This question was posed initially by Cazey Williams of As Told Over Brunch in an article entitled, “When West Egg Meets East Egg: Dating Outside Your Bracket.”
Needless to say, it got me to thinking. If our personalities are built up on the sum of our experiences, and who we are is largely dictated by how we were raised, then isn’t it also fair to assume that our beliefs and attitudes towards money are dictated by the same?
I grew up in a comfortable family that took vacations occasionally and could afford to eat out at restaurants at least once or twice a week. But we also kept the heat low in the winter, ran the dishwasher only when necessary, and put off home improvement projects. My brother and I both have student loan debt, too. I guess you could say that we were raised in a family that’s used to pinching pennies on a few things in order to pay for the things that we wanted more. So when someone’s determined to use the AC in April instead of just opening a window, you can see where I might have difficulty understanding their perspective.
Based on that understanding and my admittedly limited experience, I’d say that of course you could date someone outside your tax bracket. There’s nothing stopping you from doing so. However, I’d also argue that you’re less likely to do so the wider the income gap between you. Note that I’m not saying that it can’t happen or that it doesn’t, just that its less likely.
Why do I believe this to be true? Simply put, a person’s values are reflected, at least partially, in the way that they view money. This isn’t true for everyone of course (think socially conscious billionaires like Bill Gates), but you’re far more likely to have a (successful) relationship with someone who shares your values and life experiences than someone who doesn’t. Common ground helps you understand one another and creates a field of trust upon which to build a healthy relationship. Without it, you might find yourselves arguing over room temperatures in April. Not to mention the resentment one person might feel at letting someone else pick up the tab or the guilt over not being able to afford to give the type of gifts that you might want to. Some people are ok with this gap, content to be taken care of by others, but differences like these can wear on a relationship over time. I’ve seen it happen.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t just about romantic relationships, either. You see it with friendships, too. People tend to gravitate towards those who are like themselves, people whom they believe have the capacity to understand them and their experiences. It’s very difficult to build a relationship – platonic or otherwise – without that shared ground. It’d be like starting on opposing sides and working towards one another instead of just building upwards from the outset. It takes more work to make it happen and very rarely is that effort successful.
So yes, I think you can date someone outside of your tax bracket. I’m just not confident that you’ll manage to do so successfully.