Nobody likes a double-standard. No one can resist one, either, if it happens to work out in her favor.

It’s a conundrum that can play havoc with your dating life without your realizing it, even though the problem originates with two conflicting ideas in your own mind. On the one hand, you expect equal pay for equal work; if you learned your employer was paying higher salaries to men in your position just because they’re men, there’d be hell to pay, and rightly so.
On the other hand, you expect your dates to pay the dinner check, the movie tickets, and so on. When you’re out on a first date, you probably even take a suggestion to split the check as an indicator that he’s not interested – and there’s a nice symmetry there, because your interest plummets at the suggestion, too.

Well, sometimes the litmus test works. But if you let it rule your dating life, you’re going to eliminate from consideration any number of suitors who may be kind, caring, intelligent, funny, loyal… and, shall we say, struggling a bit financially.
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It’s a common trait among (just to name a few) graduate students, struggling artists, and idealists whose wish to improve the world became priority over the more standard wish to increase one’s bank balance. In other words, they’re some of the most interesting dinner companions you can have. They just may not be able to pay for your share of that dinner.

You have to decide how much that matters to you, what you need most from a man, and what trade-offs you can or can’t make in your dating life. In some cases – as with graduate students, for example – the guy may be going through a “poverty phase” that may require you to accept his financial limitations only temporarily. In other cases, you may have met a guy who’s made a life choice, and his job in the world of non-profits, education or social work may never generate the kind of salary necessary to fund fancy dinners and expensive vacations.

But no matter what his financial status, when you’re out to dinner together, let’s hope his wallet isn’t all he’s bringing to the table… and let’s hope you’re not giving economic considerations so much weight that you’re passing up potential relationships with great guys.

That’s not to say you should be totally blind to a guy’s earning power and career potential. If he’s on a tight budget because for the fifth time in the past two years he’s worked for an idiot who didn’t recognize his value and fired him… well, yeah, we’re going to score that a big red flag, and that’s being generous about it.

But at the same time, we’ve all had the experience of being out with a guy who had big bucks and used designer name-dropping as an excuse for conversation… or made it clear what he thought his bank account entitled him to… or was just plain boring. You paid for those dates, too, just not with cash. So take each guy on his own merit, and don’t put him or your dating criteria under too much economic pressure. A man who earns a little less just might turn out to be the real goldmine.

Randy B. Hecht is a freelance writer based in New York. She has contributed to The Out Traveler, Philadelphia City Paper and Art & Antiques, among other publications.