Editor's note: Join columnist MP Dunleavey and a group of women as they seek to strip away the myths around money, liberate themselves from debt and find financial sanity. Follow the ongoing quest of the Women in Red every other Wednesday in Dunleavey's column on MSN Money.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Oh, to be dating in the time of Jane Austen. No sooner does a young man move into the neighborhood than everyone knows he's single -- and exactly what his income is and how much property he owns.
Not only that, but as this sly opening sentence of Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" suggests, finance and romance were presumed to go hand in hand. It was perfectly acceptable for a gentleman to look for a wife with financial assets or for a woman to seek a beau with the best prospects.
Unfortunately, courtship has lost some of its financial candor in the past 200 years. Even with the rise of online dating -- where people answer numerous questions and create elaborate, supposedly revealing profiles of themselves -- it's hard to find your financial match.
Especially if you're a single woman with a little money of your own.
"Now women have something to protect. They're more successful; they may have a home or savings that are hard-won," says Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington who helped to develop the PerfectMatch.com dating Web site.
"They're not only looking for someone to meet their financial standards, but they're trying to be careful about not losing the ground they've gained economically."
Even though Schwartz developed a PerfectMatch financial quiz that people can share with prospective partners, she agrees that there is a stigma about mixing love and money. "Unfortunately, how to handle that is not entirely clear," she says.
A touchy subjectYou don't have to tell that to Sharon Alderson, 45, who lives and works in St. Louis. A divorced mother of four, Alderson earns a good living, owns her home and prides herself on her fiscal stability. It just hasn't been easy finding a guy with the same qualifications.
"If you bring up anything about money on a dating Web site, people pretty much freak out and call you a gold digger," she says.
"I guess a lot of people have been burned by those who are just looking for money. But even if you raise it as a general conversation, people still don't want to talk about it. I think it's crazy that nobody wants to be honest."
Though many people might disagree with her, Alderson wishes people were more open about money issues when looking for companions online. She met a man through an online matchmaking service and dated him for more than a year before he confessed that he was swimming in debt and was about to declare bankruptcy.
"There's no way I can make a life with someone like that," Alderson says. "I don't need someone with a ton of money, but I don't want someone who's going to drag me down the hole."
Income isn't question No. 1Granted, given the opportunity to reveal their income or financial attitudes, many people would shy away.
Match.com, which bills itself as the largest dating Web site with approximately 15 million members worldwide, focuses on other areas of compatibility first. "We've found that our members are not searching with income level in mind," says Liz Edelbrock, a spokeswoman for Match.com.
It's not that earning power and financial responsibility aren't key issues, she says, "but in the initial seeking stage, it's not that important to people."
Given how touchy finances can be, it's not surprising that most mainstream dating Web sites downplay this aspect of matchmaking. Most, like Yahoo Personals and Match.com, give you the opportunity to state your income and your profession -- and sometimes the preferred income level of your prospective matches.
Only a few of the mainstream sites, such as eHarmony or PerfectMatch, include questions about whether you're a good money manager or provider, and whether financial responsibility is important in a mate.
In its personality section, Nerve.com includes questions about whether you're a "coupon clipper" or if you've started saving for retirement, making it unclear whether these are financial issues or personal characteristics.
It's not always how muchEdelbrock points out that there's a limit to how much financial information a dating Web site should be expected to provide.
"Even if you meet someone at a bar or a party, they're not going to put all their baggage up front," she says. "You might meet someone online who makes $100,000, but you still don't know if they invest it or if they spend every single penny."