The economic downturn has taken a particularly hard toll on young adults. College has become a prerequisite for many careers but scholarship money is scarce (just 35% of students received a scholarship in 2012, down from 45% in the previous year) and tuition has skyrocketed, allowing the collective student debt in the U.S. to outpace all other kinds of debt. When you couple that with a dismal job market that has left 50% of grads unemployed, the average debt of $20,000 that many new grads carry becomes a serious financial stumbling block both today and decades down the line. It may stunt careers, push back major life events, and even make retirement harder to achieve.
Unfortunately, student debt has also taken a toll on more mundane aspects of everyday life, like dating. Large amounts of debt, which are increasingly common for college grads, can be an impediment to meeting someone new, sustaining a relationship, and even getting married down the line. Here, we share some of the ways the student debt crisis is impacting the social lives and relationships of young adults, which can make dealing with financial woes even harder for many who feel like they’re going it alone.
- Hefty debt can turn off potential mates.
As unfair as it might be, debt may limit the number of potential mates indebted young adults have to choose from in the dating pool. Many singles don’t want to get into a serious relationship with, let alone marry, someone who carries tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And you can’t really blame them, as many in-debt grads will be paying off debt for the rest of their lives. That’s a tough thing to ask someone else to take on. Additionally, loan payments can drain savings, make it difficult to buy a home, and create financial stress that can be damaging to a relationship and may even increase the likelihood of divorce, something not everyone is willing to live with, even to be with someone they truly care about.
- Money trouble equals relationship stress.
The financial stress that heavy debt puts on an individual can carry over and start causing problems in a relationship, too. Fights over who is paying for what, how money should be spent, or whether it should be spent at all can start to take a serious toll on the stability of any relationship. In fact, studies have shown that the number of financial disagreements a couple has is a key indicator of the long-term success of their union. For many, the stress of everyday finances is enough to have to manage in a relationship without adding tens of thousands of dollars in student debt on top of that.
- Bigger loan payments means less money for going out.
Student debt doesn’t just hang over existing relationships; it can also keep those in debt from meeting potential mates in the first place. More money going toward loan payments and other debt-related concerns means less money for going out on dates, meeting up with friends, participating in sports or hobbies, or even joining an online dating site. That might not seem like a big deal, but for many, it can be a serious roadblock to finding a relationship and a rude awakening after leaving the college dating scene.
- Marriages are being put on hold.
The average wedding in the U.S. costs more than $27,000, according to information gathered by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. That’s not chump change for most couples and those without the means to foot that hefty bill may simply put off getting married, or just not get married at all. Loan payments and student debt don’t help matters, leaving less to save each month and forcing many to put off plans to get married indefinitely. Putting off plans for commitment may change relationship dynamics, and for those who don’t want to live together before marriage, may put some serious stress on both parties. Some may not even want to date an individual who isn’t prepared financially to get married a few years down the line.
- Many are forced to live at home, which puts a damper on dating.
Even if your parents are pretty laid back about you living at home, there’s no doubt that it makes things a bit awkward when it comes to dating. Meeting parents may come a whole lot sooner in the dating process and having a boyfriend or girlfriend spend the night can feel a little weird with mom and dad in the next room. And that doesn’t even begin to address the stigma that exists in the U.S. for young adults who live with their parents, which despite becoming more common is still a turn off for many who are looking for someone who is more financially independent.
- Dating is pretty difficult for the unemployed or underemployed.
College grads are entering one of the worst job markets in history, and with nearly half unemployed or underemployed, it’s becoming increasingly common for those in the dating pool to be out of work or unable to support themselves. While some may have sympathy for this, there’s no arguing that it isn’t exactly viewed as a plus to potential dating partners, many of whom might see being unemployed as a pretty glaring negative. Pair that with loads of college debt and living at home and you’ve got the perfect recipe for scaring off most potential partners.
- Debt carries a stigma.
You aren’t what you owe, but sometimes it can certainly feel like debt is one of the most important parts of who you are, especially in the dating world where hefty debt can carry an equally heavy stigma. People often make assumptions about a person’s goals, impulse control, or grasp on money matters based on the level of debt they carry. While not always fair, you can’t always blame them, as some students have made better investments with their college educations than others. Even with student loan debt becoming more common, it’s unlikely that the stigma associated with it will go away anytime soon, leaving many wondering how to approach the topic in the dating world.
- Debt poses some tricky questions when dating.
When you know that your financial situation won’t make you attractive to other singles, it can be hard to decide when to tell them about your financial dire straits. Do you come out up front about it or wait until you’ve got an established relationship? And what if the object of your affection also carries a lot of debt? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The reality is that there aren’t any easy answers, and the prevalence of high student debt (and unemployment) has only added another layer of complexity to the dating world, which may leave many getting a much later start on major life events like marriage or starting a family, things that could have a ripple effect for decades to come.