but fever let me play the game
This week I was reading the Internet (as one does at work) and came across this Buzzfeed article and took the 16 Personalities assessment, and the combination got me thinking. I won’t go into the more practical side of money here (a different post for a different blog I don’t write), but I think we all have money stories about relationships that we wish didn’t exist.
Because I came from a family without money, I always assumed that I would end up with in a fairly equitable relationship. Neither me nor my partner would significantly outearn the other, because I just couldn’t imagine a world in which I knew people that far out of my socio-economic circle. I must have known that most of my friends’ parents’ outearned mine – that I was already outside of my socio-economic circle – but I never thought much of it. I was an optimist, I suppose. My boyfriend at the time did not seem significantly out of my reach, money-wise, and now that we are adults I know this is true.
When I finished college, I realized I had met a lot of rich people – people who went to the Caribbean for spring break, people whose families traveled to Europe every summer, people whose families owned summer homes and personal helicopters rich – but hadn’t really made friends with those students. I’d made friends with the other students on work-study, whose parents lived in modest suburb homes and who wanted to be activists and nurses and teachers. Even the future lawyers I met (and still know) do mostly public interest or government law. I made close friends with zero future doctors. I joked – often – that my brother, who was in computer science, would be supporting me and my parents in our old age. I didn’t date in college; I wished I could date the sons of professors and engineers and lawyers, but they dated the daughters of professors and engineers and doctors.
Post-graduate school was the first time I had to deal with my own money – and my own salary. I’d given up my dreams of becoming a professor to pursue the personal life school had always seemed to preclude me from participating in. I worked contract jobs for a while, earning a significant hourly wage but a low overall wage, and was able to save a little and spend a little, since I was living at home. When I finally took a full-time job, it was a low-paying public service one. In addition to internalizing the belief that I had failed my own potential (whatever that means, of course), I resigned myself to being too poor for many things. Given my salary – and the salaries I could expect – I could never afford a $20,000 wedding, a modest house in a good neighborhood, two college educated children, European vacations with a boyfriend. I couldn’t even afford an apartment with a nice bathtub and air conditioning.
At the time I was seeing someone who seemed to always need more money than he had. It wasn’t that he didn’t spend his money wisely – he was pretty responsible – he just needed all the money he made for necessities. I knew as a single person supporting only myself, I had the luxury of making choices that only affected me. I didn’t have pets, my parents and family didn’t need my help, and if I chose to pay for cable instead of for food that was my prerogative. Suddenly, I became the spender of the couple. When he wanted something nice for himself that he couldn’t afford, I would buy it for him. I bought expensive presents for his birthday and Christmas. I paid for meals when we went out together. I bought us gifts we could enjoy together (nice lingerie) and offered to pay for expenses as small as parking. I never begrudged him this; I knew he didn’t make very much and needed all he had, and I didn’t overspend. I did, however, question his life choices that made it so that he never had his own money. The parts of his life that required his financial attention weren’t parts of his life I could share in, so I was only guessing and empathizing with him.
In Los Angeles, dating is expensive – dating when you spend half your monthly income on rent takes some serious work. When I started dating again, I always split the bill with my date, unless he insisted or was just a gentleman who ordered my drink for me at the bar and paid. It wasn’t that I dated frequently and burned all my money this way; I just never thought to not split the expense. As a woman, of course I ended up coming out behind in the end – buying new dresses, new bras, new shoes, new makeup, new purses, getting my nails done, taking care of my health. But I was securely employed, well-educated, and independent; these were qualities I valued in myself and I needed others to value in me as well.
I haven’t dated “up” yet, despite the fact that I live in Los Angeles. In the words of Friends, I’m not fancy on the inside; it’s hard for me to find myself in situations in which I might meet those people who are higher on the social ladder than I am (it shouldn’t be hard to meet someone higher on the salary ladder than I am; I’m very, very low). I’ve never had a boyfriend that could take care of me. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone out with anyone who could even come close. Would it help? Absolutely. Like many young people, I’m burdened with student loan debt that I religiously pay. I pay my bills and keep a minuscule food budget but try to also enjoy my money and the experiences it can buy. I dream of dating someone who could help me cut expenses in half – food, trips and experiences, gas, rent. I dream of dating someone who could make possible parts of my life I’m not even sure I want – homeownership, namely. And would I let him pay for our dates? Probably.
I’m now dating someone who makes far less than I do (his hourly rate is about half of mine, plus he was briefly unemployed) but at the same time has more than I do. He lives where the cost of living is lower, but he has less expensive tastes than I do (he doesn’t need a theater subscription every year) and is happy someplace I could never really enjoy for long. This time, though, money is a strain. My job is stressful, which means I only enjoy it for the money, which is never enough. We only see each other about once a month; it hasn’t been long enough to see if we will be spending evenly on travel. While in some contexts we try to evenly split the cost of spending time together (he’ll pay for lunch, I’ll pay for the movie tickets; he’ll pick me up from the airport and drive, I’ll pay for the zoo entrance fee), in others I bear the bulk of the cost of us spending time together (we’ll both pay for the plane tickets to get somewhere, but I’ll pay for the hotel room that allows us to be alone together and food) and it makes me feel resentful. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve already done this for someone; I’m sure the mounting stress of my job is a contributing factor – the money that allows me to finance our time together is slowly killing me. But the fact of the matter is that I often find myself feeling angry-sad that he isn’t spending equally on us.
I don’t want him to not buy things for himself or enjoy his life without me. And I certainly want him to continue to save towards his own goals and to be comfortable with his financial situation. I dislike, though, the guilt-cycle that inevitably comes out of it: the resentment I feel at my investment not being met, the guilt I feel at being angry because I know he doesn’t make as much as I do, then the renewed resentment because I want to see him next month so I am contemplating buying his plane ticket. Someone joked that I was the “rich boyfriend” – how can that be, when I can barely pay my own rent?!
(Image from Joy of Lingerie on Tumblr. Click on the image to visit!)