How I realised it was OK to date a man less educated than I am

SELEANA BINES
Last updated 11:01 25/07/2017
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Does it really matter if one of you is more educated than the other?

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OPINION: As I drove up to a fancy evening event, I locked eyes with a handsome security guard.

"Good morning," he said. "It's evening," I said with a smile.

I found comfort in the nervousness that caused his slip-up - it mirrored my own. This gave me the gumption to inquire about his relationship status and ask for his phone number. The bold act was out of character for me, and I second-guessed it immediately.

He must've sensed my internal struggle and asked me to text him, so that he could have my phone number. I did. It was simply, "This is Seleana."

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Within four minutes from my initial text, I received a response: "Your smile made my 'morning.' " I laughed and made the decision to get to know Greg.

We've now been dating for six months, and the same lightheartedness and ease transcends all aspects of our relationship, while previous ones at times seemed more competitive than compassionate.

It wasn't just the pickup that was atypical - this security guy was also not my typical love interest. The men I previously dated tended to have graduate degrees and hold prominent positions, one with a senior-level position at the US Department of Defense, one a Harvard-graduate psychiatrist and another a Harvard-graduate education administrator.

Greg holds an associate degree, and I hold a master's. I didn't think that I'd be open to dating someone with less education, but I've found my compatible, marriage-minded partner in Greg. He has challenged my personal biases, which led me to associate educational attainment with socioeconomic achievement and intellectual ability.

When I drove into that garage, I chose to prioritise compatible characteristics over social status - and found a new entryway into dating.

My inclination proved to be the right approach. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 33 per cent more women graduated from American colleges than men in 2012. The US Department of Education expects this figure to increase to 47 per cent by 2023.

Jon Birger, author of Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, believes this disparity heightens the competition among women for college-educated men. In his book, he recommends "dating and marrying across socioeconomic lines - 'mixed-collar marriages' - as an approach for college educated women to find love."

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PASSIVE APPROACH

I used to not have to worry about such things - I was married and living in Portland, Maine, US, where my husband was stationed in the Navy. But 12 years ago, I made the decision to leave my marriage.

I was a Southern girl with strong family values and parents who made their marriage work by any means necessary. Single motherhood was never part of my plan. But with my newborn baby girl in my arms, I hopped on a plane to the Washington area, where my parents had planted roots two years prior. The area also provided more professional opportunities in public relations, which I studied at the University of Florida.

In the years after my divorce, I took a passive approach to dating. I was taught that a Southern girl always allowed men to pursue.

I prioritised my daughter, my career and self-discovery, in my mind placing our lives on a trajectory that would provide stability, and even some good times, in our future. I found it easy to justify placing dating on the back burner.

Besides, with my "husband list" saved in my iPhone - it included things like "spiritual, loves kids, financially stable (education), confident, respectful and healthy" - the Southern girl in me (still) believed that I'd recognise "the one" upon meeting him.

In college, my friends and I always thought we would marry someone with a degree, like us. We didn't realise we would come up against a man deficit.

Dating came easy for me. Finding men who were serious about commitment and marriage was not. The college-educated men I've dated did not have marriage on the forefront of their life plan, which I attribute to both the man deficit and hookup culture.

Without fully grasping the statistical significance of this deficit, which I found out about after meeting Greg, I knew that I had to make a few adjustments to my approach in dating.

It was time to adjust my non-negotiable husband list.

TIME FOR A NEW PROFILE?

Greg allayed my fear of a relationship with someone with less college education. He has always been transparent regarding his intentions. We attended church together, as friends, within a week of knowing each other. Three weeks later, he asked me to date him exclusively. Two months later he met my parents and my daughter. I met his mother and his daughter, and we are now discussing marriage with premarital counselling scheduled.

I did not find this simplicity in my previous relationships, where there was inconsistent communication. Conversations in other relationships did not focus on building and growing as a couple, but on whom we knew and where we worked, with an unspoken rule that certain topics were off-limits.

A misconception I had in dating a man with less formal education was that he would be less financially stable. But Greg is ambitious and financially savvy.

In addition to working in security, he also owns a small business. Understanding that money is a leading cause of divorce, Greg and I have read personal finance books together and have reviewed each other's credit reports and financials.

He at first believed that college should be optional for our children. His perspective has evolved, and we both agree that our children should at least obtain their bachelor's degrees. Greg may be an outlier, but studies show that college graduates earn 56 per cent more than high school graduates.

Being open to dating mixed-collar doesn't equate to settling. Core values are non-negotiable, and I share those with Greg. He is marriage-minded, spiritual, hard-working, family oriented and meets all the other items I described in my "husband list."

Perhaps it's time to adjust your filter settings on your dating profiles.

- The Washington Post

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