I’ve been dating a guy for almost two months now. We’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase, but last weekend over dinner, we got on the topic of debt and I learned that he has a lot. He didn’t give me a total, but I’m guessing that’s it’s approaching $100,000, as he has student loans from a renowned (and expensive) top-ten business school, and he mentioned that he acquired some credit card debt while he was in school, trying to make ends meet. He’s a great guy—and we’re already exclusive—but I’m a little uncomfortable at the thought of dating someone long-term who has so much debt. He has a good job, and though we didn’t get into how he plans to pay it off, he did assure me that meeting his payments (and then some) each month is not a problem. I don’t know if I can date someone with so much debt. Would it be a mistake to break up with him over this?—DD, Los Angeles, California
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
If you’re old enough to type this question, then you’re old enough to bring your own baggage to the relationship as well. Yes, baggage. We all have it, and his is debt. Some people acquire this in order to create a better life for themselves in the long run. I’ll be blunt with you here and say that if you leave someone because he has a lot of debt, you’re shallow. What are you going to do? Break up with him and tell him you can’t see him because he’s carrying around a lot of debt, due to his attendance at a top-ten business school? Is that really so bad?
So how can you justify staying in a relationship with someone who acquired a lot of debt before you met him? Simple—he has his bills and you have yours. He likely didn’t think he would meet a sugar mama who would wipe it all out for him, and he doesn’t seem the pool-boy type, based on your description. He pays his bills and you pay yours. That’s how it should work. If you get married, you either get a prenup or split the debt—that’s your call. Be happy that this guy is open enough to tell you about it and has something to show for it. Know that this is a part of who he is, but not all of who he is.
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
People have different comfort levels with money and debt. I have friends who will be paying off student loans for the next twenty years and are fine with that. I have other friends who freak out if they don’t pay the full amount due on their credit card each month. I also have a friend who wears a button that says, “I can’t be out of money, I still have some checks left.” Supposing you got along with all these types of people and you were equally attracted to each of them, which kind of person would you feel most comfortable with?
On a positive note, it seems that he’s the one who brought up his debt, so obviously he’s being up-front about it and wants you to know what’s going on. However, he sounds like more of a risk taker than you do. Remember, your relationship is still pretty new. If he’s not someone you’re considering as a long-term potential mate, then relax and enjoy his company. But if you can’t let the debt issue go, then you might need to cut your losses and look for someone who sees things as you do.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
Thank you for fulfilling every negative stereotype about L.A. Does “DD” stand for your fake breast size? As Kanye raps, “Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger …”
Okay, perhaps I’m being harsh in calling you a gold digger, but jeesh, relax a little. What’s harsh is the fact that student loans cause canyons of debt to many people well into their thirties. It’s rare that someone can get through all the schooling he’s gone through and not have debt. How are you not aware of this? Did you go to college or postgrad? If so, who paid for it?
Here’s some schooling for you, in case you missed out: it’s common for students to get in debt. If they graduate from a top business school like this guy did, many can pay it off (and then some) in a relatively short period of time. They invest big now for bigger payoffs later.
He’s not worried about it, because he knows that sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a lot. You’re not married to him yet, and if you have an ounce of faith in him, back off and don’t make the mistake of breaking up with him just because he’s currently in debt.
Learn this lesson from the business school graduate: an investment now likely means a bigger payoff later. Stick with him.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Personally, I’m always surprised by the people who don’t have any debt. Because, as they say in the movie Hustle & Flow, it’s hard out here for a pimp. Life is expensive, and while Los Angeles may not cost as much as, say, New York or San Francisco, it’s certainly no bargain. I don’t know very many people—if any—who could just write a check to pay for graduate school in full. And I know that credit cards are supposed to be used for emergencies only, but sometimes you get in a bind and you have to use one. Suze Orman, my stepdad (RIP, Al), and our more fiscally responsible readers are probably outraged that I would even support such behavior, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
What impresses me about this man is that he actually told you about his debt. Think about how hard that must’ve been. Is there ever a good time to tell someone you really, really like—someone you’re still trying to impress at the two-month mark—that you’re almost $100K in debt? Probably not. But he did, so he gets an A+ in communication. Second, he’s not only making his payments, but he’s paying more than the minimum each month, so he also gets an A+ in budgeting, responsibility, and letting you know that he’s more than capable of taking care of his debts so that you won’t have to worry if you stay together long-term. A man who thinks about how his actions in life will affect you after only two months of dating is a keeper, in my book.
The truth is, every one of us has something we worry about telling a new significant other; if it wasn’t debt, it would be something else. What’s your thing, DD? Have you told him about it yet? You’ve (hopefully) learned to love and accept yourself with all your flaws, so now you have to learn to do that with someone else. If you decide to live together or get married, then you’ll need to talk about how to divvy up your money, who pays for what, saving for an emergency, and all those other fun financial topics. But until then, you’re just dating, and his debt won’t rub off on you just by being in his presence. So stop being so Judgey McJudgerson and be thankful that his “thing” isn’t doing time in the Big House for running Ponzi schemes.
Read Part Three of the 4-Way.
Read the previous 4-Way column.
Check out the 4-Way podcasts.
Follow the 4-Way on Twitter at twitter.com/The4way.
The 4-Way is published monthly. If you have a question for our 4-Way panel, please send it to them in care of the editor at email@example.com. To make sure you never miss a 4-Way column again, just click on the author’s name at the top of the story, then select ‘Be notified when writer publishes’ at the top of the page. We’ll send you an email as soon as a new column is published.