Friends with benefits, hooking up, sexting. Soulless academic studies shove this stereotype of millennial “romances” down our throats, and plenty of America’s 20-somethings gladly revel in it, too busy for anything real. Marriage is for people in their 30s.
But that’s not real life. What is real are the conversations we have about our depressing love lives on Twitter, in YouTube confessionals and in relationship forums—which is where we listened in. And normal people without swollen Zuckerberg-ian egos and without dreams of launching the next billion-dollar startup from their parents’ basements have different concerns: They worry that they might never have a long-term partner and they might never get married. That’s because they simply might not have the money. And it sucks.
The less-talked-about millennial dating experiences, the ones that don’t blossom on ivy-rich college campuses or in New York City bars, certainly aren’t as sexy as the ones on Jezebel. But they’re important, too. So we sought out millennials who publicly worry about their relationship prospects and their financial obligations. They have a lot to say:
I'm too poor to have a girlfriend
— Dragon Soul (@dragonsoulx) August 13, 2013
I feel like I'm too poor to afford a girlfriend. Lmao
— A real nice guy (@ShotCallerBOSS) August 7, 2013
I want a relationship but then again im so lazy and too poor to have one
— did some1 say sitc (@sonofaassbutt) August 8, 2013
It makes me really sad that I'm too poor to meet my future boyfriend @NiallOfficial
— Brianna Dusenberry (@Brikat817) August 14, 2013
I never would have dreamed that I'd be too poor for a girlfriend. Lol.
— Colton ツ (@ColtonKinser) August 9, 2013
Hi I'm tessa and I haven't worked out in two weeks! probably because I am too poor to see my girlfriend so I have given up on life
— Tessa Marie Yantzer (@XxXTYCXxX) August 13, 2013
Money matters when it comes to dating. A lot.
“Today I’m going to pawn my [Nintendo] 3DS,” explains Andrew French in a titled “Too Poor for a Date.”
“Reason being: I’m poor and I don’t have enough money to take my girlfriend on a date. So I’m selling something of value so I can take her out on a date.”
Nona Willis Aronowitz, a journalist and author of the forthcoming book The Crash Generation, explains it this way: ”Hookup culture is implicitly an upper-middle-class phenomenon.” Aronowitz’s book explores how the recession has affected millennials’ understanding of class. “When people agonize over the sex lives of millennials, they’re primarily agonizing about the kids who go to elite colleges,” she says.
A new sociological study released this week reveals that working-class Americans (those who earn between $23,050 and $32,500 annually) are significantly less likely to enter long-term relationships and to marry than their middle-class counterparts (those who earn anywhere between $32,500 and $100,000 annually). They’re not opposed to serious relationships. Some of them actually have significant others. But many of them don’t have stable enough jobs and lives to fully commit to someone besides themselves.
Sarah Corse, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, along with Jennifer Silva, a sociology professor at Harvard, ran the study. What they found is that you can’t find long-term love if you can’t afford groceries or movie tickets for two.
“The conversations we’ve had with people without a college degree suggest that for many of them, even less formal long-term relationships are fraught with difficulty,” Corse tells Vocativ in an email. “Certainly the data suggest our working-class respondents have less hope for successful long term relationships.”
According to a 2013 employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a full-time employee over age 25 without a high-school diploma makes only $477 per week. That’s $170 less per week than the typical high-school graduate, and $716 less per week than the typical college graduate. Since the average American between the ages of 19 and 50 spends $39.50 on groceries per week on his or herself alone (as per the U.S.D.A.’s cheapest grocery plan, known as the “thrifty” plan), $477 is no salary at all.
The authors write in the report that, “Some men and women strive to make the breadwinner/homemaker model of gendered intimacy function despite the lack of jobs offering ‘family’ wages to breadwinning men. A number of men and women we spoke with conveyed a deep sense of betrayal by the failure of this model.”
And money is a real source of stress when it comes to getting married. (Yes, rebellious millennials do want to walk down the aisle.) “In my experience, working-class or even middle-class millennials still want the traditional marriage,” Aronowitz says. “I think these financial issues loom large over a big chunk of the population, especially among those who don’t have parents who will pay for the wedding.”
The average American couple spends nearly $25,700 on their wedding, a price tag that for many millennials is unfathomable. “It points to the increasingly broad costs of inequality,” Corse explains.
Corse believes marriage is now a class issue. “I think it’s fair to say that getting married is increasingly a status marker… rather than just the accepted thing that “everyone” does. People get married (obviously!) for lots of different reasons, but one reason that may be increasingly important is that marriage now represents a kind of achievement that it didn’t represent when it was more common.”
Starting a family is an even bigger financial roadblock. As of this year, 48 percent of Americans have babies before they marry, and the cost of raising a child in America is nearly $235,000. “As economic inequality increases in the US, other kinds of inequality—in health, in intimacy—are also increasing,” Corse says. “Even if the economy improves, I don’t see any signs that working-class jobs are going to return to stability, to security, to including benefits or a family wage.”
But it’s not all about the money, the authors stress. It’s about the emotional instability that comes along with a low-paying job, one that doesn’t offer benefits, healthcare or any signs of upward professional mobility. The study highlights that their participants in working-class jobs experience “feelings of distrust or even fear about intimate relationships.”
In one forum, user Avn11 asks: “Do girls date guys who make minimum income?” He receives a bunch of responses. But that question doesn’t seem to be his biggest concern. “I’m too embarrassed to talk about my financial situation to anyone,” he writes. Several other commenters share his sentiment.
If long-term relationships are financially and emotionally unattainable, then that might mean that millennials—especially poorer millennials—grow old alone.
Aronowitz, the author, sees a generation of people going solo. “I think there’s a trajectory of more people staying single.”