“Santa, baby, I want a yacht, and really, that’s not a lot,” sings Taylor Swift in a cover of Eartha Kitt’s Christmas ballad, “Santa Baby.” But while the song’s lavish wish list may have spoken to women when it came out in 1953, it’s unfit for the 21st century, especially for a 25-year-old single heterosexual working woman like me.
The holidays magnify the traditional expectation that men shower their wives and girlfriends with expensive outings and gifts. But the recession has affected men’s salaries more, and 38% of women ages 24-35 but only 30% of their male cohorts have college degrees. Though the wage gap persists, many females earn more than their partners.
Yet we’re not all changing with the times. A recent study at Chapman University found that 97% of straight women want a beau with a steady income, and 69% want someone rich.
When I entered my first “mixed-collar” relationship, I was a college senior from Long Island majoring in cognitive neuroscience. Like 96% of paired-up women, I didn’t believe in covering my dates’ dinners. I always offered to pay half the bill but was secretly pleased when guys insisted. Like 40% of that demographic, I split everything evenly with my boyfriend, a drum instructor and waiter I’ve nicknamed Drummer Boy.
After graduating, I made more than him as an editor, so he asked me to pay $20 a month for the gas he needed to visit me and more than half the cost of the meals we ate together. When he quit his waiter job to devote more time to music, his requests escalated.
In the name of equality, I refused to pay for more than half our dates, though I reluctantly helped him with gas. Former classmates from my liberal arts school validated my decision, saying it would be unfair to contribute more than my partner. But I bet they wouldn’t have found it so wrong if I were a man.
Reactions to my predicament were gendered. “In my day, guys paid for more than their share,” an Italian male therapist said. My Jewish lawyer father said no man should need help buying gas to see his girlfriend. “He should hitchhike if he has to.”
Growing up, my hardworking dad refused to reveal how much he made. He only repeated, “The fact that we’re well-off doesn’t mean we should be stuck up or not care about the poor.” While classmates at my Long Island high school sported Coach and Gucci bags, I carried knockoffs snagged in Chinatown, lowering my gaze when they asked what store they came from. I gathered that the goal of saving was not to buy things but to prove your discipline. I took a job flipping pizzas at my university dining hall to assuage my guilt over attending with no scholarships, financial aid, or student loans.
Since I worked hard, I viewed Drummer Boy’s decision to put his art before wealth with a mix of contempt and jealousy. Even if I saved six figures, I’d never give myself permission to take time off and explore my creativity.
Growing sick of his requests for financial assistance and deeming him cheap, I broke up with him. I took a marketing job at a tech company. Yet over the next two years, I came to miss my ex’s free-spiritedness. I yearned to hear about fantasy novels and African drumming instead of big data and series-A funds. I might have made a mistake.
I also experienced firsthand how hard the country’s 4:3 ratio of straight, college-educated bachelorettes to bachelors makes dating for girls unwilling to mingle across class lines — and saw why high-powered career men don’t always make ideal mates. After giving up on a workaholic medical resident with no time to see me, I realized less well-off guys could be better partners and co-parents for wives who don’t want family obstructing their careers.
At 25, I’m no longer opposed to helping out a significant other with a lower income. Financially independent ladies’ focus on their dates’ affluence is left over from a time when they couldn’t support themselves. Now, members of the second sex can’t achieve equal salaries and success without funneling equal amounts of it into their partnerships. Feminism insists we challenge the stereotype of the female homemaker, but if we do, we must also erase the role of the male breadwinner.
Since I have nobody to kiss under the mistletoe this Christmas, I’ve reconsidered whether I really need someone who can cough up half the cost of a ski trip. Once I’m lucky enough to be coupled up, I just may splurge on something to put in my boyfriend’s stocking, and I won’t expect anything in mine that he can’t afford. I want a man, after all, not Santa Claus.
Original by Suzannah Weiss