By Kate Ashford @HerTwoCents
Have you ever had a relationship fail because he routinely failed to pick up the check? Had no trouble talking dirty, but couldn't come clean about your finances? Or, as a single girl, had an unerring tendency to fall for the help?
As one writer puts it in the anthology of essays, "The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money, and Relationships:"
"It's always been this way. I like men who aren't flashy. Men who work with their hands. Men who prefer pick-ups to Porsches. There I'll be, at a hoity-toity event filled with powerful, wildly attractive potential mates -- and inevitably I'll gravitate toward the guy pouring drinks and shlepping dishes."
She's just one of the many smart, savvy female writers who dish -- pretty intimately -- in the book about money and the role it's played in their relationships. Take, for instance, Marnie Hanel's story of scraping by in London while realizing that her wealthy boyfriend's cleaning lady made more per hour than she did. Or Marisa Belger's tale of near-death marriage: They loved each other wildly, but it almost ended when, one month, they couldn't pay their electricity bill.
The book also wades into the complicated web of money and parents, as in Amy Sohn's essay about her father's cheapskate ways -- and how she finds herself growing up to be a tightwad herself. Oh, the horror.
Now that it's out in (money-saving) paperback, we sat down with the book's editor, Hilary Black, to chat about the last relationship taboo: love and money.LD: Why put this book together?
The book actually came from my own personal experience a couple of years ago. I was dating a guy who was very wealthy, and when we broke up a number of my friends told me I was crazy. The people who were saying this were independent career women who publicly would never advocate marrying for money, but they thought I was making a mistake. It got me thinking: Many people have much more complicated relationships with money than they let on initially.
The women in it were really honest-sometimes painfully so. Did you have any trouble convincing them to lay it all out there?
A lot of people came to me once I decided to put this book together, and they had these great stories, but a lot of them wouldn't go on the record about it. It was one thing to tell it to me, but it was another thing to say it publicly. I had a writer who wrote a whole essay for me about money and friendship. It was basically about two women who'd grown up together and they'd planned to save the world. This woman became a writer, but the friend ended up marrying a very rich guy and had summer houses and nannies, and she felt very complicated about how the writer went on to fulfill her dreams. In the end, she pulled the story. She said I absolutely couldn't publish it, because it could end the friendship. It's fascinating the way money can be a relationship-ender.
How is it that women walk down the aisle without ever having addressed money differences?
I think a lot of people fall for the Prince Charming myth. It's the way a lot of women were raised. Women fall for this romantic notion of being swept away on a white horse by the person with whom they have the most chemistry, but a lifelong
commitment is very serious and involves a lot more than moonlight and roses. I think it's common for a lot of women who get as far as their wedding day and the honeymoon and don't always evaluate the man they're with from a perspective other than the fairy tale.
Several women in the book nearly ended marriages over money. Why is it such a deal-breaker?
I think money is really a proxy for control and power, and it puts into very sharp relief the basic divisions between who has control and who has power. They say money and sex are the two biggest taboos. Money is one of those things that brings out self-interest and selfishness. It brings out conflict. It becomes a subject of very, very deep rancor.
How are money and sex related?
Both money and sex are proxies for control and power. The possessor of more money and more sex has more control in the relationship, and pretending otherwise is very naïve. A friend was just telling me that he's always been the primary breadwinner in his relationship, and now his wife makes more than he does, and it makes him feel powerless. I think the two are intricately intertwined and to pretend otherwise is naïve.
Why is money such a powerful thing in our lives?
In practical terms, money symbolizes so much for so many people. If you really break it down, it isn't about how much you get out of the cash machine. It's about our sense of professional accomplishment and it's tied up in our self esteem. Having it or not having it says a lot about lifestyle, about identity, about who you are in society, and I think that when couples find themselves across a divide on this issue, it's often enough to break them apart.
What did you learn, in editing these essays?
Talking about money and talking about it early on is critical. There's been a long tradition of not talking about money and I think that's been dangerous. It's important to get these things out in the open before you enter into a lifelong commitment. Lucy Kaylin [one of the essay writers] and her husband had married with dramatically different approaches to money. She thought everything was fine and he thought she was haranguing him to death. She realized that she could change the way she acted about money or she could kiss the marriage goodbye. It's extraordinarily important to see where you stand on this issue because it can tear people apart.
So you're saying love doesn't conquer all?
One of the biggest things people fight about is money. The lesson is to really be able to talk about this stuff from the very beginning, not kick it under the rug. Because life is so much more than just simply romance. Helen Fisher wrote a very interesting book called "Why Him? Why Her?" about chemistry. She basically says that kind of wildly-in-love dynamic lasts two to four years. Make sure you're marrying somebody who you're not just wildly in love with but who wants a similar lifestyle. Talk early on about how you want to live together. I'm often asked, 'What's more important, money or love?' And if you don't have it together on money issues, you don't have a chance on the love.
Any warning signs? Should we stay away from the man who, say, never picks up the check?
I think these things are very individual. The way money and love play out is different for every couple. I'm personally somebody who pays bills to the minute, so I'd be very wary of somebody who lets the bills pile up and is very irresponsible with his money. They say it's easier to marry somebody who is more like you, and it's crucial that whatever your values are about money, that they be the same as your potential partner's.
Money seems to be a thread that's with us from childhood. Why is that?
So much about money has to do with upbringing and values and identity. I think that watching the way our parents spend money tends to cut deep, and it goes a long way toward establishing our financial values as adults. There's one other piece that I think provides an interesting example of this observation. Abby Ellin has written this essay in which she talks about struggling against the attraction to men in low-paying professions. She has to reconcile this idea of being attracted to people who don't make a lot of money, because she was brought up to have someone support her.
Do many women, deep down, still want a man to support them?
This stuff runs very, very deep. It's very deeply ingrained culturally that the man is going to come in and provide for them. I think a lot of this who-earns-more, who-earns-less comes from this deep-seated traditional notion of gender when the man is Prince Charming and he provides, and the woman takes care of the home. Now that we're in this post-feminist age, there's a lot of ambivalence. In the past 30 years, the feminists have won this idea of women doing for themselves. Now some women are stuck in the old way of thinking but have been taught growing up the new way of thinking, so they're confused.
Did you have a favorite essay?
I had a really high bar for choosing only essays that I thought were good. But there were a few that do stand out. One was the story of this woman, Jennifer Wolff Perrine, who adopts a child from a couple who can't afford to keep their baby. It was just so moving, and it said so much about class and culture and all the things you're not supposed to talk about, but that exist. I just thought it was so raw and honest.
What do you hope people take from the book?
Even though the life circumstances are very different in all these pieces, what I hope is that you see little bits of yourself in every essay. You see the subtle ways that money plays out in all of our relationships. It's a game-changer.
Want to know if your money style meshes with your partner's? Take this Love and Money Score quiz
from CBS Moneywatch and then have your S.O. take it as well.
Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and health (and other things). Without online shopping, she wouldn't own anything. Her work has appeared in Money, Health, and Glamour. For more, check out HerTwoCents.com
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