Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Money Matters

I'm reading Cold Mountain right now. There is a section in which it describes Ruby's distrust of scripted money and how worthless it became during the war. I feel like that sometimes, like I don't really understand the value of money. I know that money pays for things and I know approximately what I can get for a dollar. I'm not cheap - I know that to buy a new couch, I'm going to pay approximately x amount of dollars and I know about how much worth it retains after you remove it from the showroom. But I don't know the value of large amounts of money. I just added up the amount of student loans that I owe. I also just consolidated my credit cards. And I am now very concerned for my immediate future. I'm not destitute, a fact that I had to explain in so many words with many numbers included to make my partner understand, but I also don't have a dollar to give. The Fire Department, Special Olympics, For the Children and the Consumers for Organic Products should all take me off their lists.

I'm changing jobs soon and will have a pretty flexible schedule to accommodate another job after I buckle down and complete my thesis and final board exams. I'm catering and taking side jobs (research and computer work) and don't expect not to be able to meet my basic needs. But what about entertainment? What about socializing? What about dating?

I hate the influence that money has on our social lives. Having grown amongst a middle-middle class family and been surrounded by similar people until I went to college (when my classmates never really had their own money either, despite the wealth of their families), classism was always an amorphous concept for me. The issue of class has slowly been getting more and more important to me. In the social network with whom I often socialize, there are a lot of people with a lot of discretionary income. Many of the events are costly and some even list minimum dinner tabs of 25 or 50 dollars. The names of events such as "Classy Night on the Town" suggest in my mind a decided lack of class, but maybe I'm just being defensive. I know I've gone out cocktailing with friends where we specified a more formal dress code - is it the same thing?

I have a couple of friends who are doing quite well, including a long time friend who unexpectedly did very well in his field and another newer friend who invested well early on and is simply put, wealthy. They are very generous with me in terms of our socializing. They seem to recognize the discrepancies in our budgets and compensate by taking me out for drinks or dinner and allowing me to make them dinner or have them over for drinks. We don't discuss this and money has never been an issue in our relationship. With other friends, we just decide on activities that fit our mutual budgets, whatever they may be - sometimes the limits may be mine and sometimes theirs.

The White Trash Series of events started by some friends of mine, one of whom is white and could be described as trashy and the other who is neither white nor particularly publicly trashy brought the issue of class (and racism) to the surface too. I was an am offended by the use of the term White Trash - it is both inherently classist and racist. I explained this to my friend and apparently ruined the concept for him as he only hosted one more event in the series. The events that I attended were a really good time and I enjoyed them - the other events he had described sounded equally fun in a fantastic sort of way: Monster Trucks, Lawn Mower Races, Wiener dog races and roller derby may be low-brow, but I don't think enjoyment of them necessarily makes one trashy.

So, I'm jumping all over the place with this - money and class and back and forth, but it's just such a confusing jumble in my mind. It's a major button for me and it's been pressed lately so I'm just seeking some clarity by writing it out. My dating history includes men of greater and lesser means, most of whom have treated me quite generously. There was only one major instance in which a man not having money interfered with our dating - that was the schmo who invited me out for a movie and then indicated that he didn't have enough to go to dinner beforehand and come to think of it, for the movie at all - and that was just for his half of the Dutch treat! I was more annoyed by his lack of forethought than his lack of funds.

My generosity in return has always been composed of time, fun, enthusiasm, ideas and commitment. As E says, I brought magic to the table. Since I've been always been a student and was open with my dates about my financial status, I felt they understood what they were getting into when they started dating me and could chose to spend or not spend what their own budgets allowed. It's none of my business how they chose to spend their money. Again, it had never been an issue.

You can see the lead up in that it has become an issue of late. I don't know how and I'm not sure the solution, but lately my partner and I are fighting about money. I sometimes offer to pay and am turned down, but he'll unexpectedly ask me to pay for random and strange things, like groceries for his house. He is generally quite generous and I think there is something else at work behind this because it can't really be about the money since his income is on the order of 5x what I bring home. Since I am moving house and starting a new job in the next month, I'm being a little more fiscally conservative lately which only complicates things as I'm so protective of cash so that I can cover move-in costs. It doesn't help that he also advises me to get a really nice place and/or a place big enough for him to move into - things that I really shouldn't afford at this time of transition when I should be saving and looking at the bigger picture.

Oh well, time to go spend a couple hundred getting my hair done.

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