Strategic dating Pt. 1: A contentious concept that merely describes modern dating

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“The thing about romance is that [it] requires money,” Lebohang Masango said in a PowerFm interview late last year. I found myself relating to this sentiment and most of her sentiments. Masango argues that capitalism has permeated into romantic relationships and it is often difficult to think about your ideal partner without thinking about their occupation or socioeconomic status. It was during this interview wherein I came across the concept of ‘strategic dating’.

Other than that, think about the concept of Valentine’s day, marriage and rings, and popular culture – romance is embedded in some sort of materialism and conspicuous consumption. Again, think about romantic movies, series, novels, and even advertisements. Johnson (2010) argues the following: ‘…although dismissed by some as “just entertainment,” teen romance novels have ideological content and consequences.’ Mainstream media has made romance a materialistic construct that pushes for conspicuousness with grand romantic gestures. Think about your favourite social media couples, do they not involve trips overseas, dates at aesthetically pleasing restaurants, and expensive gifts?

I have been following Lebohang on twitter for a while and if I remember correctly her interview caused a divide amongst the PowerFm listeners.  I have engaged the topic of strategic dating for a while now and it is like discussing politics. A lot of people believe that if someone’s socioeconomic status and material possessions are part of your criteria for a relationship then your reasons for dating are disingenuous, wrong, and selfish. My position is that it doesn’t make sense to not take these things into account when you decide to date because money will inevitably be a conversation.

Think about the theory of romantic attraction. People are generally more likely to be like to someone whom they consider physically attractive, they have proximity to, and who have similar characteristics and this can be anything between age, race, religion, social class, personality, education, intelligence, and attitudes. So, the action of attraction is inherently strategic.

It doesn’t even have to be an explicit conversation about finances but various conversations can give cues to compatibility. The question of ‘what do you do for a living’ gives a rough estimation of your socioeconomic status. Furthermore, the conversation about likes and dislikes e.g. hobbies, favourite restaurants, and interests in travel often allude where you stand financially.

In her Master’s paper, Masango spoke to young women and/or university students who were between the ages of 20-24. These women’s source of income is from either their bursary and/or parents. But the controversial issue is that they choose to add and prioritise financial status as a criterion for romance.

These young women want a relationship with someone with means and access to things that they may or may not be able to afford currently and beyond. For example, access to travel, assets, and sometimes even an education. So, they prefer to date ‘older’ men who have money to supplement these lifestyles. Notably, these women want to build a monogamous relationship and even potential marriage with men who have a certain level of financial comfort. For example, they are strategically choosing to not date men who cannot afford certain things.

In my opinion, Strategic and intentional in this context can be used interchangeably. According to online dating coach, Imani Yvonne (@Actual Black Mermaid), as a woman in a patriarchal and capitalist society, you need to be intentional in the way you date because the odds are against you. I agree with her, but I’d like to also add that if you are working towards a certain reality for yourself and future children – you ought to be very particular about who choose as a partner on that journey. It essentially speaks to the theory of evolution – only those most adaptable to change will survive and thrive.  In a capitalist and neoliberal society, this means the more money you have the better your quality of life.

This is a conversation that I often have with friends. Their overall sentiment is that it is disingenuous and selfish to date strategically. Masango posits that a lot of people like to speak about money and love as two ‘dichotomous’ concepts. As much as we would love to think of these as really separate things, we cannot speak of love and romance without speaking about money. It is impossible. Think Lobola/Dowry payments.

To function in this society, you need money.  So we do everything to attain it and thereafter most people want love. So, love and money are the two most sought after things because of the happiness that both can bring a person. The question then remains, why do we think we can separate the two when talking about romantic relationships?

Last year, even I found myself struggling with accepting that perhaps I was beginning to date strategically.  I have always had a preference for dating older which consequently led to intergenerational and interclass dating. Which meant that I started dating people who had means and access to things outside of my tax bracket. Being very impressionable, I acquainted myself with lifestyles that I had no access to neither could I afford. Subsequently, I have adopted some things into my lifestyle and keep some as luxuries for when I have access or the means to enjoy those things fully without breaking my back. The way I navigate my dating life has thus changed.

With money being a contentious issue, I found myself conflicted because I find most dates that I find myself in dissatisfying or underwhelming. However, when I share my experience with other people, I find my preference criticised left with the following questions. Am I at fault to want more? Am I wrong to want what I have had? Am I wrong to want more for myself while I work towards building a sustaining a legacy of my own? I will not speak to how exclusionary preference is, because I have discussed that preference is inherently problematic. Anyway, I have had to slip this cognitive dissonance between dating ‘organically’ or strategically into my therapy sessions.

One afternoon, my therapist gave me homework. I had to list a few things that I am looking for in a partner and rate them according to importance as well as motivate for each. The list I was given had three criteria:  materialistic, personality, and looks.  Firstly, in terms of personality, I was looking for a partner who was more stable yet very similar to me. Secondly, someone who takes good care of themselves. Being someone who is very stubborn, I found it difficult to rank my list and I shared that all the things that I listed were equally important. Lastly, we concluded that I related to financial security and stability with emotional comfort. For me, there is no one without the other.

We live in a society where we are expected to strive to be independent, always want better for ourselves and attain some level of comfort. Then after all of this, you get a romantic partner who is your ‘equal’ and live happily ever after. So, it seems unfair that some people have the advantage and privilege of attaining material comfort from meeting the love of their lives versus having to struggle and ‘hustle’. It feels like a betrayal of what we have been thought, and I understand why a lot of people are against the idea of financial standing being a dating criterion.

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