We Never Talked About Money

We never once talked about money.  I talked around it, bumped up against it, and felt it hovering like a thick shadow.  I wasn’t about to bring it up.  What was I going to say, “You seem pretty rich”?


Early on, it was none of my business.  But even without trying too hard, I could piece together that his Ivy League finance degree and MBA set him up for a nice lifestyle.  But he didn’t have a car, so I thought that spoke of a certain down-to-Earthness that comforted me.  That he actually took cabs everywhere was something I pretended not to notice and dared not add up.

On our second date he explained hedge funds to me in such depth that I forget that we were really talking about money.  Big money.  I followed along, but was afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to seem like I cared that much.  Because I didn’t.  

Every dinner out, I offered to pay, and I meant it, even though his idea of an “any night” restaurant was my idea of a special occasion restaurant.  He always laughed when I flashed my earnest Visa debit card.  I was sincere, but he looked at me as if I was being ridiculous as he plunked down his jewel-toned American Express.  I kept offering and kept meaning it. 

As time went on, it got harder not to notice money stuff.  Wealth markers appeared like mile signs on the highway.  At a party his neighbor told me that he owned the two-story penthouse that she lived in. I’m his renter, she said with a slurry exuberance.  I tried to unknow that fact because it felt like a violation of his privacy, as if she’s slipped me pictures of him in compromising positions. 

One of my friends saw his family’s name carved into stones in front of the museum– Major benefactors, she exclaimed.  I made a mental note to take the side exit if I ever went to the Field Museum.

The whole unspeakableness of it made me uncomfortable, but the longer we dated, the less words I had.  I never knew if I was insulting him by offering to pay or if it was outrageous and offensive to assume he was Bruce Wayne, minus the whole Batman gig.  

Seven months in, we took a trip and he carefully outlined that I would pay for my airfare and he would “pick up the rest.”  I swooned when he detailed the financial arrangements– the explicitness, the clarity–it made me feel like I could breathe normally again.

He grew preoccupied about a family feud involving the unspeakable fortunes that were still none of my business.  His oblique references were hard to follow, but I intuited that the subject was nuclear.  I sat in the back seat of his mother’s Lexus on the way home from brunch at the Ritz while they spoke through clenched teeth about “assets” and “tax shelters.” It had taken me three months to ask him if he voted Republican, so there was no way I was going to be able to initiate conversations as intimate as those concerning a family fortune.

Our relationship inevitably frayed into nothing when what we couldn’t talk about snuffed out the handful of things that had sustained us.  We parted on decent-but-distant terms as two people who’d kept each other at arms’ length must. 

Years later, I took the front entrance to the Field Museum.  I stood on the stones bearing his family’s name, wondering if his great family fortune has finally risen or fallen.  Of course it was none of my business; it never was.


46 thoughts on “We Never Talked About Money

  1. I have always thought that the easiest way to know if the one you are with is “The One” is the ease with which you can talk about the really important things. The seemingly mundane, like who pays for dinner and who pays for vacations, are the issues that come up again and again, and if you can’t talk about it, the discomfort can eventually torpedo a relationship. I have so been there.

  2. I find people who are concerned with wealth and protecting it, odd. Possibly they fought each other, as you know attorneys are costly! I wouldn’t want to marry into that, first comes prenup then comes the ring? What the heck?

    • It’s been my experience that wealth can make family ties bondage cords. I’ve heard stories of trust fund babies, and their seemingly carefree lives, but what I knew personally was tight leashes, and strict conditions for the few rich kids I knew more than casually. That would drive me nuts– having my mother’s grip on all my finances, or my father’s approval hinging on how I did financially.

      • Omg – is it because we are from the 80’s brat pack “St Elmo’s Fire” generation? Lol! Most people I grew up with who were more fortunate than others also had “issues”, not all. Or they had a lot of family pressures with images and appearances.

      • Probably. Then again, that fits a number of Disney child stars. Oops, did I say that out loud?

        Remember, kids, Coke is NOT it. Crack is whack. Molly is folly. Meth is death. Cheezy fo’sheezy.

        (Stick your tongue back in your mouth, Miley. Don’t be messin’ with those fake gang signs, either.)

      • I think she’s almost a reflection of Western pop culture today– you gotta do something outlandish to get noticed. What bugs me a bit more is it looks contrived, and fake. Like it’s not her real self.

      • Okay, not to be mean, but I do not have “NOT MY CHILD SYNDROME”. If I saw any of my children at any age acting in inappropriate or disrespectful to me. I would have to just say, ” I don’t know what THAT kid is doing I didn’t raise them to act like THAT”. In fact I have, it’s very sad.

      • Oh, I was meaning more under the harsh glare of the Hollywood spotlight, but yeah, I guess it happens to us regular folks.

        I have children with some special needs, most notably my son with autism. Both Cimmorene and I struggle with our kids sometimes, but our friends and family acknowledge we do our best. I’m pleased, at the very least, that my daughter has made some mature and responsible decisions, despite my bad example at times (she chooses not to swear, while I made our ex-Navy trucker friend say, “I haven’t heard that one before”).

      • Children under “The Spotlight” are making the same moronic choices as everyday children. The only difference is US magazine has them on the cover. I think it’s great your daughter has enough confidence in her decision making abilities to not be part of the pack. It’s especially difficult to be a young lady growing up when everyone pressures you to be a follower, much better to be a leader!!

  3. I have never dated someone who was wealthy. I would probably stuff my foot into my mouth with incredible gaucheness any time some display of wealth surfaced.

  4. You know the discomfort that shows up in such moments is something impossible to know how to approach. Is it better to ignore the signs or try to find out the truth. I can see why you experienced this as you did.

  5. It is like all through the relationship the two party enjoy some level of privacy. May be, may be not the relationship would have lasted longer if there was no go area.

  6. I have a great ability to be complete inappropriate in situations like this. I tend to tease and needle, and then make some raunchy suggestion about money. I’ve also been known to get in people’s faces when they share really out-of-touch commentary. I’ve learned you don’t get far with that — so I tend to preempt commentary by telling stories about my students, which usually lets people know not to be too ridiculous.

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