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How young people are still facing gendered expectations of money in relationships and dating
Young people seem to be moving towards gender equality, but when it comes to love and money, it feels impossible to shake traditional gender roles.
We’re both three cocktails down, stuffed with over-priced burgers, onion rings and truffle oil chips when the waitress brings us the bill. The total is a criminal £115. I pull out my phone, typing the amount into my calculator so I know how much to pay when my boyfriend takes his card out and pays the whole amount, plus tip. I offer to pay at least for my food, the tip, anything, but he’s insistent.
It’s our late Valentine's date and he wants to treat me, he says.
My partner and I have been together 2 years today; he’s currently earning just over £20K a year, whereas I’m at university working part-time in retail. Yet, even so far into our relationship, I couldn’t help the feeling of guilt gnaw at me. To avoid feeling like a bad feminist, I bought the next two rounds at the bars we crawled to afterwards, as well as the taxi home.
I’m not the only one struggling with this - many of my friends have had similar experiences, and the internet is filled with people asking the question: how should you split the bill on a date? Some say it’s whoever asks the other out, others say it should always be the man, and there’s those that insist on going Dutch every time.
‘To avoid feeling like a bad feminist, I bought the next two rounds at the bars we crawled to afterwards, as well as the taxi home.’
Recently, the Trade Union Congress revealed that the gender pay gap is closing for people under 30. They found that, in the UK, the gender pay gap for women aged 22-29 is 3.9%; for 18-21 year olds, this drops even more to 0.6%. So, has this changed our view on balancing finances when it comes to romance?
Relationship coach Jessica Elizabeth explains that she has seen a recent spike in men coming to her with financial anxieties.
‘In the last sort of year or so, it's really increased in terms of working with men around finances. A lot of the time men wrap their self worth around how much money they have, and their financial career prospects; whereas for women, particularly in relationships it doesn't seem to come up as much.’
Max, 22, and his boyfriend Alex, 26, have been together for 9 months. While they both feel that the queer community is less concerned with heteronormative gender roles, Max in previous relationships has still faced these pressures in dating.
‘It sounds dumb, but like, if they are maybe more feminine, I will feel like maybe I should pay; or if they’re more masculine I’m like, “are they going to pay for me?”’
‘A lot of the time men wrap their self worth around how much money they have’
David Chambers, a relationship coach who specialises in working with men, says that many young men still feel a pressure to be financial providers when it comes to dating, even though young women are more willing to split payments.
‘If we're talking inside of dating, the gendered expectation, for instance, paying for the first date or the first few dates, this creates a massive amount of stress for guys. Not all of them but a number of them, because it’s like “you need to choose a nice place, and she's going to judge you based on the place you choose to go to".’
Josh and Bethany, 21 and 20 respectively, have been together for 3 years. They earn roughly the same amount however, at the start of their relationship Josh was in between jobs. ‘I would try to contribute to things, but due to my financial situation I couldn’t give as much as I would have liked to.’
Currently they both live with their families, but have a joint goal of moving in together within the next year. Bethany earns slightly more and supplies more funding to their savings. ‘I’m very conscious that I want to earn a higher income. Not to out earn [Bethany], but out of a sense of responsibility as we’re going to need more money going forward.’
Similarly, a recent study by Bread Financial found that Gen Z were most likely to share financial duties in their relationship.
Jessica encourages this method of splitting costs. ‘With my younger clients everything is based upon equality. And I’m quite sceptical about that, because I believe in equity, not equality… 20% of each of your income goes towards rent, and actually I think that's what balance is, rather than 50/50.’
Married couple, Ashlea, 24, and Nick, 23, also contribute financially based on their incomes. Ashlea earns nearly three times less than her partner Nick, who’s an engineer.
‘I really struggled with it when we first got together, because I've always tried to pay my way. It was difficult for me to accept that I just wasn't earning that kind of money. So it did cause a lot of tension in our relationship when we first got together, but I mean it's something that we have worked out together. I'd like to be able to pay for things equally. But just never managed to be able to afford to.’
Ashlea also explains that, since having a child, gender has played an even bigger part in how they split finances. ‘It's always the mum that takes the hit on the income… at this point even if I could earn more, I wouldn't see that kind of money because of what we’d have to pay for childcare.’
When I asked the experts about Ashlea’s feelings of wanting to pay her way as a modern woman, the same feelings I battled with at our Valentine’s dinner, they both had similar thoughts. Jessica advises ‘It's all about compassion, generosity, and actually these things will balance out.’
‘I've always tried to pay my way. It was difficult for me to accept that I just wasn't earning that kind of money.’
She uses the idea of women becoming more prominent in the workplace to suggest that young women likely assume that, if both parents worked, ‘it probably seems [they paid] an equal balance, so that's what people are replicating.’
David believes that counting money in relationships could lead to resentment. His final piece of advice focused on the ability to be able to accept financial help and provide it, regardless of gender. ‘You have to find a way that this is a loving entity where we give and receive without expectation and transaction… we have to learn to give gifts, without hook, and receive without guilt that we have to give back, and it's not easy.’
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