Lonely hearts beware: when money talks, is it the language of love?
Couples looking for romance should be clear what they want from a relationship: a lavish lifestyle, financial security or emotional riches. Some experts offer guidance
“I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle” – that was one Chinese woman’s take on the ideal mate when she appeared on a matchmaking TV show. Many viewers were shocked by her materialistic response in 2010, but the sense that money can buy love persists today.
A Chinese man who recently gave his girlfriend a gigantic heart-shaped bouquet of “flowers” made from 334,000 yuan (US$52,300) in banknotes triggered a heated online debate on the danger of equating love with money.
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Dating coach and relationship expert Valentina Tudose, of Happy Ever After, a “singles coaching programme”, says couples should be clear early on about what they really need from a relationship.
“The traditional outlook on relationships required the man to be the provider and some people still believe that a show of wealth is a great way to a woman’s heart,” she says. “While it is true that some women still expect to be lavished with gifts, others may prefer to be treated differently in order to be convinced this relationship is for them and may even dislike ostentatious gestures.”
Tudose refers to the concept of “five love languages” advocated by American author Gary Chapman for how to express and experience love. Besides expressing love through gifts, the other “languages” include quality time, acts of service (devotion), words of appreciation, and physical touch, she says.
“It’s essential to understand each other’s preferred love language because it’s vital to building long-lasting relationships. It can also remove a lot of the stress caused by misunderstandings or incompatible values,” Tudose says.
As for the adage, “money doesn’t buy happiness, but it certainly helps”, Tudose says money can play a part in any relationship but that role, big or small, should be decided by the parties concerned.
“Whether money really plays an important role in love depends very much on each partner’s expectations and their approach to what their ideal relationship looks like,” she says. “In some cultures, the man is expected to support the woman financially when they are a couple, so naturally his ability to do this will be demonstrated during courtship.”
But in some cases, women may value their financial independence and ability to support themselves, so such displays of wealth can be counterproductive and interpreted as a sign of “buying love”.
Brian Cha, life strategist and motivational speaker, says couples should never let money define their relationships.
“Both parties have to understand each other’s vision in life, and their expectations on each other’s contributions in different areas of their life together. It’s not something we can set in stone, to define who is the provider or who should contribute more financially,” says Cha.
“Nowadays, the woman sometimes makes more money than the man. We must remember a strong loving relationship is a commitment and not a financial transaction.
“If we define our love and relationship by money, how are we going to teach our children to value family above everything else?”
Tudose says that wealth, or “being taken care of”, is important for some when looking for a life partner but others are satisfied with someone who is financially independent.
“It’s because many successful women are worried they might be taken advantage of financially and are on high alert when a man they’re dating asks them to pay for their share or even are left with the bill,” she says.
Some see money as a means to enjoy life and don’t care about financial wealth. Meanwhile, those who might have experienced financial hardship may see it as an important part of their life.
“If these two people were to start dating and look to build a serious relationship, they would need to get a lot of clarity around the role of money in their life, so they can positively approach this topic together,” Tudose says.
A new relationship can blossom with a balanced approach to money and coming clean on any debts, Tudose says. “The way people handle money conflicts is a critical indicator as to what kind of person they are and whether the relationship can survive or not.
“Clarifying expectations around the role of each partner [the provider versus the carer] is a great way to start and discuss your vision on how you will function as a couple and it is a necessary step in establishing solid foundations.”
The subject of money shouldn’t be ignored because we are embarrassed to bring it up or too mesmerised by a new companion. Maybe don’t raise it on a first or second date, but there will be signs along the way about attitudes and beliefs about money.
Tudose’s five tips for how to be more financially compatible
1. Be clear about what “being good with money” means
2. Share expectations around money (Are you financially independent or do you expect him/her to pay?)
3. Pay attention to your partner’s language and behaviour over money
4. Talk about what money means (security or to enjoy life?)
5. Be clear what aspects surrounding money are non-negotiable
Luisa Tam is senior editor at the Post and a former sex talk-show host at DBC Radio