I reactivated my online dating profile a couple months ago.
For the most part, the pickings were bleak, but I was feeling giddy about my first date with a child psychiatrist. At 36, he was only a year younger than I am. We'd exchanged a few flirty text messages, and, judging by his photos, he was just my type — tall, fit, and handsome, with that bald-head-and-beard look that makes me swoon.
Before we met for coffee, I checked his profile again to look for things we might talk about. I saw that he practices tai chi every day. (Good one. I'm in the middle of a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge.) He likes books on spirituality and healing practices. (Another score. I'm reading a book about mindfulness and depression.) But then, there was something that I hadn't noticed before: He'd listed his salary as somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000. (Uh-oh. I'm a freelance writer and editor, and mine is … well, nowhere near that.)
My heart sank. There are some women who only date guys with salaries in the high six-figures, but I am not one of those women. Actually, my mother chastises me for dating men of modest means. And, to be honest, meeting a guy who makes in the high-six-figure range makes me think, "Oh, he's out of my league."
Suddenly, I was fixated on the fact that this man earned more than I did.
To tell … or not to tell
Still reeling from the shock of seeing the psychiatrist's salary, I started to wonder: Should you list your income online? Does it make you more — or less — desirable if you post a certain number? Is it better just to avoid the whole issue and wait until the relationship gets serious to discuss it?
Personally, I didn't think I'd been trying to hide anything when I'd left the salary category on my own profile blank, but seeing my date's number made me sheepish about my own income (about $60,000 a year) — and glad that I hadn't revealed it.
Gina Stewart, an online dating coach with ExpertOnlineDating.com, says that my salary shame is unfounded. "Most men don't seem to care quite as much about what a woman makes as much as women care what men make," says Stewart. "Men just want a woman who is productive doing something. I've yet to see a man discount going out with a woman because she makes too much or not enough for him."
But the statistics suggest otherwise. A survey by the dating site AYI.com found that women who indicate they make upward of $150,000 are most likely to be contacted by a man. Likewise, men who say they earn more than $150,000 have the greatest chance of hearing from a woman. (Stats on interactions between same-sex online daters are harder to come by.)
For some, ruling out possible matches based on their income means being realistic, not superficial.
Alix Abbamonte is a 33-year-old freelance publicist in New York. In the past few years, she's made several online profiles — on OkCupid, Tinder, Match, and eHarmony — none of which have revealed her (variable) income. Still, she always checks to see the salary of potential mates and uses that information to determine if she will give a guy the time of day. "When I read that a man is making only $60,000, I am turned off," she says. As for $50,000 or less? "Absolutely not."
On the other hand, Abbamonte generally doesn't believe a guy when he says he makes over $200,000, since there isn't any way to verify that people are giving accurate estimates of their income. In fact, a 2010 OKCupid report found that 20 percent of its users said they made more money than they really did, presumably to make themselves seem more appealing.
So what are the implications of indicating you don't want to reveal your salary — or of leaving that section blank, like I did?
Salary secrets: I'd "rather not say"
According to the AYI survey, 82 percent of online daters do not answer the income question at all, and, of the people who do answer it, 40 percent respond "Rather not say" instead of selecting an income bracket from $0 to $150,000+. Interestingly, the survey also found that people who choose "Rather not say" on their online dating profile are perceived to be lower earners. They have the same contact rates as men who make under $20,000 and women who make under $60,000.
It's no wonder Michelle Frankel, founder of NYCity Matchmaking, never lets her clients skip the salary question when she's helping them complete their profiles.
"I absolutely think it's important to reveal," says Frankel, 43. "Everybody has their preferences and biases — whether it's blond hair or brown hair — and finances should be no different."
Frankel is in the business of helping people find love online (and offline), a job inspired by her personal experience: She and her husband, 42, met on JDate in 2011. Frankel and her husband both revealed their incomes in their profiles (they each made more than $150,000), and she says that the numbers "definitely" played a part in them getting together. But the couple is in the minority, since more than 80 percent of JDate users choose to leave their salary blank or select "Will tell you later."
Van Wallach, 56, a senior proposal writer for a major professional services firm, was a member of JDate and Match.com before he started dating a woman he met on JDate in 2008. While he ultimately decided to select the "Will tell you later" option, he initially listed his income as between $75,000 and $100,000.
"If [income is] important to you, I'll provide that information up front and you can decide immediately," he says.
Wallach says he gave "zero consideration" to potential mates' incomes — except when he saw they were higher than his. "That signaled they may be aiming for a lifestyle or relationship that I just couldn't afford, given post-divorce debts and child support."
JDate user Yan Falkinstein, a 31-year-old attorney who lives in Northridge, California, says he doesn't want to be judged by the number on his paycheck.
"When I first started online dating, I was a student," he says. "I was in college, and then in law school making less than $20K working part-time. Most girls probably wouldn't want that anyway." But years later, Falkinstein is making $85,000 and he still doesn't list his income. "I changed my 'About me' section to say I'm an attorney. That should say enough," he says.
What's your number? Why some of us choose not to go there
There are a few reasons why I don't list my salary on my profile — and rarely look at my dates' incomes. It's not that I'm shy about money. Anyone could google my name and see that I've written about being in debt. But, on a practical level, I'm a freelance writer and editor, so my salary fluctuates and I'm never sure what I make each year until tax time rolls around.
More importantly, I'm a casual online dater — yes, it would be great to meet The One, but I'd also like to find someone to join me at happy hour. It seems to me that conversations about money should be reserved for people who are either in or looking for a serious relationship.
Amanda Clayman, a New York–based financial therapist, has a similar perspective to mine: She doesn't believe that you should include your income in your dating profile. "It just seems like a very private piece of information to make available to people who you don't know," she says. When it comes to the topic of money, it's better to wait until you get to know each other, when it seems natural or appropriate to bring up.
But how much can a single number really reveal?
Looking beyond the numbers
"Someone's salary is the least of their money issues," says Richard Kahler, a financial adviser in Rapid City, South Dakota. "What's the point of knowing how much someone makes? It doesn't tell us about their spending habits or their net worth. Someone could make a lot, but then spend every dime of it."
Perhaps that's why some people who list their salaries online don't immediately blow off potential mates based on their income. When Krystle Evans, 31, and Marcus Harvey, 33, met in 2012 on OkCupid, they had to learn to see past each other's paychecks.
They'd both listed their incomes online — her salary hovered around $100,000 while his was in the mid-thirties — and Harvey was nervous at first about going out with someone who made significantly more than he did. But he figured that he'd give it a shot and reach out to her anyway. "In her profile, she talked about being active in her church and the community, which let me know she'd be more into substance than money."
Finances did in fact prove to be an issue in the beginning stages of their courtship. Evans paid for most of their dates, and she let Harvey know that she wasn't interested in continuing to bankroll their relationship. After explaining that his income wasn't steady (he's an actor and a teaching artist), Harvey stepped up his game by planning activities through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
A year and a half later, they're now engaged.
As for my date with the psychiatrist, was he The One? I don't think so. He was handsome and nice enough, but the conversation was stilted more often than I would have liked. Maybe I was feeling insecure because of the salary issue, so I wasn't being my usual charming self. Or maybe there just wasn't any chemistry. But I don't think there will be a second date. One thing is for sure: When my mother hears that I went out with a guy who made so much money, she'll have something to say about it.
More from LearnVest...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- Your 2-year-old doesn't need to go to school
- America is doomed! (And other thoughts on our gloomy historical moment.)
- If Scotland leaves the union, is Northern Ireland next?
Subscribe to the Week