Dating When You’re $120,000 In Debt

I thought my six-figure student-loan debt was making me undatable, but was it really the numbers that kept me from reaching the fourth date?

Here’s one from one of my female readers.

A lot hinges on the third date with a new person. By this point, you’ve seen enough of this potential significant other to determine the direction you want this newfound relationship to go in. A casual fling, your next serious partner, someone you’re sure you never want to see again—that’s all decided by date three. It’s the date on which you show your cards, air your dealbreakers, and hold your breath, waiting for the person on the other side of the table to respond.

So when you do have cards to show, you dread this date—which is how I felt sitting across from a man with whom I could envision a future, my mouth dry and my palms slick, trying to summon the power to reveal what I thought made me incredibly undatable. It was the reason I believed I was still single after countless awkward encounters. But I could tell things were going to progress between us—I was already imagining what falling in love with this beautiful bearded man would be like—and I knew I had to give him a chance to bail. Gathering all my courage, I formed the words I hated saying out loud: “I have student debt.”

After four years at the University of New Haven, a private university I couldn’t afford, and two years earning a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, I was saddled with a $120,000 debt for a career that did not guarantee a hefty return on investment. Although I loved my chosen field, I knew there were less expensive paths I could have taken. On my worst days, I spent hours tossing and turning in bed, desperately wishing I could go back in time and persuade myself to go to a cheaper school. I wished I had understood the gravity of what I was getting myself into, but I am the first child in my family to go to college, and neither my parents nor I truly understood the enormity of the debt I would be shouldering.

I felt suffocated, like I was barely treading water in a storm. I had already cut back in every aspect of my life—living at home with my mom, bringing lunch to work every day, switching to water after only one drink on a night out with friends—and it was barely a life I wanted to live. I couldn’t fathom finding a partner to join me in this misery because, ultimately, who would want to marry that burden?

I started to equate my self-worth with my net worth—and I was in the red.

I always knew dating in New York City was going to be hard. I had never been confident—I was self-conscious about my hips, my laugh, the way I rambled when nervous—and I often thought of a first date as Judgment Day. The few minutes before coming face-to-face with a man I had swiped into existence were always the worst; my heart would beat in my throat as I imagined him sizing me up, mentally comparing me with the person he had imagined me to be.

Being both single and in debt conjures anxiety like none other. You’re already at your most vulnerable while playing the field. Now mix in the possibility of rejection based on your financial situation. I started to equate my self-worth with my net worth—and I was in the red. If you’re worth what’s in your bank account, then I wasn’t just worth nothing. I was less than nothing.

I began to think, Why bother? I felt even if someone liked me for who I was, my finances would send him running. Choosing me meant hitching yourself to my debt—and why do that when someone with fewer financial complications was only a few swipes away?

It didn’t help that those fears had been confirmed. When I casually mentioned to the law student with dark olive skin and bright eyes that I had taken out loans for school, he had all but done a spit take. His eyes went wide and his head jerked back, as though the thought of anyone but your parents paying for college was ludicrous. “For journalism?” he asked. “Good luck ever paying those off!” He laughed, then took a swig of his beer, and a hot wave of shame washed over me. There was no fourth date.

Then there was the tall bass player sleeping on a mattress on a floor in Brooklyn who, despite all better judgment, I was very into. He hadn’t finished school and politely nodded when I broached the subject. In the moment, I felt relieved, but a week later, as I obsessively checked my phone for new messages and racked my brain for reasons he had gone silent, I couldn’t come up with anything other than my debt.

Sometimes the topic would surface naturally in conversation, which makes sense considering roughly one in four Americans are paying off student loans, averaging $28,800 nationally, after graduating. This happened on my second date with a charming physicist. He mentioned how many of his classmates had six figures’ worth of debt. He felt bad for them, he said, but he couldn’t relate. His grandparents had footed his bill. I swallowed hard as my stomach sank to my feet. This time, I didn’t bother bringing up my story; I already knew how this would end. Before we parted ways, we made plans to see each other that weekend, but after two restless nights, I canceled the date, using a canned excuse. “I’m just really trying to focus on work right now,” I said. “It’s not you; I’m just not ready for a relationship.”

Choosing me meant hitching yourself to my debt—and why do that when someone with fewer financial complications was only a few swipes away?

So, in September 2017, with a montage of these memories playing on a loop in my mind, I placed both sweaty palms on the table in front of me, looked into the eyes of the man I hoped to call my boyfriend, and said, “I have student debt. A lot of it.” He blinked once, twice, waiting for me to continue. When I didn’t, he cocked his head. “And … ?” he asked. I blurted: “Like, so much that I’ll probably be paying it off until I’m in my 60s.” He looked at me for a while longer, then shrugged his shoulders. “That blows, but you’ll get through it. You’re a motivated person.” And that was that. It didn’t come up again because he didn’t care. He didn’t like me any less. He didn’t disappear. We kept seeing each other until eventually we decided to date exclusively. My debt wasn’t the dealbreaker I had set it up to be.

Although my debt does come up when we plan for the future, it doesn’t seem like a liability; rather, it’s a challenge we’ll face together when the time comes to make big financial decisions. Since my debt-to-income ratio is skewed, we’ve discussed the possibility of leaving my name off the mortgage if we decide to buy a house. Although my debt is mine alone to pay back, he’s made it clear that I don’t have to weather the mental stress of it by myself.

Months after I bared all, he pointed out that I had gotten worked up for no reason. And that’s when it hit me: Worrying that my debt was making me undatable was what was actually making me undatable—not the debt itself. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that I was willing into existence by stressing about it. Looking back at each failed date, I see now that it’s a very strong possibility that I was letting my anxieties and the shame I felt when I thought of my debt color how I interpreted the way those men had reacted.

Unless I’m the recipient of some huge windfall, my debt is something I’ll have to hack away at slowly over time, not something that will change overnight. What I can change is the way I perceive it and how I let it affect the way I conduct my life. My net worth doesn’t define me; my actions, my personality, and the way I live my life do. Instead of being heavy baggage, the thing I let determine my dating life, it’s now just another part of who I am. Now, two years after that fated third date, I’ve stopped worrying about it so much. Instead, I focus that energy on the relationship I’m in with the man who sat across from me that night, the one who accepted me for who I was, debt and all.

 

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Phicklephilly – Business Development

My friend Keila (Keila – 2012 to Present – The Gaza Stripper) Who works with Alice at their IT recruiting firm knows so many people in the city. Her mom is friends with another Israeli woman who owns an Alcohol Education Institute here in the city. I know how that sounds. But it’s not what you think. The woman who owns it formerly owned over six bartending schools in the tri state area. After many successful years, she sold them all and now only has the one institute here in Philly.

Funny thing is, back in 2005 when I was working as a consultant for the financial industry, there were times when we weren’t working on a project. I decided to take a bartending course at a school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I had no idea at the time, but it was one of theirs!

They are the first center dedicated to training and empowering both sides of the bar: The bartender and the guest. The institute prides itself on teaching people the ” Joy of Alcohol”, and on working with the most creative and inspiring people in the bar industry.

From Flair Maestros to Sommeliers and Brewing Masters, their instructors are some of the most specialized mixologists in the Philadelphia area. Many of the instructors are members of the United States Bartending Guild (USBG) and compete nationwide in bartending competitions.

The institute teaches that alcohol is good.  They celebrate the rich history and virtues of spirits and educate bartenders and consumers alike to respect the trade, perfect the craft, and drink with joy.

They run a standard alcohol education program/bartending school, but they teach so much more than just the basics. When the students graduate from this school, they are probably better than most of the bartenders working in this city right now. They’ll even help them find a job!

They find jobs in multiple ways. One of the primary ways they find jobs is through their “Hire A Bartender” page on their website. They have also built connections with neighboring bars and managers in the industry who are interested in their students.  The third major way they gain jobs is by aggregating relevant job postings from different online sites. Afterwards, they get in contact with the manager to find out exactly what they are looking for and post a more detailed explanation on their Alumni page. The fourth way they do this is by requesting a dream list from each of their graduates.

From that dream list, they call every single place and give the requesting graduate the information for the jobs that are hiring.

Sweet, right? It’s the real deal, and I have known the family for about three years. They are all really nice and recently approached me to come work for them. It’s an exciting position. I am the VP of Business Development. My job is to procure liquor companies to sponsor their products and services in the institute. I am also in the process of pitching a “Bar Leadership Program” to casinos, hotels, and larger restaurant chains, to train their people to understand the bar business beyond the bar. How to manage a bar, manage a staff, create a menu, what beer and wine you’ll need to stock your bar, etc. It’s the next level course that can make bartenders into managers.

So this could be a great fun gig for me. I’m looking forward to getting back out there to promote this great institute.

 

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Sarika – Song of the Black Widow

God, she’s beautiful. I couldn’t find a stock picture on the internet to capture the delightful beauty of this girl. She is so pretty. Indian. Exotic. The type of beauty you’d almost pay for to be seen with at an event. She is probably one of the most beautiful women I know in Philly. But she recently reached out to me to come hang at a happy hour and a brand new place in Rittenhouse, called Scarpetta. Smith and Wolensky’s is gone and now that place is here. It’s in the Rittenhouse Hotel. She also mentioned that she wants me to come up to her apartment and check out her new place at the Dorchester. I am so glad I have reconnected with her. This vacuous she-devil is such a good character for this work. I am a huge fan of lovely Sarika.

I got to Scarpetta around 5:30. They’ve done a nice job with the place. It’s dark and intimate. The bar looks the same but they’ve opened up the place a bit. There’s only the one bar, but they have a lounge in the back and there is a dining room upstairs. I look around for Sarika but I don’t see her. I’m chatting with the manager and then I look out the window and see her walking towards the building.

Sarika looks amazing as always. We grab a couple of drinks at the bar and sit in this cool little area by ourselves near the window. Rittenhouse Square looks beautiful. It’s all decorated for the holidays.There are strings of bulbs in the trees and the whole park twinkle with light. She is having some sort of light pink beverage that I didn’t catch the name of, and I’m having the old-fashioned. Normally, cocktails are around fifteen dollars, but during happy hour they’re half price. So that’s something I can live with for now.

I ask her what she’s been up to and she says she’s been going on a lot of dates. Turns out that weasel she wanted to bring to my eighty dollar a plate New Years party last year has been gone for a while. I remember she was so into that guy. Apparently they were together off and on for two years. She says she wasted her best years on him and now she’s old. She’s 28! Come on Sarika, you are still but a child. She said he was a jerk to her and probably never loved her. I get her laughing, and start thinking that the black widow isn’t so bad after all. She may be smart as a whip, but she’s still a young woman navigating her way through love and life. I even joke that she probably has a blood-red hour-glass tattooed on her belly.

I do love pretty things, and she is no exception.

I tell her she looks great as always. She has been in some sunny destinations lately, so her skin is a darker brown than normal. I like it. It makes her look even more mysterious and exotic. I mention it and she immediately asks if I think it looks ugly. She always says things like that. She is so smart but so immature at the same time. She’s also a bit of a chatterbox. I think most men can’t handle that and don’t like a girl who talks too much. I don’t mind it. I like a girl who has things to say and experiences to share. I love to talk and entertain a woman, so it’s nice when I have a chatty girl so I don’t have to do all of the work. Women like a good listener and I grew up with three sisters. But what I can’t stand is what Carol used to do. Just babbling on nonstop like a tire spinning in the snow. (See: Carol 5/2014 to 8/2016 – There’s No Fun In Dysfunction)

I once read that women speak up to 20,000 words a day, compared to men, who speak only 12,000. So when we get home…We’re done!

It is puzzling how a woman this strikingly beautiful can’t keep a man. But the more you’re around her the more it makes sense. She says she’s been finding men on an app called J Swipe. It’s like Tinder for Jews. I asked her why that app? She said Jewish men normally appreciate women more, have good jobs, and have money. Sounds like she’s hunting for a husband. I think one of the challenges Sarika is facing is that she may be viewed more as a conquest. A creature to be captured and checked off of some list, because she’s so beautifully exotic.

She said she went out with a guy on Monday and even had a date with a pilot after our happy hour. So I assume I won’t be getting a tour of that gorgeous apartment in her building tonight. Sarika has a very busy life. She travels a great deal for her job as a scientist. I know she was formerly an engineer, but now I guess she’s a scientist. She makes great money and spends her other free time hopping on planes and taking little trips. It sounds like a fun life with all of the dating, and jet setting vacations, but it almost seems like she doesn’t want to be alone in her apartment. She’s crazy dating now. It’s good that she’s getting out there and meeting people after two years wasted with weasel man. But again, I can see men wanting her because she’s so beautiful, but she’s kind of annoying to talk to for any length of time. So if they get the opportunity to sleep with her they may not stick around.

Sarika is very intelligent and a nerd. I have taken her to Science after Hours at the Franklin Institute in the past. She loved it like a child. We went to see Jurassic World last summer, and Guardians of the Galaxy is her favorite movie. If my friend Duncan finds that up he’ll probably move up here from North Carolina. You would think guys would find that hot. A pretty girl who likes guy stuff and sci-fi, but it hasn’t worked. Maybe one of these many men that she is meeting for dates, will be rich and just marry her as a trophy wife. But sadly, people are funny about race in this country. They may want to sleep with a hot girl, but they may not want to bring and Indian woman back home to meet the family. I personally I have nothing against it. If you have been reading this blog, you know I love all different kinds of women. As Hank Moody says in the show Californication, “I got all your albums. I love you all and you and you included, Sarika.”

My buddy Church shows up at Scarpetta. I’m happy to see him. Once Sarika  goes on her date at One Tippling Place up the street, he and I can go to Square 1682 and have a drink. Church knows everybody in the restaurant and bar business in this town, so when he orders a drink and the server brings it over, she says, “This one is on Nathan.” He’s the GM there so Church got the hook up. I get another drink, but Sarika is only having the one so she doesn’t show up drunk for her date at 7:00.

While I was waiting at the bar to get my drink, Church chatted with Sarika. I was a little glad that it took the bartender a little time to get to me and make my drink. Normally I don’t like that, but I thought it would give Church a chance to talk to Sarika.

I get back to our little area by the window. We all chat a bit more. Sarika has to go soon, so she heads back to the ladies room. Church tells me she wouldn’t stop talking and it was driving him crazy. He’s been on edge lately, and listening to Sarika go on about something was annoying him. He said something to the effect, “I wanted to put a gun in my mouth.” He said she is so vacuous and self-absorbed and all she talked about was herself.

He once said that about another attractive girl who talked a lot. He was in a car with her and she was talking non stop and he said, “I wanted to leap right out of the car while it was going 70 miles per hour down the highway.”

Sarika returns, and I put her coat on for her. I tell her I will pay for the one drink she had. She tells me she’ll get me next time. I give her a kiss on the cheek good-bye and she’s off. I get the bill for my two old-fashioneds and her dainty drink. It should come to over $22 plus tax. I look at it and it’s only $15. So I got the hookup because I was with Church.

Dude certainly has the power.

I think next we’ll do a happy hour with my friend Carly.  So the night went well and again without incident.

So maybe my pretty little arachnid is finally growing up.

I love Sarika. She is beautiful, and I enjoy her company, if nobody else does, and I can’t wait to see her again.

(Oh… and if you’ve somehow found this and other stories Sarika, I’ll understand if you cut me off. The truth always hurts more than fiction)

 

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Rebecca – Chapter 3 – Dark Wings of Destiny

Another tale of one man’s journey navigating his way through the dating scene in Philadelphia.

Rebecca was right next to me. I could feel the energy. I felt really close to her. “The city is so beautiful” she said. She turned to me. “You are” I replied.

And that’s when our lips met. My Lord. I’m too old for this. Wait…no I’m not. I kissed her. Her lips were soft as she yielded to me. She folded into me like an old friend. It was just like I just stepped off stage at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and she loved the song that I had written about her. I was ageless in that moment. Overcome. Beautiful. This can’t be happening but it is. Her lips are sweet and a little sticky. Minty. Human.

Her pupils were so big, it’s like her eyes were black instead of green. Her cheeks flushed and she giggled. I gently brushed her dark hair from her face and behind her ear. She slipped from me and cocked her head. It was as if she were trying to see me in a different way. “Let’s go look at some more stuff” she said, smiling. All I could hear was Midnight Moses playing in my head by the Dead Daisies. 

We continued to wander though the museum. Just going from room to room. I was making her laugh a lot about some things because that’s what I do. I think at this point it was more nerves than game. I was smitten. I’m like a child at this point. I really am. I’m just amazed to be alive at this moment.  But this is the old me. The new, old me. I shouldn’t follow this path.

We went into this one room and the whole room is art in architecture. Glorious big rooms that are incredible and opulent. We are looking around the room and I’m behind her and she just leans back into me, and she is again in my arms. Is it the art? Is it me? It can’t be me. This is nuts, but the euphoria is glorious. I love this. This is my favorite part of everything. The beginning. Ignition. I’ve always been this way, much to the disappointment of the women in my life. But for right now I am living in this moment. None of this makes any sense but I am mainlining this feeling. She turns in my arms and nuzzles her lips and nose to mine. Her eyes are smokey and dark. Lashes flash and she smiles. She looks deeply into my eyes. Rebecca pulls me into her world and kisses me again.

And again…

There was a moment when we were sitting in one of the galleries and she was so excited by a work of art she grabbed my hand. She clasped it tightly in both of her hands as she described her passion for the work.  It was one of my favorites as well. The couple coming home from the carnival. I feel her soft hand clasp mine. She’s holding my hand in her lap. Dopamine drops and I am blind. The work was beautiful. But, I could no longer see it. It was gone. As was I. All I could feel in that moment was the back of my hand against Rebecca’s warm thigh.

I think we were at the PMA for 3 maybe 4 hours. I have no sense of time at this point with Rebecca. If I never hear from her again, I’m okay. This was a special sacred moment that I can wrap myself up in tonight. It’ll be just like waking up from a beautiful dream.

Obviously we did get around to inquiries. Being overwhelmed by beauty and art only lasts so long. I asked he why she is on Tinder. She said that she wanted to meet someone good. Someone that understood her and liked the things she liked. She told me at her age her friends aren’t really friends at all. They are just a bunch of young fools that smoke a bunch of weed and get drunk all of the time. She has ambition and wants to make something of herself. (she did seem really mature while we were texting) She told me she kind of went on Tinder to try. She gave me an example of a conversation she had with a boy her age recently. They were chatting and she asked him what he was looking for and he said he’d like to have some fun. When she asked him to define “fun” he sent her a photo of his genitals. That is some sad textbook shit right there. She explained to me that as an emergency room nurse, she gets her fill of seeing plenty of junk on a regular basis. “I don’t want to see his dick. I saw 5 dicks today and I had to put a catheter in and 85-year-old dick today”

My unblinking response: Okay…..okay…

She said she met another guy. She loved his mind and political views and he was just a really smart guy. She thought maybe her love of his mind and heart would translate into sex but she just wasn’t lit when they kissed. Women know. It’s either on in their minds and bodies or it’s not. Sadly boys, men do not have this ability. She said she went on 4 dates with him and it was done. He was divorced and really into his kids, I think she said they were 16 and 19. He wanted to have her over and they were going to have dinner with the gang, and it all seemed weird because the teens were a little uncomfortable with their 54-year-old father bringing over a girl who was only 4 years older than the 19-year-old son.

Fuck.  I’m jaded as hell and I hate that story. But it really came down to the fact that there was no chemistry. And that’s critical because I have made that kind of lightening strike twice in the same place in the last decade. But what I noticed was she liked him but just wasn’t feeling the intimacy when they kissed. It just wasn’t there. She said she really liked him as a man and tried to keep the friendship going but he realized there was no fire so he withdrew. He has since moved on and even recently married.

So is this chick into older men? I suppose so because she is so bright and mature in her head. She’s got the brain of Emily Dickenson and the body of Vanessa Hudgens.

What am I supposed to do with that?  I never saw any of this coming when I started this blog. I thought I would be just writing about my experiences with women here in Philly over the last 10 years and this curve ball blindsided me.

She told me her dad is a big guy who is from New York and he’s a caricature of a New Yorker. Works for the railroad. Her uncle travels the world and sounds like a cool guy that works and makes enough money and then moves to the Philippines and lives like a king for a year and then does it again somewhere else. That sounds awesome. I don’t have the freedom to do that but if I did you know I’d be there in Thailand risking arrest every year until I die. But I digress…

We wander back to the first floor and are nearing the exit. She validates her parking because apparently she is a member of the museum which I find super cool. We walk out the door and go to the elevator to the parking garage. I didn’t know the PMA had this. It must be new.  I walk her to her car. It’s dusty and blue. We do the perfunctory statement. I like you. I want to see you again. But those words are hollow. I think I may never see her again. This all seems so unreal. I have not felt this in years. Please don’t let this happen again. But I want the drug of love. Not love. Just the drug. I feel like a helpless addict.

She looks up at me under the flourescent lights of the stark concrete shapeless parking garage. Her green eyes flash in the light like pale emeralds. She runs her hands through her thick mane of dark hair. I watch as it tumbles back to her shoulders through her fingers. Her neatly manicured fingernails. The lean muscles in her arms. She smiles. Sort of a sly, half-smile. Like she knows something about me that I haven’t revealed. I think she senses it in my eyes. I smile and try to clear that. But she sees me. It’s unsettling. She places her petite hands together likes she’s praying, and then spreads them and reaches for me. Her hands hit my shoulders and pull me toward her. She kisses me. The kiss is deep and wet. Her tongue swirls. I am lost in this sensous moment.

But just for a moment.

Rebecca: “I like you. The Fringe Festival is happening soon. Can we go to something?”

You all know my answer.

She places her foot against the door and adjusts her shoe. I steal a glance at her well turned leg. She lingers on the laces of her sneaker. It’s taking too long. It’s as if she wants to remind me of what I like. She knows. She’s reading me. Come on. Nobody can do that. Maybe it’s all in my head, but her legs are exquisite and she knows she has touched the beyond.

She drives away and I am back on the street behind the museum. No fish fell from the sky. I order an UBER. He arrives in 8 minutes and I am on my way back to Rittenhouse. I am sitting in the back of the Toyota Avalon and my mind is reeling. I need to hold it together. He’s lost for some reason and I have to guide the driver home. I get out and realize I haven’t eaten in over 8 hours. I stop at my local corner shop and order a slice to go. I get back to the bat cave and text her.

“Home safe. Had a lovely evening with you.”

Crickets.

Panic.

“I was just about to text you the same thing! See you soon! XOXO- Rebecca”

We’ll just have to see how this one plays out. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but if it goes well,  I will be getting airbags installed in the headboard of my bed.

Old habits die hard.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every Monday at 9am EST.

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I publish new Dating content every Monday at 9am EST. I publish Updates and bios and stories about Non-Dating related characters, such as male and female friends, on TuesdaysWednesdays at 9am EST.