One of the great privileges of having been a “person on the internet of very minor recognizability” over the past five years is having met an incredible amount of people from all over the world, whom I otherwise would never have met. Social media, and internet-writing in general, have brought me dozens of what I’d call “internet-friends,” acquaintances or pen pals or people I feel deep connections with, despite never (or almost-never) having met in real life. And because of the fluid nature of the internet, these people come from all backgrounds — including socioeconomically — and do all kinds of work for a living. So, aside from being awesome friends and internet confidantes, they make for incredible interviewees/quote-givers when it comes to getting a diverse perspective on TFD. (And usually, they are kind enough to indulge me.)
One of the friends I’ve had on the internet for several years (and never met in real life), happens to be a young woman about my age who has blogged for years as a hobby, occasionally written professionally, and spends most of her time working at a low-level ad job. As she puts it, she’s “never broken $60k in a year,” and has enough student debt to “make retirement feel like a joke.” And her financial future seemed pretty set in stone until, three years ago, she met the man who is now her husband, an early 30-something working in a New York City-based tech startup, who between his salary, savings, and stock options, is a “literal millionaire, several times over.” This has, to say the least, changed her life. And while she doesn’t go out of her way to hide her new socioeconomic status, it’s definitely not something she wants to define her.
But, after a few one-on-one conversations she prompted in light of TFD, and on my agreeing to give her anonymity, my friend Sara* agreed to talk to me candidly about what life is like now on the other side of wealth, and what she has learned from the change.
TFD: Tell us a little bit about how you guys met, and when you learned he was very different from you, financially.
Sara: We met when I was 26 and he was 30, which weirdly at the time felt like more of a difference to me than the money thing. I’d always dated guys who had somewhat more money than me, because I was making so little at the time, and so having another guy “with money” didn’t feel that weird. It wasn’t until I went over to his apartment for the first time, a few weeks in, that I really got it, like “Holy shit, this guy is actually fucking rich.” Without giving away too many details, he lives in an extremely expensive part of our city, and has an entire townhouse to himself. I honestly didn’t even imagine people lived in those townhomes, because they’re so nice. They felt like museums to me. So when I found out where he lived, and how he lived, I immediately panicked. That night I actually pretended that I didn’t feel well and went home, and called my mom freaking out.
TFD: Why did you call her? What were you worried about, and what did you want her to say?
Sara: My mom is a teacher and my dad owns a tire shop, so I am basically what politicians are talking about when they talk about “hardworking, middle-class people.” I’m from “flyover country.” I went to a big state school. There is nothing fancy about me. When I saw his wealth I automatically assumed that he came from this extremely wealthy background, and that just the way he viewed the world would be so fundamentally different from me. I wanted my mom to basically reassure me that I was smart and good enough, because I really wanted to be with him.
TFD: And what did she say?
Sara: Honestly, she said that any guy who was making me feel this insecure about who I was was probably not the guy for me. And she would have been right, except he never made me feel that way — it was entirely in my head. And as it turned out, he was from a very similar background to me. He was a self-made man who only got “rich” when he was older than I was at the time, and still lived by very middle-class values. The townhouse, for example, was a gut-renovation he bought and fixed mostly himself, and he considered it his first real investment. It didn’t make it less intimidating, per se, but it made me understand it more.
TFD: How did money impact your relationship as it developed?
Sara: There was basically no way it didn’t impact it. Very quickly, I had to get over this idea that we would ever split things, really. Basically any time we went somewhere, ate out, got gifts for others, etc, he would always pay in full, and tell me to put the money towards my loans. It was honestly extremely difficult for me, as someone who has been financially independent since I was 18. I do not come from a family of people who take from others, and having that dynamic made me feel like a little girl who had to ask her dad for money to buy candy at the store — I really hated it.
TFD: How did you guys resolve that?
Sara: Once we moved in together, it became easier to accept the dynamic, because it was more viewed as “our” collective money. Our relationship moved very quickly, and we were living together within nine months and engaged within 15 months. It took him a long time to understand that I didn’t want him to help me with my loans, that I wanted to pay them all myself, but I knew on some level that that was just to make me feel better — him taking care of basically everything else essentially meant he was paying my loans by proxy. I didn’t have that burden over my shoulders, and we both knew that. But our moving quickly was because we were madly in love as people, not because of money.
TFD: You sound a little pre-emptively defensive. Do you think most people think it went quickly because of money?
Sara: Oh, yes. I definitely have lost some friendships because people see me as a gold digger, and I call them out, and we get into an ugly fight. The truth is that a lot of people are — and I absolutely hate to say this — envious. And a lot of people are super-judgmental. But I knew nothing about his economic status when I met him, and I have always been a hard worker. I got lucky, in the way anyone can get lucky. I understand how that can feel unfair, but it shouldn’t be a negative reflection on my character somehow.
TFD: But do you see how some people could feel like they could no longer be at ease in a friendship, where they would now feel extremely insecure in the way you first did when you met your husband?
Sara: Yes. I do, I guess. People do not like you to pay for them, but they also can’t conjure money out of nowhere to pay for things. So kind of by necessity, we live very different lives now, and we have gravitated a lot more to friends more on his side, because we live similar lives. But I do everything in my power to make sure that the friendships I treasure with people who are still on the lower end of the economic scale feel comfortable and normal. I would never, ever want to make someone feel put down because of what they don’t have, or can’t do. I regret feeling that way with my husband, and I haven’t since — but that is easier said than done, I know.
TFD: When it comes to your plans for the future, how do you guys make decisions together?
Sara: It’s going to sound crazy, maybe, but we really do everything 100% as a team, and he treats the money he makes as just as much mine as his. He’s not at all greedy or protective with his finances, and he wants me to be more in charge of the long-term planning if anything, because he always talks about how I have more “vision” than he does. But we consult with someone who helps us manage our money, and on the more day-to-day stuff, we generally talk out most purchases that are over, say, $100. We live in a pretty normal way, and have a regular budget, we just do all of that in a nice townhouse.
TFD: Do you ever fear going back to your former financial life?
Sara: All the time. I have nightmares where I wake up in a cold sweat because I imagined this was all a dream somehow. When you are lucky enough to meet someone whom you love and who also changes you financial fortune, it becomes this weird impostor syndrome where you never quite feel like this is your life. You feel like you stole this life from someone else, even though you love this person for who they are and not what they have. I accept that ultimately relationships don’t work out sometimes, even though I firmly believe ours will, and that lingering doubt in the back of my mind always says “don’t get too comfortable — all of this could disappear in a heartbeat.” I of course have my personal emergency fund and basics like that, in case the unthinkable ever did happen, but it’s not really a question of how prepared I am. All of these feelings and thoughts will always be swirling in my head, because the truth is that I feel guilty on some level for what I have.
TFD: Do you think he feels guilty for having gotten lucky with his startup? Like, sure, he worked hard, but plenty of people do and it doesn’t work out. Isn’t all of this luck on some level?
Sara: Maybe he feels guilty. But he comes from a strong background of hard workers like I do, who have a feeling of “work hard, pay your fair share, and be proud.” It doesn’t matter how much you have, it matters what you do with it and how well and ethically you continue to live. If he were trying to get more money in illegitimate ways, or avoiding taxes, or not being charitable, then I would say, “Okay, you have a problem. You’ve become one of ‘those’ rich people.” But he isn’t like that.
TFD: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from becoming a rich person?
Sara: That life gets incredibly easier with every extra dollar, and earning more money/becoming richer becomes incredibly easier, too. The more money you have, the more you earn, the easier life gets — it’s a snowball that basically can keep rolling indefinitely if you’re a little bit smart and conservative with your money. When I had very little money, it was very difficult just to put an extra $100 a month to my loans, now it’s incredibly easy to make an extra $20k a year just by shuffling a few things around. It’s a fucking scam.
TFD: And what would you say to your former self, from where you’re standing now, if you could?
Sara: Accept that life and success are about hard work, but they’re also about luck: luck of marriage, luck of profession, luck of genetics. Sometimes you might get lucky, sometimes you might not, and you can’t let that impact who you think a person is or what you think of yourself. If luck comes your way, take it, and try to do the best you can with it. But if it doesn’t, keep working hard and give yourself as many opportunities is possible to find more good luck.
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