Does Money Matter?

So, if a woman is looking for a man with money, is she a practical minded mother-to-be or a gold digging shrew?

First of all, I always hesitate to speak for "women." I can speak from my own experience, and from the experience of women I've known. I can speak from what I know about feminine nature. But in the end, my perspective is hardly universal. Nevertheless, I have a perspective. And here it is.

It is undeniably true that a woman who plans to stay at home with her children has a serious stake in her intended's earning capacity. Once she has those children, her children will be very, very dependent on him. Which in turn makes her very, very dependent on him, and thus very, very vulnerable. She relies on him to take care of her material needs so that she in turn can focus all of her energy on nurturing the new lives that have been entrusted to her. If she can't rely on that – if she has to worry about losing the roof over their heads or the food on their plates – her ability to focus on her children is going to be compromised.

In previous generations, this was a given. If a man wanted a family, he planned his life accordingly. He learned a trade, or got an education, or bought a farm, or did whatever needed to be done so that he would be prepared when Miss Right came along. (Or when he turned 25 and needed to marry Miss Almost-Right so that people wouldn't start to question his sexual orientation. Things were a lot different in previous generations.)

I've got to tell you, there's something very attractive about that. And it's not about the money. When a man can say "Before I even knew you, I was preparing for you and working to build the life we'll have together," it helps a woman to feels protected and treasured before the marriage even begins.

Contrast that to the current generation, where so many men seem to approach marriage with an attitude that says "You'd better get a job and contribute your fair share to the upkeep of this family." As if giving birth to the children, nurturing them and keeping a busy household running wasn't a sufficient "contribution." Let me tell you, that kind of attitude does not make a woman feel loved or protected.

Okay, so now that we've got that out of the way, let's be honest. Providing for a family, as important as that may be, is not the only reason women look for men of "means." And those other reasons, surprisingly enough, don't all boil down to simple "gold-digging" (although I'm sure there's plenty of that to go around, too).

Most women want a man who is, for lack of a better term, somehow "bigger" than she is. We naturally gravitate to men who are at least as physically large as we are. The very tall Nicole Kidman, after her divorce from the very short Tom Cruise, said that it would be good to go back to wearing high heels. When seen in public with him, she had to appear as short as possible because it just doesn't look "right" somehow when a wife towers over her husband. I know it's not logical – size says nothing about character or virtue or anything else. But it's instinctive and it's fairly strong. Women typically don't want to be much taller or much heavier than their partners.

But it goes beyond the physical. We gravitate to men who are at least as "big" as we are in terms of life, goals, accomplishments. Again, it's difficult to explain because it isn't necessarily logical. But it's there and it's relatively powerful. Maybe it's about that instinctive desire to be protected, whether or not we have children. But for some reason, we want men whose lives are "bigger" than ours. We don't want to be significantly smarter or more successful than the men we choose as partners. Not that we don't want to be smart or successful. Just that we gravitate toward men who in some way seem to match or exceed our accomplishments.

And often money can serve as shorthand for that. A man who has more money than we do seems somehow bigger than we are. He's accomplished more. Or at least it seems that way. Maybe he hasn't at all. Maybe it's a trust fund. Maybe it's inherited and he hasn't done anything but play polo and ride around in his yacht. Like I said, it isn't logical. I think men, to a certain extent, feel this way as well. As much as they may talk about wanting a "sugar mama," most men want to know they can provide for the woman they love. I once, back in high school, dated a man who told me that if we were ever to marry, he would divorce me the day I earned more money than he did. It struck me as a ludicrous statement at the time, and indeed it was. But it was the immature expression of a powerful human instinct – the need for a man to take care of a woman.

Notice that I never said that it's a right or good thing for a woman to include "wealthy" in her short list of spousal criterion. A lazy woman who sees a man as simply means to her materialistic ends has no excuse in simply saying "It's my nature to want to be taken care of." All of these instincts need to be guided by reason.

A woman needs to ask herself some serious questions when she's faced with financial concerns about a prospective spouse. First of all, is this about the ability to support a family, or the ability to support the daydream you've always had about how your family life would look? Sitcom characters usually live in upscale neighborhoods. "The Beautiful People" drive late model luxury cars and carry designer handbags. Spend enough time in this society and it's easy to believe that we need all of that stuff. We don't. It doesn't lead to happiness, and it doesn't lead to happy families. In fact, the pursuit of materialism can often derail a family's happiness.

Second, is money really the best measure of whether a man's life is "bigger" than yours? Often the men who accomplish the most are paid the least. Look at teachers. There's a reason so few men choose to teach. It doesn't pay. But it can represent a serious, amazing accomplishment. A man who is following God's will with courage and faith is a much bigger man than a trust fund baby with a Porsche. So women, try to broaden your idea of what makes a man a man. Don't view money as shorthand for accomplishment. And please, please purge any inclination you may have to see a man as simply a means to get the "stuff" that you want and haven't been willing or able to earn for yourself. That's using, and it's very, very unattractive.

And guys, make the effort. Don't be the guy who lives just for himself until the very moment that Ms. Right slips the ring on his finger. Be the guy who, within the context of God's will for his life, is working to take care of the woman he loves, even if she hasn't arrived yet. A good woman will recognize and appreciate that. And it won't be about the money.

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  • Guest

    What a nice article! I just sent it to my two college aged boys. I think this line sums it up nicely, "Be the guy who, within the context of God's will for his life, is working to take care of the woman he loves, even if she hasn't arrived yet."  Lovely, Mary Beth. Thank you!


  • Guest

    I think this sounds like a (Christian) romance novel.  And, I don't mean that as a negative.  I wish my daughters had had this advice before they married.  For that matter, I wish I'd had this advice before I married!  I hope young women–or, the mothers of young women–will pass this on before it's too late.

  • Guest

    This article made me think of so many things, so many directions to go in considering it.  At the very least I plan to make it the topic of a "coffee with mom" with my two teen daughters.  They have often heard me say "You can marry for love or for money.  It's the commitment that counts.  If you marry for money, the love will come.  Your dad and I married for love…we're working on the money!" 

    But all joking aside, I have often thought I'd like to go back to Jane Austen days when the man had to have the estate all lined up before asking for the daughter's hand.  That said, even the best financial picture has no guarantees. 

    When we married my husband was a partner in a very going concern.  The recession of the early 80's pulled the rug out, and we've been playing catch-up ever since.  When I stopped working to stay home and homeschool our kids we had many winters when his seasonal work was nonexistent and so was our food. 

    The kids would ask, "Mom, are we poor?"  I'd always answer, "Why, goodness…we have a house to live in, clothes to wear, heat and running water, we love each other, and our Daddy comes home TO US every night.  Kids, we are the richest people in the world!" 

    So, while it's good to marry someone who gives every indication he is in a situation to provide, it is the character inside that is the real proof. Because a lesser man than my dear, barely lower middle class earning husband would have long ago sunk into alcohol, drugs, or heaven knows what to try to get through the bad times.  My husband has just worked all the harder, come up with a dozen creative ideas to bring in more money, and always, always been only full of faith, humor, kindness, and abundant love.  

    Thanks for brining this up.  I look forward to discussing it with my girls. 

  • AnnaMarie53

    Thank you, Miss Bonacci, for putting this entire question much better than I could have, although it is a subject that has been on my mind a lot of late. You see, I fit into a slightly different category than either the woman looking for a man to support her and their children, or to be “bigger” than she.
    I am 59, and while I have been plagued by chronic health problems for the past 10 years or so, I sincerely am looking forward to going back to work in my chosen field. Although I was married for 32 years to a man I loved with all my heart, as my health reached a new “crisis,” he suddenly and without warning, decided he didn’t want to be married to me any longer because he believed he deserved to be “happy.” (I don’t recall that in the marriage vows OR the Constitution of the United States, but there you go.) It nearly killed me, but I have worked my way back to some sort of semblance of sanity.
    To be fair, my ex-husband (how I hate that term!) has been adequate in my alimony, due to the fact I worked in our family business all that time and never received a paycheck. So, I am not starving, which in “Obama-land” put me in a better state of being than many of my “sisters” who have suffered the same sort of calamity.
    Now I am dating a very kind, considerate man my own age who for 25 years worked as a policeman. He is retired, but not helpless.
    I find myself asking the same sort of questions about income (chiefly his) as younger women. The reason is, if he wants to marry me as much as he says he does, I don’t think I will fully believe him until he gets off his duff and proves to me that he can, and will, support me. It has little to do with my earning potential, but a great deal to do with my trusting him to desire to take care of me. I’m not saying I actually need it, but I fear his lack of initiative betrays a lazy streak that could, and most likely would, land us in very hot water in the future. To claim one thing and to DO another is of great concern to me because it is eating into my confidence of him. Does this place me in the “gold-digging shrew” category? I don’t think so. I truly believe it is a point of view that is extremely ingrained into the female subconscious. If you love me, don’t simply SAY it, SHOW me!
    It does sound cold and calculating in this day and age, doesn’t it? Or does it? Is it nature or nurture? Are we women, of any age, hard-wired to this point of view, or are we encultured to believe thus?
    I am very interested to find out what my “sisters of the skillet” believe.
    Forgive me for being so long-winded, but I couldn’t come up with a more condensed way of explaining a matter that is (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) eating me alive!