Confessions Of The Middle-Class Girlfriend With A Super-Rich Boyfriend
“They love using money to pretend they don’t suffer from the problems their money caused…”
The last two years have seen an influx of installments in one of my favorite niche genres of all time: “class-conscious cinema.” From Parasite to Knives Out, myself and countless others have been drawn to every single one of the consistently hilarious entries in this increasingly popular genre. Due to my own personal experience of being surrounded by those of more privilege than myself, I’ve found the mockery of the upper class to be intensely therapeutic and of course, funny as hell.
Perhaps hypocritically, I’ve recently found myself nurturing an interest in personal finance. I enjoy casual investing and saving, believe that class mobility should be a possibility in all areas of the world while also believing that class segregation itself is archaic and a system in need of upheaval.
It would be easy to say that my relationship with finance is complicated.
This experience has been ongoing for me since before I can remember. I had my first job at 15 and felt incredibly mature every payday, despite immediately spending my pay check on special edition DVD’s. My family has always enjoyed spending on both ourselves and each other. Since I was born, Christmas has been chaos due to the sheer number of presents. While people insist that Christmas is about spending time with the ones you love, my family is very much aware of our shared materialism and love of gift-giving, hence their presence in our lives. It would be foolish to ignore how intrinsically linked this is to my past financial issues.
Living among the upper class, however, I quickly learned that gift-giving is not always inherently selfless. I found that gift giving amongst the wealthy is often a substitute for honesty, apologies and emotional transparency rather than an act of kindness. This is not an attempt to virtue signal, but to instead better understand (and let’s be honest, mock) some of the living habits of the 1%.
“I found that gift giving amongst the wealthy is often a substitute for honesty, apologies and emotional transparency.”
I had my first exposure to upper-class individuals on my first trip to Malaysia in 2016, my first year of university. Within the first week of my course, I met a guy (of course) and we quickly fell into a relationship. It wasn’t perfect, but I wore first relationship rose-tinted glasses and thought the world of him due to his perceived worldliness (he was two years older than me and had tried Japanese food). He spent his summers in Malaysia, having moved to the UK from there when he was ten years old. His mum would go back there with him and his siblings, where they would spend a few months with their father and half-siblings. He often joked that the set-up was bizarre enough to write a K-Drama about, seeing as they were so popular in Malaysia and amongst 2016’s growing Kpop fandom. I still think he should write it, or at least sell me the rights.
The first summer that we were together, my ex took to Malaysia for his usual trip. Being a lovestruck teenager, I could hardly bear the thought of being apart from him and, against my mums wishes, I spent my summer job money on a return flight. His family said I could stay with them and his dad paid for us to spend a few days in Tokyo. I already knew that his dad sent him the monthly sums of money that he so recklessly spent on freshers nights out and takeaways, but I quickly realized that his family must be better off than he ever let on.
Tokyo aside, the first major sign took shape in us being picked up from the airport by a driver. The second was that we didn’t settle down at his home and have a snack before bed (I landed late), instead we went straight to a restaurant. His whole family was there and ordered extensively and without care. Nobody checked prices and his dad didn’t bat an eyelid at the price. I was already horrified.
“I quickly realized his family must be better off than he ever let on. Nobody checked prices and his dad didn’t bat an eyelid at cost. I was mortified.”
I’ve been raised to triple check all prices, only schmucks paid full price in my household. Any wanted item, be it household or personal, could wait until a sale. If my grandad saw me buy a full-price coat from a department store or order a second lemonade at dinner, he would probably disown me. Seeing my ex order takeout every other night should have rung the alarm bell, but I had assumed that he was just as reckless as I was.
For personal reasons, I dropped out of university in my second year, as did my boyfriend. We both had no plan. We were young, dumb and in love. He suggested taking jobs from his dad and moving to Malaysia permanently like it was nothing. And to him, it was. Thirteen-hour flights and nepotism were his norms and he never even questioned them. Despite feeling some doubt, I truly saw no other choice. I had always wanted to build a life for myself and escape the small towns of my childhood. Returning home felt like a failure so I simply followed him and took a social media management job at his dads’ business and accepted the apartment that we were promised, rent free. It was eye-opening.
Within days, I began to feel like people threw money at everything. Watching somebody book an international flight hours before take-off, without even checking flight-scanner, is seared into my brain. I experienced sweats, shakes and nausea — the works. It’s something that I think of whenever I even consider paying full price for something, a quick reminder that that’s an activity to be enjoyed only by the blissfully ignorant upper class. My family’s love of a bargain can never be unlearnt. No last-minute booking will ever top the rush of my grandad and I finding me a film camera for less than half of its going price on eBay.
“My family’s love of a bargain can never be unlearnt.”
They would decide to go out on the night. They would turn up to the cinema after the adverts and pay full price for snacks. One evening in which I was mad at my ex, he didn’t apologize but simply went out and came home with a perfume that cost 200 pounds. They loved using money to pretend that their family didn’t suffer from the problems that their money caused. This involved dinners filled with sickly sweet politeness and more cinema trips than I care to remember. But what I can’t forget is the amount of action films that this action movie hater had to grit her teeth and bear through. In my complacency and lack of direction, I saw no out. Through every Vin Diesel muscle flex, I had to remind myself that my ex’s father paid my rent. I had acquired a sugar granddad and didn’t really know how or why I had gotten there.
Any time that I suggested thinking ahead to save money, I was looked at like an alien who had newly landed on Earth. It turned out that frugality was an alien language. When I noted that my ex and I had spent a fraction of the cost that his step-mother did on her latest trip to Japan by booking flights earlier, nobody understood why that might ever be a good thing. When my ex’s sister asked why I didn’t simply return to uni and I responded that I couldn’t afford the tens of thousands in fees, she simply asked why I didn’t ask my parents for it. However, the most eye-opening moment of all was watching Crazy Rich Asians with a crowd that sincerely found the film relatable. Not just in its familial content, but the financial too.
“The most eye-opening moment of all was watching Crazy Rich Asians with a family that sincerely found the film relatable. Not just in its familial content, but the financial too.”
Despite sounding otherwise, many people that I met were kind and courteous enough. In fact, my ex’s brother had an incredibly sweet girlfriend who turned out to be a billionaire’s granddaughter. She once offered that we “borrow her driver” like he was an umbrella, but she did so with incredible respect to him. Her kind nature made me realise that money was not my new family’s problem, but the way they reacted to it. Money and comfort built a bubble around them that they had no interest in leaving. In the time that I was in Malaysia, the family went through various drivers who all became exhausted with the demands and drama yet as far as I know, the lovely girlfriend had kept her driver for years.
After 18 months and far too many extravagant displays of wealth, I finally decided that I had had enough. I wanted meaning and creativity back in my life again and no money could do that for me.
I had finally realized that the money wasn’t the issue, but instead, what it did to these people, now that was the real issue, and I could no longer surround myself with it.
Ending the relationship and returning to the UK, having to start from scratch and make it on my own, was the scariest decision I’ve ever made. But at least I can tell myself that I pay my way and can find a good bargain.
I sometimes wonder what my ex and his family thought of Parasite or Knives Out. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. But I do know that they would have paid full price for their snacks at the cinema.
Lyanna Hindley is a British media journalist and amateur photographer with a growing passion for personal finance. You can find her journalism work at lyannahindley.contently.com/ as well as her writing and photography at twitter.com/lyannahindley.
Image via Pexels