Ask me what my current favorite show is, and I will without hesitation reply with The CW’s Jane The Virgin. For me, it’s the kind of show that reminds me of why I love TV, because I truly believe it has the power to make our society more empathetic and understanding. When I watch an adult, female character with a college degree and aspirations to be a writer, like Jane Villanueva, live in her grandma’s house and not feel ashamed of it, I can relate, and I begin to feel a little more okay about my own situation.
Now, Jane The Virgin is first and foremost a telenovela, which means in keeping true to the genre, there are some fantastic elements that divert from it being totally realistic. For one, there’s the fact that Jane has a child only because she became accidentally-artificially-inseminated-with-a-rich-dude’s-sperm (the rich dude being Rafael), and the fact that she’s the daughter of a wealthy actor whom she didn’t meet until adulthood. There’s also a love triangle between herself, the wealthy sperm-donor, Rafael, and her cop husband, Michael; some evil twins; backstabbing; and plenty of hotel crime mysteries.
Still, even with all the “unrealistic” parts of the show, one of the biggest reasons I like it is because it’s honest about money. For one, it’s careful to highlight the various ways money influences literally everything we do in our lives — from the jobs we take to the very goals we set for ourselves. Rafael’s intense desire to be a seen provider who never has to say no to his son drives him to do some shady things for money, like get involved with insider trading. Jane’s desire for rigid stability leads her to make sacrifices, like give up a dream opportunity to move to a big city to pursue her writing.
And since talking about finances is often regarded as a cut-and-dry numbers game (or rarely acknowledged at all on TV), I think it’s refreshing to finally have a show that illustrates how money represents so much more to all of us. And while I am not currently in a relationship myself, the series has certainly taught me several lessons about money and love that I personally feel are worth remembering, no matter who you are.
1. There is no place for judgment when it comes to money, ever.
On the show, Rafael is born into his wealth, which evidently shapes his definition of what “normal” is. We hear him casually mention private school and his summer Europe trips as an essential part of his upbringing, which surprises Jane, who sees these as selfish, frivolous splurges. At the same time, even though he has all this money, we learn that Rafael is also plagued by loneliness, family trauma, and a tendency to close off when times get hard.
And this is often a challenge for Jane to understand: Money can be important to someone without making them inherently evil. Being privileged doesn’t make you inherently selfish, in the same way that being born without luxuries doesn’t automatically mean your existence is righteous. Of course, Jane later learns her snap judgments about wealth are a result of fear. Having money has always been completely unfamiliar to her, and she had been mistreated by some rich people in her past. Obviously, this isn’t fair, and Rafael checks her for this several times throughout the series. Likewise, Rafael often takes subtle digs at Jane, suggesting that her life is “small” and could be so much better if she and their son upgraded to be with him. His biggest challenge is accepting that a simple life can be a good life, too.
When the couple is forced to meet in the middle on those issues (especially since they have a child to raise) it reminds us that judging people for how they use their money will never make them see things your way. And in a relationship, the best way to figure out how to handle money is listening to your partner’s concerns — even if, at first, they don’t make sense to you. In the end, the couple agrees on one Europe trip for their son’s childhood, and opt for a public school in a “nicer” neighborhood as a compromise.
2. Supporting your significant other’s career goals isn’t just a nice idea — it’s non-negotiable.
One issue that isn’t talked about enough is how, as individuals, we can experience career growth at significantly different rates than our partners. There is an assumption that once a couple chooses to combine their lives, they will fit perfectly into each other, finances, goals, and all — and that’s not always the case.
Given that Jane is the title character on Jane the Virgin, it’s easy as an audience to root for her to achieve success (and personally, being a writer myself, I feel extra invested in her — #teamjane). And sure, her career path is a bit convoluted — she moves from a waitress gig to teaching to a publishing job to full-time writing and back full-circle into restaurant work. Yet during her time at all of these jobs, she’s also working on a novel, facing the struggle of rejected drafts, writer’s block, and demanding editors. And even when her book sales suffer, and her work gets criticized to the point where she considers going back to teaching, Rafael pushes her to keep going.
You know you’re in a good relationship when the other person brings out the best in you and encourages you to be the best version of yourself. And yeah, it’s easy to say that when everything is going well. But what about when things are miserable? When things aren’t going according to plan with our own individual lives, it can be easy to fall into a funk that drags the other person in your relationship down with you. Now, the solution isn’t to tell the other person to move on, nor is it to sit back and watch the person you love give up on their dreams. It’s that you supporting their goals should be unconditional. Sometimes it takes years for a goal to come to fruition – Jane’s romance novel takes three seasons to officially get published, which, according to the series timeline, is roughly three to five years. But through it all, Rafael remains persistent when it comes to encouraging Jane and ensuring that she sticks to the plan, which ends up working in her favor.
3. It doesn’t matter how good you are at being financially independent if you and your S.O. can’t work as a team.
After Jane marries her first husband, Michael, the couple soon realizes the rent on their brand new home is $1,000 over what they can afford. As a result, they’re forced to draft up a stricter version of their budget. Since Jane sees her Type A, write-everything-down budget strategy as “superior” to Michael’s sock-away-extra-cash method, this causes the couple to fight. Michael defends his saving strategy, because he says it has always worked for him, but Jane refuses — she sees it as immature. But since Michael makes more money than she does, he assumes that he should have control. By the end of the episode, they both come to terms with the realization that as a married couple, all their major financial decisions need to be made together and not just based on what they, as individuals, think is best. There is a scene that shows them sitting on their couch as they go through every line on their budget — from Spotify to driving the car to eating out on weekdays — which is exactly the kind of conversation most couples need to have.
I’ve been in a similar situation to these characters. I once dated a guy who made more money than me, but who wouldn’t know a budget if it smacked him across the face. When things got serious and we began living together, I entrusted myself with the task of managing bills. And, like Jane, I insisted my way as the right way. As you can probably imagine, things didn’t work out. What I didn’t realize was my controlling mentality toward the money was making it impossible for us to have an honest conversation about it with each other, and so our problems never actually got resolved.
Figuring out how you’re going to handle finances together is a challenge for many couples. And sure, it can be easy to say having separate bank accounts would prevent this. However, this solution doesn’t consider that many of the things in a marriage are shared (a home, a car, bills, children) and, therefore, couples need to learn to plan their finances together. And above all, both people need to be open to the possibility that the way they do money as a single person might not work when they’re in a relationship.
4. Money does not define who you are.
There is a tendency for men to define their masculinity in terms of their salary, and lately, for independent women to view their financial status as a measure of their success as a feminist taking over a patriarchal world. I’ve always taken issue with this, because I know money should never be seen as more important than values like respect or honesty.
So when Rafael loses his massive inheritance due to a birth certificate scandal, he undergoes an identity crisis, because he defined so much of his existence in terms of his wealth. As a result, he goes through many humbling experiences. He goes to jail for insider trading, and is forced to move into Jane’s family’s house when he has no place to go. He also takes up a job working as a bartender at the hotel he once owned, which causes him to feel embarrassed. And yet, Jane is the one who tells him to not be ashamed, and reminds him that she would be there for him no matter what his job was.
In any case, Rafael’s story cautions defining self-worth by one’s net worth, but it also serves as a more positive reminder that the ones who truly love you will stick by your side regardless of what you have (cue “21 Questions” by 50 Cent).
5. Money can do a lot, but it can’t do everything.
I think the realest thing Jane The Virgin does with money is present us with moments where an exorbitant amount of it saves the day in deus ex machina fashion, but then, it undercuts us with a tragedy where it’s utterly helpless. The biggest example of this is when Rogelio, Jane’s wealthy father, pays his staff to build a replica of Jane’s home on his studio sound stage after her living room is flooded by a burst pipe. This allows her to have the “backyard wedding” of her dreams in the nick of time. However, just a few episodes later, her husband, Michael, dies an unexpected and tragic death — and the saddest part is that no amount of money can fix the situation.
In another episode, when Rogelio tries to apologize to Jane for being absent during most of her childhood via a series of expensive gifts, Jane feels insulted because she knows he cannot buy back the childhood he missed out on watching. And when Rafael watches Jane choose to marry Michael over him, he’s forced to confront his personal issues — he learned all the money in the world cannot make someone fall in love. In watching these moments, I am reminded how money is important, but it is not everything. And as powerful as it may be, I think it becomes a lot less scary knowing there are some situations that it just can’t control.
Savanna is a freelance writer in Northern California whose hobbies include all things theater and dog-related. She hopes for a world where avocados will be included in the price of her entrée and a 12-step program is widely available to people who obsessively collect air miles. Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via The CW