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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Nigel – Brand Ambassador

I was working for alcohol based magazine a few years ago. I sold advertising into the publication. They had been around for about three years.

We would attend these events to meet representatives from different brands. We hoped it would lead to more advertising. There was this one guy, that had a big presence, and a booming voice. His presentations for the products he was representing were always lively and interesting. My boss at the time told me that he was someone I should meet. Which I proceeded to do.

I met with him on several occasions. I could tell he genuinely wanted to help me. He knew everybody in the industry. You couldn’t walk in place without someone talking to him. He started inviting me out to events. I remember once I was out pounding the pavements and he saw me. He got out of his car, popped his trunk and handed me a bottle of Black Grouse. No reason at all. “You’re always out here working.” He said.

He’s given me so many great bottles of booze as gifts. And again, he does it for no reason. Real giving. He’ll just hand you a fifth of something because he likes you.

I remember two years ago when I was struggling with my then girlfriend, (Future series: Annabelle) Annabelle was younger that I was, and just giving me fits because she was being a selfish asshole. Or as I call it, ‘a girl in her twenties’. We we’re at some meeting, and Nigel pulls me aside, and says: “I can see you’re suffering. Let’s get out of here.”

We get in his car and he drives me down to a gentleman’s club on Columbus Blvd. He ordered me food, and said as long as I drank the brand he was representing, it was free! He handed me a $20 and sent me in the back with a pretty dancer for a private lap dance. Like I said before, I’m not really into the whole lap dance thing, but the whole experience was so thoughtful and really cheered me up. I made up with Annabelle the next day, by the way. But that’s just how Nigel is. If he has it, he’ll always share it with you.

We’ve grown close over the last few years. He lives out in Westchester, which isn’t near Philly, but whenever he’s in town working, we’ll meet up. We have confided in each other when we were struggling with different things life has hurtled at us. Employment. Wife stuff. Ex-wife stuff. People we’ve met. Things that have happened. We’ve been there for each other to talk whoever is on the ledge down from it.

Nigel has a good heart. He’s a very generous and decent man. He has been married for over 8 years and I think he’s known his wife even longer than that. Sometimes he gets a little hot about people being assholes, but who doesn’t?   I wanted to introduce Church to you all because he will be making several ongoing appearances in this story.

Did I mention that he’s awesome?

 

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