It’s a fact of life in 2014 that most people are broke as fuck. I happen to be one of those people. Right now I have exactly $21.40 in my checking account and I’m about 48 hours away from defaulting on one of my student loans. Trying to maintain a social life while facing constant financial ruin is difficult but doable. Trying to maintain a romantic relationship is even harder, but it’s not impossible.
My boy isn’t rich by any means, but he’s far from my level of poverty. (Yeah, poverty.) As such, he’s able to do a lot of things I simply can’t do, like eat out, drink at bars, visit movie theaters/festivals/amusement parks/state fairs/museums/coffee shops/etc., go shopping for fun, own a car, keep my cell phone on, not obsess over every dollar I spend. Unfortunately, these are the things that, with my current finances, I’m excluded.
When money is as tight as it is now, even grocery shopping is a stressful experience. This is a type of poverty most people don’t understand. It’s a type I didn’t understand until the bills started piling up and I was working just to live. Getting your partner to wrap their head around the fact that you’re one week of missed pay away from being homeless is the first and biggest obstacle.
I’m not broke or cheap; I’m destitute. No, I’m not going to have a distended belly anytime soon. No, I’m not swatting flies, living in a hut and praying for indoor plumbing. Still, I’ve missed a few meals. I’ve got a couple of credit cards with a balance maxed out of necessity. I’ve got to return these bottles, otherwise, no, I can’t buy any beer.
In these situations, well-meaning partners will say things like: Well, can’t you just… No. Do you want to go… Yes, but one meal is half my weekly food budget. It’s not that much money… Yet I still can’t buy that. Can’t you afford… No. No, I can’t.
Despite how gut-wrenching these statements and questions can be, they’re probably not saying it to hurt their financially challenged partners; they’re truly trying to be helpful. They can’t imagine how you can be so put together, look so normal, be so smart/talented and also be under the poverty line. We can’t either, and it doesn’t help to be reminded.
When you’re functionally impoverished, you just have to live differently to survive. You have to cook your meals, pregame before the bar, take the bus and count your pennies. You have to consider how this stop at McDonald’s is going to affect your ability to make rent and utilities.
It’s hard being this poor and it’s even harder to have to explain ourselves. We don’t want to have to defend our frugal ways to people by whom we want to be respected, loved and admired. We want to say “no” and have it be understood.
As the partner with a more disposable income, one has to be aware that we’d love to do all the things you can afford to do. Unfortunately, most of the time we just can’t, unless you’re paying. Even if you’re happy to pay, sometimes it’s better to live in your poor partner’s life than to bring them into yours.
If you cover their ticket to Cedar Point, there’s still the gas to get there, food in the park and all the other small expenses that eat away at our pockets. If you have a picnic in the park, your adrenaline may not spike but you’ll save a ton of money and – hopefully – bond more than you ever could in a place named “Sandusky.” Dates really should be about experiencing your partner anyways.
Living in this capitalist society, we are trained to expect to spend money every day. Unfortunately, we also live in a world where the majority of people get paid the absolute bare minimum allowed by law. That means most people will have to work over an hour to be able to afford a Big Mac meal. Imagine how long they’d have to work to cover their rent, cell phone, water, heat, electricity, food, medicine, toiletries and also go out to eat with you.
Being able to maintain a financially discordant relationship takes a lot of thought and energy, just like being poor. It’s not something people who have always gotten by will understand easily. It’s not a problem that’s easily fixable, but it is something that doesn’t have to stop your love from flourishing. After all, sex – and love – is free.