?” No. She was looking to set me up with a nice, normal person who could help me get up on the saddle again without trauma. They came up with a guy we'll call Joe.
Joe was nice. He was nice-looking. Despite my being so freaking nervous I didn't sleep the night before and went out and spent $120 on a sleeveless silk blouse for the event, I had a nice time. He was smart. He seemed to have a lot going on in business. He was a good person. There was not one single thing wrong with Joe. But I also wasn't that crazy about him, and apparently he wasn't that crazy about me, either, because neither of us contacted the other. And that was that.
Fast-forward six months. “Hey, you know that guy Joe?” Kris said over fried eggs and hash browns at the local diner one Sunday morning. “He just sold his tech company and is now worth $15 million. Last time you saw him he hadn't paid his rent in six months.”
I laughed. I hadn't known about the rent. I laughed because that kind of money is really a mind fuck for a date — even for me. Money is so powerful, and $15 million is a lot of money. It just changes your whole perception of a person. But always not the way lots of men think.
A man with lots of money intimidates me because, well, money is really powerful. I love my life. I like my funky, if quickly gentrifying neighborhood, and that my vacations are always interesting, if usually not luxurious. I'm very proud that what I have is what I've earned. In a serious relationship, if he as a lot of money and different — more expensive — tastes, wouldn't we automatically default to his lifestyle? Would it threaten my identity as a self-made person? How would I feel about that? Controlled? Unequal? Owned? I'm not sure. In the event I should fall in love with a rich man, I would expect his money to be an obstacle to overcome, rather than an obvious asset.
Upon hearing the news of Joe's windfall, I laughed because it was surprising. But I am human. I laughed because I was uncomfortable. I laughed because deep down I wondered — secretly, and with a healthy dose of shame — if he'd had that kind of money when I went out for beers with him (and known about it), would I have pursued a second date?
If you follow this blog you know that in the ensuing three years I didn't dwell on Joe. I had some loves, some dalliances, and a whole, whole lot of casual dating — much of which has been documented on these pages.
Then, this summer, Kris and Betsy moved into a new house in Brooklyn, and they held big party in their backyard. I came late after most of the pulled pork had been eaten and people were buzzed on good beer and local whiskey. As soon as I walked in I gave some hugs to people I knew, and spotted someone I recognized but couldn't place. A guy who was a good 10 years older than me. Not bad looking but not attracting me. He clearly recognized me, too, and as I searched the archives his expression suggested that he had connected the dots.
Then I connected the dots. It was Joe.
We said our hellos, caught up for a few minutes, and then took our drinks and mingled in the party. It was a nice point of reference to revisit my very first post-divorce date, and consider how far I've come, and to honor my initial instincts that I had met a nice person who was not a fit for me. Even in that, I'd forgotten about the money until in the post-party gossip session, I said that it was nice and kind of funny to see Joe again. Kris gave me a run-down on what Joe had been up to, and it sounded like a whole lot of not much. No new businesses, or interesting trips or coke binges or charity work. Just the same, normal life that I wasn't interested in three years ago.
And so money, maybe, money changes nothing after all.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.