Would You Date Somebody With Debt?

{17 Comments}

“Would You Date Somebody with Debt?” is a post by Adina J in which she takes a look at the (apparently hypocritical) Canadian dating scene.

Dating, Debt, and Statistics

47% of Canadians are hypocrites.

“Whoa,” you may be thinking, “did Adina wake up on the wrong side of the bed today? And how the heck did she come up with that number?”

I didn’t; Match.com did. In its recent survey, 47% of Canadian singles (surveyed by Match.com, but let’s not quibble over details like that) said that they would not date someone who is in debt. A whopping 94% of respondents indicated that they believe a person’s ability to manage their finances is very important.

would you date someone in debt
I looked pretty thrilled to be marrying someone in debt, but — then again — I was never on Match.com. Photo credit: Daphne Chen Photography

Why do I think that between 47% and 94% of Canadians are hypocrites? Because there is an abundance of statistics demonstrating that Canadians, on the whole, are money-stupid. The average Canadian’s consumer debt load hit $27,485 at the end of 2012. Last year, another survey found that 47% of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. Let’s not even talk about the folks nearing retirement, a lot of whom still owe money on their mortgages — if not HELOCs and credit cards — and worry about making ends meet in their golden years, having never bothered to actually save much of anything.

It’s nice that single Canucks are alert to the importance of sound personal finance; it’s just too bad that they don’t seem to be practicing what they demand. It’s one thing for people who aren’t in debt to turn their noses up at potential partners who carry debt. At least, it involves no hypocrisy. It’s another thing for the average Canadian, mired in debt with zero plan for climbing out, to be judging the financial foibles of a debtor suitor. Stones v. Glass Houses. Pot v. Kettle. Etc.

But my bigger problem with this anti-debtor dating attitude has nothing to do with hypocrisy.

One: debt does not bear a linear correlation with fiscal irresponsibility. There are more and less legitimate reasons to carry debt. Warren Buffett’s mini-LBO of Heinz does not equate to your taking on a HELOC to remodel your kitchen. There are more and less legitimate types of debt, too. While we’re talking precedents, Mortgage v. Credit Card is a cliché example. Further, people’s ability and determination when it comes to paying off debt varies and is not necessarily predictable based on the amount of debt involved. Entrepreneurs start out with debt; so do neurosurgeons (or just run-of-the-mill MDs). These are the type of people who have a much better chance at becoming wildly successful — both professionally and financially.

Two (and related to #1): most Canadians (being money-stupid) have silly ideas about debt. How many people do you know who are quick to categorize student loans as “good debt”? Never mind that there is a difference between a $30,000 loan used to acquire a B.A. and a $40,000-per-year job, and a $150,000 loan used to acquire a medical degree and a six-figure salary. What about a mortgage? That’s always “good debt”, too, right? Especially if you’re buying an investment condo in Toronto. And, while we’re at it, everyone needs a car loan because you can’t get caught driving an 03 Malibu (or you’d lose that prestigious $40,000 a year job you got with your expensive BA). These choices can be as representative of irresponsibility as any maxed-out credit card.

And so, when it comes down to it, the whole anti-debtor dating mentality tends to have so many holes and exceptions that it’s practically useless as a bona fide mate-selection tool.

Three, the whole thing is a lie. This comes back to numbers, again. Most Canadians are in debt (72% to be exact, based on a 2012 CIBC poll). The age groups most likely to hold debt were 25-34 year olds (84%) and 35-44 year olds (83%); coincidentally, these two age groups also make up over 73% of Match.com’s demographics.

If single Canadians were as picky about their potential mates’ financial pecadilloes as their survey responses would suggest, there wouldn’t much dating going on at all.

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17 Comments… Share your views

  1. But what if we’re not up-front about our debt, we hide our impulse purchases and we lie to each other about our finances? That’s okay, right? Especially if she (or he) is a 10.

    If only we let alcohol drive the majority of our dating decisions then we wouldn’t fall victim to these prejudices.

    • I know you’re joking but I’ll say it anyway … if your partner’s approach to a relationship is to do any of those things, RUN!

      Here’s the thing. When I was in my early twenties, you can be sure that my main dating “criteria” was (i) is he good-looking?; and (ii) is he funny (and good-looking)? Would I want to be married to any of those people? Heck, no! As you get older, you realize that a long-lasting relationship has to be based on something more than just looks (hey, those don’t hurt), and that looks alone can’t compensate for other serious issues – like a lack of fiscal responsibility. So, I’m prepared to give a 20-year old far more leeway than a 30-year old when it comes to dating and relationships. I’m just not sure that all of Match.com’s survey subjects are 20-year olds.

  2. To me, any one absolute debt number is rather meaningless (within reason), especially absent information about what the debt was used to acquire. More important are one’s behaviors and attitudes toward money. Like most things, it’s the trajectory that’s more relevant than the absolute starting point.

    • Definitely! Absolute statements like “I wouldn’t date someone who is in debt” are meaningless without context, and context is always personal.

  3. If I date anyone I’m goin’ to have some ‘s’plainin’ to do!

    Is it just me that wonders if this “debt averse” stuff on their poll is because the would-be daters are looking for someone to rescue them financially? Would Cinderella have wanted the Prince if he couldn’t give her a castle and a life of luxury?

    • You may be on to something! I didn’t think of that, but it’s certainly possible. Personally, I don’t believe in that whole being rescued/rescuing somebody fairy-tale, but I’m sure you can still find lots of women (and men) who still consider a viable dating strategy.

    • You have ‘hit the nail on the head ‘ for most of the so-called debt free date hunters.

  4. You look really pretty in your wedding photo, Adina! :)

    I went on a date once with someone who graduated from my university program with what I would deem a significant amount of student loan debt and seemed to have no plan for paying it off. I have a friend who graduated with about half that amount of student loan debt (aka a reasonable amount) and paid it off within a year of graduating. On that fact alone, the second guy has a chance and the first guy has none.

    But what it comes down to more in my books is the guy’s financial values lining up with mine. Would he pay down debt aggressively (aka have a plan for it) or instead spend his money however he feels like? Does he think before he buys something? Would he go into debt to pay for a wedding or pay for it in cash? How does he feel about mortgage debt and how much house to buy? How about food spending? When to drive or walk? Do we need the fastest internet speed? Do we need to buy expensive clothes every year? Do we need to go out for dinner all the time? How much money should we spend on presents and donations? Do we save our money or do we somehow make it disappear each month? (I’m not even sure how that’s possible.) How often and expensive should vacations be? Those kinds of questions are important, but what’s more important is that they can be talked about in a non-defensive way.

    • Absolutely agree! Debt numbers are one thing; someone’s day to day behaviour can speak volumes on its own. Plus, as someone who has always been a bit of a control freak when it comes to finances, I wanted to be with someone who was (at the very least) open to rational discussion on the subject. I couldn’t be married to someone who was not only irresponsible, but also impervious to advice/reason.

  5. I was heavily in student loan debt (to the tune of $60,000), but that didn’t scare off BF, who has never had a penny in debt in his life.

    Reason? He told me it was because he saw how determined I was to get rid of it, and near to the end of my loan repayment, I was going to extremes, like pinning my pants together in a makeshift tailoring attempt rather than buying new ones that were too loose from losing weight (not even a belt could hold them up).

    All he saw was my attitude towards debt (HATE!) and my attitude towards money (semi-reasonable).

    He actually spends more than I do on big stuff, and hobbies. Believe it or not…

    • My situation was similar, but in reverse. My (now) husband had a good chunk of student debt, but I could see that he was no “princess”. He actually spends waaay less than I do, which makes him (technically) the better “saver” of the two of us. And that is only one of his many wonderful qualities (gush, LOL!) Had I only looked at his finances on paper when we started dating, and bailed as a result, I would have missed out on an amazing partner.

  6. Great article and topic, Adina!

    I’m not married or living with someone, but I am in a long term relationship. For us, there is a very large income discrepancy, rather than massive debts, that can cause issues for things like joint vacations.

    I know in tradtional 1950s style relationships, the man made the money and the wife would stay home with the kids and not make much if anything; and in modern era the wife and husband make about the same or even the wife may make a bit more nowadays…but for us we don’t live together, don’t plan on marrying soon, and obviously no kids. When there is a very large (say 3 times) income gap it can cause issues in the medium term. Long term I suppose we’ll do joint expenses the Gail way!

  7. Here lies Boghead amang the dead,
    In hopes to get salvation;
    But if such as he, in Heav’n may be,
    Then welcome, hail! damnation.

  8. I would not date someone who is a financial mess. Someone in debt yes, even bad debt but who has a plan to better his finances. Even with separates accounts, you can’t get a mortgage or have long term financial goals if the other person is sinking in debt.

    • I agree, Pauline! Unless you want to be someone’s sugar momma/daddy, long-term you need to be on the same page with your partner not just philosophy-wise, but in terms of actions too.

  9. It’s all about the attitude. If my new future bf has debt and a plan to get rid of it, then I’m in! As I have debt I don’t feel comfortable judging someone else about their debt…until I know the story behind it. If they were spending in an attempt to live a Rock Star lifestyle that’s a mindset problem that I don’t feel like dealing with. If they weren’t taught money skills and are willing to try, then I can handle it. It just depends on the specific situation.

  10. Never pay off someones debt …you can help an see how it goes…

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