“I’ve been thinking about buying my own place,” an ex once whispered just as I was about to fall asleep. “Oh, are you going to move outside of London, then?” was my natural response. This is one of the most expensive cities in the world, especially when it comes to buying property, after all. “No, I’m very lucky, I’ve got an inheritance that would cover a deposit here.”
For the first time since meeting him a few months earlier, I instantly felt inadequate. He had money I didn’t know about. He was about to own property. He was doing better than me. And even though we were cosy in my bed in my lovely rented room in my beloved shabby-chic flat, I felt he had the upper hand.
But this wasn’t the first time I’d felt like this while talking about homeownership with somebody I was dating.
Thanks to choosing a low-paid career (should really have studied law), having a terrible relationship with money, and not having a Bank of Mum and Dad, homeownership still feels years off for 31-year-old me. But I see all my friends buying their first homes and, naturally, I compare myself to them, thinking they are better people who made wiser decisions. I do wonder if potential partners see this as my biggest failure, too.
When I step back and look at the wider picture, I can see this is an unhealthy way of thinking. I know that 95% of my homeowning friends had help from their parents and grandparents, or bought with their partners (hello couple privilege). But, despite the ongoing gender pay gap and a national debt crisis that affects millennial women the most, “owning a home” is just another thing we’re still expected to do by the time we reach 30, right?
So it came as no surprise when a new study by CIA Landlord recently revealed that Tinder users who specify that they own a property in their profile receive 57% more matches than those who don’t. According to the research, women who own a home receive 7% more matches than women who don’t. And, it suggests that women get 900% more messages than men about homeownership.
So, how much does homeownership really affect men’s and women’s attitudes towards dating?
When I put this to my 33-year-old homeowning single friend Ellie* (who lives in a gorgeous Edinburgh flat), she coloured in the stats for me, saying: “Yeah, it does come up. I don’t have ‘own home’ on my profile but guys often ask if I do because I live alone, so it’s likely because it’s generally cheaper to have a mortgage than rent if you can afford that first downpayment. I also speak to a lot of men who say ‘I’m about to buy somewhere’ as if it’s as easy as buying new underwear.
“But admittedly, I spent so much time and money on doing my flat up that, if someone lived in a student-style flatshare, I probably would find it difficult to date them. I think we’re allowed to be a bit snobby: I’m an adult who makes her own money and I want to live somewhere nice and to share that with someone who lives their own nice life too.”
For my 32-year-old fellow private-renting friend Pip* in Leeds, she says she doesn’t care about homeownership, but there is one red flag to look out for: “I don’t like it when they’re like ‘own home!’ on profiles. I just think that isn’t how I measure someone. Owning a home is not a replacement for a personality. Maybe it’s because I don’t own a home. But you just never know what’s happened: they might have got an inheritance to buy a place or their parents have given them money. So that’s why I try not to judge either way.
“That said, even though I share my house with a friend, I’ll admit that if a guy was in a 10-person house share, I would be a bit like ‘eek’ because I wouldn’t want to be in that environment.”
After chatting with friends, it seems to me that a person looks for someone in the same living situation as they are in, or for a reflection of what situation they want to be in.
Match’s dating expert Hayley Quinn gave her insight on why we might feel this way: “By the time we are in our 30s we can become chronically aware of how our lives are no longer on the same paths as others in our peer group. Some people will be homeowners, some parents, and others not even close to any of those traditional milestones. Unlike our younger footloose years, being over 30 will mean you have different expectations of dating. Suddenly that go-with-the-flow attitude that you previously looked for may start to change as you begin craving someone who can seem to offer more stability.
“If you are the homeowner, it might mean that you’re looking for someone who is on the same ‘level’ as you to move forwards with. Homeownership may seriously affect our dating criteria so it’s important to give it as much thought as we would on other topics such as marriage and kids.”
She adds: “We all know that what really counts in relationships are our values. However, when we don’t have material wealth it can negatively impact self-image. You only need to take one scroll through Instagram to find yourself believing that everyone is hugely successful, except for you. Particularly by our 30s, the dividing lines can start to appear in our peer groups. Some people who had parental help (or a better ability to save) will be picking out wallpaper, others will be stuck in a rental vortex. This can be particularly tough on singles at this age, who already may feel like they’re missing the boat on being coupled up and starting a family…
“If you find yourself feeling your self-worth is sliding alongside your bank balance, please remember these aren’t easy times, and the right partner for you really is going to value all your other qualities that you bring to the table.”
Personal responsibility coach Nat Rich also shared some sound advice for people concerned about financial imbalances in new relationships: “Adulting, as I like to call it, isn’t easy. We avoid it like the plague because it makes us feel stressed and not good enough if we are not on top of it all. Doing a deep dive into your spending habits, sharing your financial history with your partner and even just allowing another person to see how you spend your money can be daunting.
“We can often feel judged and ‘less than’ in some way. These feelings can attach to other areas we may not feel confident in and add to the pressure of our life. This is also where we start to compare ourselves to others. We can get jealous of those who seem to have it all together and we can get short and snappy with our partners when they ask us the most simple of questions. This can play havoc in any relationship old or new but more deeply it plays havoc on our nervous system which can bring on all sorts of health issues.
Nat continues: “If our head is in the sand about our finances then no matter who asks questions related to it, we will find it triggers us. Being willing to face our financial faux pas head on brings us a level of confidence when other people start to ask us questions. You are also not the only person with financial worries so sharing all with someone in the same situation will take the pressure off and leave you feeling truly seen and accepted regardless of what’s in the bank.
She also adds an important point that, ultimately, anyone should remember regardless of their living and financial situations: “We should not be dating partners based on how much money they have.”
Although I know these words are so true, the comparison culture we live in will inevitably continue to make it hard for me to live my life – at my own pace and within my means – without feeling like I’m being judged. But perhaps what I’ve realised I am my own biggest judge, and that’s the relationship I really need to work on first.
*Names changed at contributor’s request