Sex Edition: Empty pockets put strain on relationships


While many college dates no longer end with men picking up the check, it doesn’t matter who’s expected to pay if everyone’s broke.

According to analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, women under the age of 30 living in large cities are making more money than men their age. As more women graduate with college degrees, fewer and fewer of them are relegated to being the secondary earner in their relationships. 

“We might be in a time where there are rapidly changing dynamics between men and women,” Stephanie McCracken, relationship coach and therapist for Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associates, said. 

For college students who don’t yet have degrees or full-time jobs, there’s generally little money to spare, regardless of gender.

While most college students work jobs around the same pay grade, McCracken said that it’s not just the students’ own incomes that affect the dynamics of relationships, but familial income levels, as well. The amount that a student’s family contributes to supporting them can create large disparities between students.

“Even if [students are] not working, they might receive some assistance from their families,” McCracken said.

Morgan Adams, a junior nursing major at Pitt, works two jobs on top of a full course load. After rent, bills and gas money, she said she feels like she barely has any cash to spend on going out with her boyfriend, Sam Negley. Negley, a senior architectural studies major at Pitt, has a partial scholarship for running track, so he doesn’t have to work. 

“I wouldn’t say that I have resentment towards him,” Adams said. “I’m happy that he is well off … but I do get annoyed whenever I have to go to work and he can stay home and do whatever he wants, but out of the fact that I’m jealous I can’t do the same.”

Adams, who has been dating Negley for about four months, said that, as a woman, she usually expects men to pay for dates up to a certain point, but when things start to get more serious she’s used to splitting the date expenses. So far, money hasn’t negatively impacted their relationship, she said.

“We don’t really ever fight about it,” Adams said. “But I do express that I am jealous that he doesn’t have to work for money and that he is lucky.”

One of the biggest challenges for couples is the division of resources, McCracken said. 

“People with access to lots of resources often feel a burden of guilt,” McCracken said, “and those who have little access feel ashamed and at fault for their own financial state.” 

Rachel Dudle, a junior economics and business major at Pitt, and her boyfriend Connor Gieger, a junior geology major, both bring money to their relationship in different ways. Between all of their school obligations, they are looking for an apartment to share next year.

 “We don’t have enough time for it to become a money issue,” Gieger said. 

Gieger is a Pitt resident assistant and Dudle works as a paid intern at Janney Montgomery Scott, a financial service firm Downtown. While Dudle has more money to spend right now, she said she thinks of them as being equal because Gieger won’t have as many student loans to pay off after college.

“There’s no time for him to work [right now],” Dudle said of Gieger. “But we try to see each other at least once a day.”

 The financial strain of student life doesn’t allow for very extravagant dates, and Gieger and Dudle said they’re fine with meeting up at Market Central between classes for dinner, or just watching Netflix when they’re both too burned out to study any more.

During the summer, when Gieger usually works a part-time job, he said he has more money to spend on activities with Dudle. Both said they usually agree to do cheaper activities or to avoid spending money at all.

“Don’t make it so that you can only hang out whenever you have to spend money to do things,” Gieger said. “You could blow through a lot of money that way.” 

But though there are ways to work around financial differences in college, McCracken noted that the complications money brings to a relationship won’t go away anytime soon.

“I think finances play a role at every age and every level,” McCracken said. “Couples at the university level might just be starting to notice those differences.”