Dating & Love: Is Debt a Deal-Breaker?

7 years ago

My friend C had a secret love that was destroying her relationships. That love went by the name of Marc Jacobs.

"Confessions of a Shopoholic was basically my life," she told me. After years of stocking her closet with the latest must-have shoes, clothes, bags and jewelry, she amassed more than $20,000 in debt.

Her college boyfriend wasn't pleased. He was planning to go to medical school one day. But if he wanted to be with C, he knew he'd have to be with her credit card bills, too.

The guy she dated after that dropped subtle warnings. "He said he had been with a girl in debt before, and it didn't work out," she explained. "Debt was never the reason for my break-ups, but it was part of it."

Credit card cut into mulitple pieces beside scissors, close-up

These days, debt is all too common, with or without the Barneys Card. Student loans, car payments and unforeseen expenses, mixed with the general disaster that is the economy, have left millions of Americans in the red. And people are finding that as their credit score flounders, so do their love lives.

The New York Times recently reported on the correlation between debt and relationship woes, and the findings aren't very shocking. (In a nutshell: mo' debt, mo' problems.) But the questions the story raises are thought-provoking:
"At what point do you have a moral obligation to disclose your indebtedness during courtship? On the eighth date? When you get to third base? In your eHarmony online dating profile?"
"If one person brings a huge debt to a relationship, who is ultimately responsible for making good on the obligation? And if it’s $170,000, isn’t the more solvent partner going to resent that debt over time no matter how early the disclosure comes?"

I recently got married and while we fortunately do not have debt, I am feeling the weight of being part of a "financial unit." With every purchase I make, even the smaller things, I now must consider my husband. I can only imagine the stress debt would add. We know we're not immune to the possibility of future debt either. For us, planning and communication are key.  
Tell me: In romantic relationships, is debt a deal-breaker? Is that fair? Have you ever had to reveal a major debt to a potential mate? When in the courtship did you share the information? What was the reaction?

By the way, C is now proudly debt-free, thanks in part to her current boyfriend, who helped her stay motivated as she went on a year-long shopping fast and picked up a second job.  

"Now we're saving for our future," she said.

Michelle Woo is the creator of Woo!, a blog about fashion, design, weddings, events -- whatever makes her say, "Woo!"

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