The problem with financially ‘dating up’

Written by Leah Sinclair

With #datingup amassing 4.9 million views on TikTok and #datingrich gaining over 6.8 million views, there is a growing trend for women openly seeking out men with money  and it’s worth discussing.

If you’re an avid social media user, you’ll know there are conversations that come up again and again on your feed – and the rules of dating are one of them. 

From first date etiquette to red flags, scrolling through Twitter or TikTok is always a minefield of dos, don’ts and never-ending debates – and there’s an emerging discussion around what it means to “date up” financially that has particularly piqued my interest.

“Dating up” can be described as being focused on landing dates and a potential partner who is wealthier than you are, and it’s an idea that’s gaining traction online. The hashtag has over4.9 million views on TikTok, while #datingrich has over 6.8 million views on the platform.

From TikToks on “places to find a rich man” to “how to get a rich man to notice you” (yes, really), the discussion around dating for money, which has historically been frowned upon, has shifted, with women loudly proclaiming that dating a man with money is their number one priority.

“Dating up is a trope as old as time,” says Hayley Quinn, a dating expert for Match. “This can be because [women] associate wealth with safety, are looking for a good provider, or are attracted to the idea of a high-key lifestyle that they see celebrities on social media indulge in. It might also be because some women feel they’re financially stable so would only consider dating someone who is a significant plus to their life. However, like all things, not everything is as it appears on the surface.”

Quinn says social media plays a significant role in this increase in popularity. “Social media presents a glossy version of what relationships could look like. Even shows like Love Island feed into the idea that the perfect relationship should be rewarded with wealth and status.”

Interestingly,  though, this shift stretches far beyond TikTok. You may have heard of the website Seeking Arrangement, a dating platform that launched in 2006 and is historically associated with sugar dating, which has been described as “a relationship where an older, wealthier person secures an intimate relationship from a younger, financially struggling person through money, lavish dates, vacations and other gifts”. 

Earlier this year, the platform rebranded as simply Seeking in an effort to reframe the way women (and men) view its service. Emma Hathorn, a dating expert for Seeking, told Stylist that they found many people who were using the site were not using it for sugar dating, with members instead using the platform to “try and find aspirational relationships”.

“We found people were more focused on wanting to elevate their lives and put themselves first [rather than engage in transactional relationships]. It almost cuts out the time-wasters and takes you directly to exactly what you want in life,” she says.

But as the idea of dating up goes mainstream, how helpful is centring your dating criteria around materialistic wealth, particularly when it can often fuel a power imbalance in a relationship?

“It makes the dating pool incredibly small and it closes you off to many incredible people who on paper it may seem like you’re ‘dating down’ but they are young and have lots of potential to earn more money in the future,” says Hannah Witton, a sex and relationships YouTuber and author. “Money and careers become the focal point of dating which,while that can be practical, removes a lot of the joy, romance and excitement of just getting to know a person.”

Not to mention, focusing purely on the financial circumstances of your potential partner can blind you to other key characteristics to consider when dating. “In the midst of a cost of living crisis, money is undoubtedly helpful. However, the most important thing to remember is that financial success doesn’t make someone a great partner,” she notes. “In fact, someone may look great on paper: a high-flying career, nice home, well dressed etc but that doesn’t equate to being a good match for you.”

Buying into the concept of dating up also leaves you open to a power imbalance, as the financial power your partner holds over you can manifest in other aspects of your life and how you navigate that relationship.

“If you’re equating a partner’s financial success to desirability, you may feel disempowered in your relationship to them, particularly finding it hard to advocate for yourself and feeling a burden on you to ‘keep’ them,” warns Quinn. 

Tina Wilson, a relationship expert and founder of the dating app Wingman, agrees. “By seeking ‘status and freedom’ by dating up, it can also restrict and impose subconscious limitations on you in the long run if the relationship lasts the course.”

There are, however, those who argue that the honesty involved in declaring you’re only interested in dating up is, in fact, empowering. “All you need is high standards and sticking to your boundaries,” commented one TikTok user on a video about what one woman learned while dating wealthy men, while another said: “I like that more women are intentionally going for what they want regardless of what society tells them they should or shouldn’t prioritise.”

The dichotomy between the cost of living crisis and the constant glamorisation of material wealth on social media means we are living in pretty odd times. There’s a never-ending pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ while dealing with a very real national crisis and this may play a role in some women’s decisions to date up – but ultimately, pushing this trend is misguided.

“Anyone going into any relationship should have conversations about money and attitudes to money,” concludes Witton. “And everyone in that relationship (especially women in relationships with men) should have what author Paulette Perhach calls a ‘Fuck Off Fund’ – money that is entirely your own and you have access to so if need be, you can exit a relationship and have enough money to support yourself.”

And that, in the end, will feel far more empowering than dating up ever could. 

Image: Getty

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