New Gilded-Age Dating.

From the nytimes Sunday Style section, which is often a source of very ugly things, comes an article about how high-earning women are having trouble dating. I was ready to be sympathetic for the stories of career-minded women not getting respect and facing double-standards on dates, but the story was kind of gross.

Jade Wannell, 25, a producer at a Chicago ad agency who lives in a high-rise apartment building, started dating a 29-year-old administrator at a trucking company last year. “He was really sweet,” she said. But “he didn’t work many hours and ended up hanging out at home a lot. I was bored and didn’t feel challenged. He would finish work at 3 and want to go to the bar. The college way of life is still in them at that age. All they want to do is drink with the boys on Saturday. I was like ‘Let’s go to an art gallery’ and all he wanted to do was go to the bars.”

TO her, his lack of income masked a greater problem: a lack of drive.

“I have to say that I didn’t like his career, I didn’t think he had the goals of someone I would eventually like to be with or have respect for,” she said, adding, “It wasn’t the job, it was the passion.”

(1) I feel bad for that boyfriend. Being a ” 29-year-old administrator at a trucking company” is nothing to be ashamed of, or something one shouldn’t “have respect for.” I do like the sleight-of-hand, where cultural capital (he doesn’t go to art galleries!) is used to cover up a disappointment in income achievement (why isn’t he working till 8? Or clocking in some hours on the weekends?).

In the part above, and more generally in the article, I read the opposite of what I had expected to read: That these women expect their elite high-income/status jobs to deliver them into a world of blissful consumption, where the dinners are always expensive and the art gallery openings are always well-attended.

And whom can they date to keep this fantasy running? The guys who beat their incomes/status are products of a work-environment that often are going to make them treat everyone as a servant (at best). Certainly they aren’t going to be deferential or impressed with their salaries. The guys whose socio-economic status clocks in lower are ambivalent (at best) about the prospects of never-ending capitalist bliss.

And if you want to see inequality in action, the fact that this administrator doesn’t have enough drive (read: $$$, cash and cultural) to date a ad producer, is a good peek into how couples are stratifying themselves off into the tails of an income distribution.

(2) Somewhere, the ghost of Thorstein Veblen is smiling:

Hilary Rowland, 28, bought her first condominium when she was 18, using money she had earned from an online business started when she was 15. Last spring, Ms. Rowland, who lives in New York, started dating a 34-year-old musician.

Veblen pointed out that “keeping” a high-status wife was one of the best high-end consumption items in the Gilded Age. Friends and I used to joke about how the ultimate designer product for a high-status women these days was “keeping” a hipster boyfriend. (“It’s the new little dog” one astute person said.) One can easily see Ms. Rowland comparing partners with her girlfriends, and after they all go on about their boyfriends making associate, getting a six-figure bonus, etc., she can trump that hand with a “my boyfriend just got signed to Kill Rock Stars.” And then pick up the tab.

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One Response to New Gilded-Age Dating.

  1. D-$$ says:

    Here’s the other irony (or perhaps it’s the opposite of irony):
    The woman is an ‘ad producer’ which implies high society, but exceptionally low pay. My friend is working for another Chicago ad firm right now bringing in ~$30K/yr and struggling desperately to maintain a solid wardrobe of Banana Republic and regular lunches at a sushi ‘joint.’
    His roommate picks up more of the rent working for an ‘ecological landscaping’ company – meaning he mows lawns in the suburbs.
    The whole charade makes academia very appealing. We actually work in a meritocracy – if only chicks were attracted to guys with A’s in their core coursework.

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