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Cash Poor, But Relationship Rich


They say you can't buy happiness, but financial woes can be a huge source of stress in relationships. Here, we explore some common myths about money and love — and how real-life couples are coping.

By Dave Singleton

he once-sexy notion of "free love" takes on a whole new meaning when love is literally all you can afford. Imagine sitting together with your sweetie by a fire, your hands lazily entwined as you gaze into each other's eyes. Your partner looks at
There's no question that ongoing economic challenges are affecting people's relationships.
you and says: "We're not going to be able to afford that trip to the beach this year since I got laid off. I wouldn't count on dinners out, either. How do you feel about clipping coupons?"

Hmmm, it's hardly a scene ripped from the pages of a sizzling romance novel, is it?

There's no question that ongoing economic challenges are affecting people's relationships. Love takes a backseat when you're concerned about your career and making a living, but sometimes, out of the bad financial news comes something good.

I recently spoke to men and women who chose to focus less on their careers — sometimes by choice, sometimes because of layoffs — and instead focus on love. Hear how they refused to buy into popular myths about having exciting, fulfilling courtships during tough economic times in their stories below…

Myth #1: Having a successful career automatically leads to love-life success
Reality: "Two years ago, I was single and dates were scarce — but at least I was busy and successful at work, with no money troubles," said Marylander Nadia, 34. "Then I got laid off, my finances were tight and I thought: 'Now my love life will be even worse.' But the opposite happened! I met a great guy named Jim at a resume-writing workshop a little over a year ago. He had been laid off, too. After the workshop, we went for coffee and really connected," she recalls. "In a strange way, we cut to the core of who we were quicker than I'd ever done with a new boyfriend. We learned to share our concerns and problem-solve, which bonded us. Jim and I have been together ever since, and things have picked up — he's got a full-time job, and I am freelancing — but the strength of our relationship has nothing to do with our work lives. We didn't always believe in where our next jobs were coming from, but we always believed in each other."

Myth #2: Dating means breaking the bank with fancy dinners, costly presents, and lavish trips
Reality: Recently, I overheard a woman at a bar whisper to her friend, "I've dated rich guys and I've dated poor, and let me tell you: rich is better." I wondered what had motivated her to share that little pearl of financial wisdom, so being the shy writer that I am, I asked her.

"Hey, rich is better," said Washingtonian Jean, 43. "My point is that it's better as long as the guy makes you happy. For the past two years, I've been dating a terrific small business owner whose income has been hit by the recession, so it's an adjustment. I'm used to dating guys where money is no issue. But the good [things] I'm getting out of this new relationship outweighs all of that. I actually like the dinners we make at home better than some of the fancy restaurants I used to frequent. Expensive gifts are fun, but do I need them to be happy? Not as much as I thought. And no, we're not traveling much. But I know we will again when things pick up. Not that you should have to choose between financial goodies and a fabulous love life. But the truth is that if I did have to choose, I like being in a close relationship more."

In some cases, those who feel hard-pressed by financial burdens have gotten more creative based on necessity — but they aren't complaining. "My girlfriend and I are just more creative about how we date," said New Yorker John, 28, who lost his job a few months ago and has been temping for lower wages ever since. "I've become a better cook in my time off. She's the best at finding free concerts in the park and coming up with relatively low-cost nights on the town, like jazz night at a museum."

Myth #3: All couples react to financial stress the same way — badly
Reality: Financial stress is often credited (pun intended) as the number-one relationship killer. While there's no doubt this assertion is true, not all couples react to financial stress in the same way. The truth is, it really just depends on the two people involved. I've spoken with
It's terrible to wrap your relationship self-worth around what you can buy.
couples who have hunkered down and bonded through some tough times, while other couples busted up at the first sign of money problems. Recent research affirms this dichotomy.

According to a study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the recession has both "stressed and strengthened" American marriages. The study's authors said that while the recession has put many American couples under "considerable stress," it's also forged stronger ties in some relationships. While economic setbacks like unemployment or mortgage woes are linked to declines in marital happiness, some married Americans say that the recession has actually deepened their commitment to each other.

Myth #4: Unemployment will sink your love boat faster than the Titanic
Reality: Think you're unlovable because you're unemployed? Wrong! Being jobless doesn't make you some kind of dating pariah. In one recent study, 50 percent of singles revealed they're open to seeing someone who's unemployed if they found that person to be interesting.

Yes, unemployment can rock the love boat — but sinking it is another matter entirely. Some couples are discovering that what it really takes a willingness to see a partner's potential — i.e., where someone's going (or going back to) rather than where that person is now. "I'd been let go from my job as a lawyer when I met my girlfriend last fall," says North Carolinian Mike. "Yes, it was a downer. But she saw I had resolve and knew I was pounding the pavement so I could start working again soon."

Other new couples are finding that a lighter workload offers more time to focus on their romantic relationships, which are such a meaningful part of everyone's lives. For many of us who've let our love lives slide in favor of making our careers and other obligations higher on our list of priorities, the recent economic downturn has offered a chance to rediscover the joys of spending quality time with someone special.

"I met the guy of my dreams, and we've been blissfully happy for six months," said Washingtonian Mary Ann, 45. "But I tell you, Dave… while I still might have met him, I never would have entered into this relationship so easily if I'd stayed at my high-pressured corporate job. I wouldn't have had the flexibility to spend hours of quality time with him. I would have met him at 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight, completely stressed out of my mind, and unable to really be present with him."

Myth #5: Dates are only interested in how much money you've got
Reality: You've heard all the myths around dating and money; i.e., women are gold diggers, and guys solely rely on their credit cards to impress dates. Are you sick of those stereotypes? I know I am! While I'd love for the recession to end soon and bring a time of renewed prosperity for everyone, I'd also like us to remember a couple of love lessons we've all learned from these tough times. For example: many folks — sometimes by default — have learned to focus less on showy finances and more on deeper personal connections when it comes to dating.

"When I took a cut in pay, it was humbling and shook my self-confidence," says Virginian Roger, 38. "It's terrible to wrap your relationship self-worth around what you can buy. I don't feel the need to impress as much as I used to. This recession has taken some of the pressure off, and that's a good thing." His girlfriend Andrea, 36, agrees. "Hard times make you reexamine what's really important to you. There are many parts of Roger; he isn't just his job or his bank account to me," she explains. "I think he's learned through this just how much I love him for who he is, and I think he loves me more than ever because of that. I love him more because we approach our life together as equals — financially and in every other way."

While the tough economic times aren't completely over yet, it appears that there are already a few happy endings for couples facing challenging times together. Nadia and her boyfriend, Jim, just got engaged and are planning a summer wedding. They've also saved enough for a modest-but-elegant dinner reception. "But if the worst happened and we faced another job loss or financial hardship, I wouldn't care where I married him, how many people came, or [about wearing] a costly dress," Nadia explains. "No amount of money can buy what we have now."

So if you're one of those couples facing tough times financially right now, take note: keeping your relationship priorities straight for the time being may be wiser than any financial advice you can follow these days. Just remember: An economic recession is bad enough; you don't need a love depression to make it worse.


Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at davesingleton.writer@gmail.com.
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