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Are you dating me for me or my money?

Financial status can complicate dating and relationships in unexpected ways

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In her therapy practice, Minni Sharma sees a lot of wealthy young men who are trying to figure out the dating world.

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A registered psychotherapist and divorce specialist at Guiding Journeys in Stouffville, Ont., northeast of Toronto, Sharma says that what her clients most often question is the authenticity of a relationship, particularly men who have come into new wealth. They want to know – does this person really like me for who I am or is it because of my money?

Her response is always, “How are you presenting yourself?”

“If you’re going on a date and show up in a Ferrari, what’s the message?” she asks. “Then, if you start talking mainly about what you do for a living or how successful your family is, you’re sending the message that your wealth and status are more important than who you are; that you’re really a nice person who does volunteer work becomes secondary.”

Sharma says this is less of an issue for people who have grown up with money, because their dating pool typically has the same level of wealth. But they may have different challenges, such as pressure from family to date a friend’s daughter or dating only within their culture or circle. Having an outside objective point of view can help people navigate their dating lives.

“Establishing a relationship with a therapist to process some of these relationships is really important,” says Sharma. “It’s really helpful to ask clients to write down the characteristics they want in a potential partner. Often the first thing I hear is kindness – including from young, wealthy men. They want someone who’s not judgmental, who’s easy to get along with, or maybe has a great sense of humour.”

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Going through this exercise can also help the person become more authentic themselves – about who they are, as well as who they want to integrate into their life. If their idea is to date a supermodel because that’s the image they have, they’re really limiting their pool.

“A lot of people don’t think about the characteristics they’re looking for when they date,” Sharma says. “But you want to really be thoughtful about that, and not just on a superficial level. One of the first things I ask clients is, ‘Who are you attracting and why are you attracting that person? Do you know yourself well enough?’ Again, a therapist can help you figure out what kind of personality traits would go well with yours, or with your lifestyle.”

Jen Lawrence, a certified divorce coach and divorce financial analyst at Designed Divorce in Oakville, Ont., works mainly with high-net-worth women who often have come into large amounts of money following a divorce. She says heading into the dating world can be very scary and people may feel like a bit of a target.

“Whether you’re a man or a woman, the first thing people have to do is clarify what they want,” says Lawrence, who is twice divorced. “If you want a transactional relationship – young, hot firefighters are not taboo – address that on the surface. There’s a thriving sugar daddy, sugar mommy industry out there.”

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Lawrence says there is often a transactional quality to relationships with wealthy people and that sometimes wealthy people really don’t understand how transactional their relationships are. At work they are surrounded by yes-men or women because they are the boss or owner. Even people in their personal lives are not always giving honest feedback. It is easy to get used to that kind of ego gratification.

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“If you’re using money to wield power and to frankly elevate yourself, then you’ve got to understand that the money is part of the reason why that person is there,” says Lawrence. “That’s where the family office environment can be helpful because they can organize connections between wealthy people.

“When you’re the 1 per cent and you’re out there in the dating market, 99 per cent of people are either not going to understand your world, or they’re going to be looking to level up by attaching themselves to you. Sometimes that’s fine – transparency is important – but if you want an equal partner, that’s a longer process and you may have to have different criteria to search for that.”

In a relationship where the wealth is unequal, have a plan from the beginning so no one is exploited on either side. A prenup agreement can clarify that you’re happy to share some but not all of your wealth, because maybe you have kids from a first marriage or philanthropic goals you want to achieve.

“Address it for what it is and have those awkward conversations,” Lawrence advises. “So often guys are like, ‘I want you to love me as if I had no money,’ but you wouldn’t be you if you had no money. Would you love her if she wasn’t young and pretty? Let’s go with reality here.”

When it comes to marriage breakdown, Lawrence says money is the No. 1 cause, and the more money you have, the more complicated it can be.

“Wealthy people don’t talk about money in their family or marriages because it’s not about how are we going to pay rent this month?” says Lawrence. “It’s just: ‘There’s all this money – let’s not talk about it.’ People who don’t have much money understand the power of money because it’s a daily fact. If you’re really wealthy, you may say you don’t have to think about money, but you actually need to think about it more because it governs your life a lot more.”

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Money can also be a key factor in whether you leave a relationship sooner.

Igor Grossmann, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, has co-authored several North American studies comparing how working-class and better-off, more educated, people reason about their interpersonal relationships.

The results from the studies in his lab suggest that, in the face of personal relationship conflicts, more educated people are less likely to “reason wisely” – that is they are less likely to recognize the limits of their knowledge, be open minded to their partner’s perspective and show flexibility and empathy.

“Middle-class people who are better off financially are teaching their kids to prioritize themselves and focus on their achievements, which on the surface may have positive consequences,” says Grossmann. “But it also has the downside of people becoming more narcissistic and less focused on the community and others around them. It goes as far as resulting in different patterns of information processing among the working class compared to the middle class.

“The reason why this could be a problem during a personal conflict is that one partner may not understand the other partner’s perspective, or may take things out of context. Instead of being willing to compromise, they may react reflexively and blame that partner.”

Personal resources are also a factor. Less well-off people who are living in the same household have to find ways to cooperate with each other because they do not have the resources to just get away from each other.

“Those without resources can’t just say, ‘I’m going to my other house,’” says Grossmann. “They have to work through their differences and resolve the conflict. Those who do have resources can use other strategies. They don’t have to get along. If they don’t like this relationship, they can move on to the next one.”

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