Love in the Time of Taxes

Taxes may be one of life’s two certainties, but what we admit to each other about our April returns is a far murkier issue. In this jaded city, it’s downright banal to regale a cocktail party with an account of your coke-fueled three-way or hipster orgy, but raise the subject of personal finances and even the exhibitionists clam up. Money might be the last dirty little secret among New York daters. And it’s not surprising, considering that a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 79 percent of people think underreporting on your taxes is morally wrong. In fact, tax fraud came in a close second only to infidelity (88 percent) as far as no-nos go. For comparison’s sake: 67 percent frowned on “drinking excessively,” and only 50 percent gave pot-smoking a thumbs-down. Turns out the IRS has more boosters than the “just say no” brigade.

So how far does this morality go? Would typically open-minded New Yorkers end a relationship over an infidelity to Uncle Sam? It’s certainly a real fear; most people we talked to wouldn’t reveal their returns until a relationship was well under way.

“In general, I make it a habit to keep my financial information undisclosed as much as possible, even with a very close partner,” says Tom, a 28-year old consultant in Brooklyn whose financial philosophy includes “taking advantage of opportunities, when presented.” And while Kel, a 40-year-old elementary-school teacher in New Jersey, thinks “it’s a given that we all shave a little bit here or there to lessen the burden,” he wouldn’t share his tax history until he was sharing finances with a partner. Kristina, a 40-year-old singer, would wait until she was considering an engagement before fessing up: “If you get married, your debt to the IRS or in general becomes the partner’s problem as well. If you really love someone, you come clean.”

With tax fraud, the condemnation isn’t across the board, but rather on a sliding scale. It’s one thing if a billionaire is seriously embezzling, but another if an underpaid, overworked schoolteacher bends the tax code a little. Infidelity, on the other hand, is considered flat-out wrong.

Cheating on your partner is far worse than cheating on your taxes, insists John, a 29-year-old video editor from Astoria. “Uncle Sam never sees you in your ‘back of the shelf’ holey underpants,” he says. “He doesn’t make you chicken soup when you’ve got the sniffles or break out the Tiger Balm when you’ve had a bad day.” (Something tells us that John could convince that remaining 12 percent that infidelity is, actually, morally wrong.) Or as our friend Steve Santagati sums it up, “The IRS fines you. Partners cry.”

Perhaps this is why the people we polled on the topic were overwhelmingly more likely to lie to a date about cheating on a previous partner than they were about cheating the government. “With admitting tax fraud, I sort of become a modern-day hero, taking money from the government and putting it into my pocket to allow me to buy those great jeans, the latest Death Cab CD, or another round of drinks at the bar,” explains Justin, a 25-year-old TV producer. “But when admitting to cheating on a former girlfriend, I automatically look like the typical asshole.”

So while the majority of people think both kinds of cheating are wrong, we can’t say for sure how many people have been dumped for holding out on Uncle Sam. We can, however, report on at least one instance of taxes bringing two people closer. “I offered an ex one week of nonreciprocal oral sex if she did my taxes,” says James, a 33-year-old film editor. Sex is easy; math is hard.

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Love in the Time of Taxes