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Welcome to A Millennial's Dating Diary series, where we explore real-life interactions and the hurdles of dating in Southeast Asia. The series will feature the dating stories and misadventures of Arika – a 26-year-old, straight female marketing manager with a penchant for over drinking — and fellow millennials.
Money and the whole topic of finance can be pretty tricky to navigate around. Depending on which part of Asia you’re from, the topic of money in Asian cultures can either be celebrated (as comedian Ronny Chieng shares) or completely taboo.
Childhood memories, family, and sex are all perfectly acceptable topics of conversation when it comes to dating. Money, however, isn’t always the case.
“Should you reveal how much you’re earning to someone you’re dating?” I asked my girlfriends one night.
“God, no. Are you crazy? You won’t have a level playing field anymore if he learns you’re earning less than he is,” says my friend *Mandy, 28.
“But what happens if you both have different lifestyle habits and the question of money comes into play?” I questioned.
“Well, then he can take me out for fancy dinners. It doesn’t mean I need to reciprocate,” Mandy shares without missing a beat. “I’ll only reveal it to someone I’ve been seeing for at least a year or if we’re in a relationship, and we’re looking to move in with each other. Otherwise, what’s the point? Why does he need to know?”
“I think if it came up in a conversation, and I’ve been seeing someone for longer than say, three months, and it’s going somewhere serious, I’d share,” says my friend, *Claire, 24. “I think you need to decide whether you’re comfortable enough with someone in the first place.”
In relationships or even dating, the topic of money is unavoidable. For example, in Singapore, one of the common reasons for divorce is financial issues, along with infidelity, domestic violence, and lack of intimacy. While it doesn’t always have to lead to issues, like the topic of money — from how much you have to how you spend it, and what your beliefs on it are — it can become a point of contention in a relationship.
Unless you’re the former Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer who made headlines earlier this year, it’s no longer unusual to date someone of a different race or religion these days.
But what about dating someone who is supposed of different financial and social strata as you?
With dating, though, the topic of money doesn’t always come up, but in most cases, they do — even if you’re in something casual. Income inequality in relationships is real, and especially so, in the times we’re living in.
Personally, I have no qualms about discussing my finances — whether in a serious or casual relationship. However, I can completely understand that dating someone with a relatively higher income level than you can make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage somehow.
For example, when I was dating *James, 29, his lifestyle was relatively different from mine. From staycations in Sentosa to yacht parties and dinners at expensive restaurants, James, who is an international manager at a British bank, led a life of privilege. But, to be fair, James is also the son of a Hong Kong tycoon, so he was used to a certain lifestyle. Dating James was fun, but it also made me uncomfortable that he was also trying to foot the bills all the time because he knew I was earning a third of what he was and had an entire trust fund waiting for him should he decide having a full-time job was not his thing.
I truly believe there isn’t anything unfeminist about allowing someone to pay for you once in a while. Had James and I progressed further, I was certain that he would have had no issues taking care of me, but I was personally struggling with the concept of depending on him. I'd always feel like I owed him something.
For all that he was, though, James never made me feel like I feel lacking or that his wealth was something he could hold over me. “I just want to take care of you, and I think it’s a gentlemanly thing to do,” he used to say to me.
Over time, James and I realised that we wanted different things out of life and parted ways.
Back to my initial point on discussing finances, I’m of the opinion that sometimes, talking about money just can’t be helped, and it can be helpful just to be honest about how much you’re earning, especially if things start getting serious.
All in all, my best and most successful relationships with people have been when I was able to openly discuss taboo topics like money, family issues, and more. After all, if we’re already seeing each other naked and/or discussing things we like doing in bed, why can’t we just be honest about some of our other struggles?
Based on my own experiences, I’ve felt that the ability to discuss such topics openly could lead to a different sort of intimacy. Regardless of what you’re after — whether it’s something serious or casual — don’t we all just want someone that takes pleasure in the same things we do and share some of the same views we do?
Balancing the New Normal: