The "Downton Abbey" craze has made me think about how money plays into our romantic choices today. (If you've managed to avoid this compulsive cross of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Dallas," the latest TV hit is about how the daughters of a threatened estate will marry—they're in need of cash.)
Since women now have the chance to work in higher-paid jobs (although salaries and opportunities are still not equal), we're not supposed to be lusting for a man with a fortune as in "Pride & Prejudice."
But is it ever that simple? Every relationship includes some ambivalence, if we are honest about who we each are, and every relationship is an exchange of resources.
My richest boyfriend so far was an equity tax partner in a law firm who was making a couple million a year.
At the time I had a good job, with a healthy 401K and generous benefits, and I owned an apartment. I didn't need a rich man to save me. But he offered me an entirely different style of life—and I loved it. Fine dining was ecstatic; I gloried in every bite of my lobster butternut squash risotto or Kobe steak. I could go to any hit show I wanted and sit in my ideal seat. Ballet, opera.... all within reach.
My fantasies alone in my bed ran along these lines: If I married this man, my bullying boss wouldn't have the same power over me. I could quit. If I married this man, I'd write another novel and salt it with references to my luxurious life and get published. I could buy art. I could give money to my causes.
Oh yeah, I'd also get to spend my life with him.
We loved each other as well as any two people could in two intense months. We shared values—like many rich New York City lawyers, he was a liberal Democrat who spent hours on the boards of non-profits. We respected each other's brains and accomplishments. And although I wasn’t in need, I did have the usual middle-class worry about how I and any future husband would manage to send kids to college, care for elderly parents and pay our medical bills in our 90s.
It didn’t quite seem possible unless my husband was… rich. That was a big plus.
In our case, it wasn't the difference in our assets that broke us up, but in our attitudes about money.
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