Peasant meets prince.
They met through friends. They didn't really get to know each other before they hooked up. Sometime afterward, they began to get to know one another through texting and maybe hanging out before hooking up again. At some point, she realized he was rich. Ungodly rich. As in, he had ancestors. And when you can mention your ancestors, then your privilege is rooted deeper than the skyscrapers and McMansions that encase privilege.
He made comments like, “People just don’t get it here.” Here being this place where people have student loans and didn't necessarily get a new car when they turned 16.
He mistook her for his pedigree. Yes, her mom didn’t work, but she had only ever lived in one home and had never left the country. His family had already bought him an office for his practice in the Big Apple once he got his MD. And he had never worked, only endured paid internships where Friday afternoons were spent on golf greens.
She thinks, “You don’t get it.” But she’s back at his place three nights later. Right now they’re just flirting. No one’s meeting parents or grandparents that hand out $400 monthly allowances – to all 18 grandchildren.
Does Money Matter?
The story got me thinking. Can we have relationships outside our tax bracket? Well, of course we can, but should we? And gosh, this question sounds so old-fashioned and, frankly, superficial. But it may actually matter: The primary fight between couples involves, well, money. What, did you think love conquers all?
For most of my relationships (which includes my friendships), this question is inconsequential. Then again, maybe this is proof that it is consequential: I waive relationships where I would feel uncomfortable because of income disparity. Sorry, Paris Hilton (is she still a thing?), I can’t afford to date you.
Beyond the shallow reasons – e.g. fearing observers think you’re just dating up, you social climber you – involving yourself with someone from another bracket is only so bad in that it can hinder how you two relate. We struggle to relate to one another’s experiences and backgrounds. I can conjecture and feign empathy, and you can explain away about "which of my four houses do I visit for Christmas," but there will probably (read: always) be some sort of judgment in my mind when you toss $50+ toward a bottle of wine or you’re willing to jet to Italy for a weekend (like, who are you? So casual).
I might also have cheap taste in wine.
More Than Money?
It’s not all about income bracket. It’s about what we prioritize – but they’re correlated. I will never think fermented fruit is worth more than $15 because wine has never changed my life – and my family prefers to drink canned beer out of coolers (but you’re welcome to take me on a free wine tasting expedition to sway my stance). And I don’t go on spontaneous Mediterranean vacations or hang out with people who have multiple vacation homes, partially because I can’t afford that due to living off a stipend currently and the rest because that is not the life I come from. For example, my dad has never been on a plane.
And that's why, while it all sounds wonderful and cinematic and I anticipate the day where I have a disposable income to afford those frivolities, I still view them as just that: Frivolities. I was not raised to think income, no matter how great, is ever just disposable. Or shoes worth a grand. Blame my dad raised by my grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression. (I also conjecture dreadful scenarios that would bankrupt me, e.g. car crashes, burned down apartments, cancer diagnoses, etc. – but I try not to live in fear, though I fear the day that I think I’m too good for a dollar cone at McDonald's.)
Don’t get me wrong, I do have dreams if and when I have that income – where my city flat would be (Chicago) and where I would own a beach cottage (Greece!) – but realistic me never sees me signing that mortgage or buying a $600 sweater. When I have attended functions with big wigs who sip scotch and discuss racehorses, sailing, and Rolexes (or at least I imagine they discuss these pastimes between toasting to Wall Street corruption), I have always felt uneasy in my JC Penney suit and my true gold class ring that I got for free and never would have paid for, distinctly judging their fat cat ways. This bat mitzvah is more than a college grad’s salary. A rehearsal dinner that costs more than a wedding, they must be so in love. Oh, you have a family jeweler; how quaint.
So heading back to the original question: Sure, you can be with someone from a higher (or lower) bracket, but once the honeymoon giddiness wears off, how comfortable will you be? If the disparity isn’t going to bother you, then go for it. If love does conquer all, including opinions on wealth, then revel in your romance. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to not dating heiresses.