Romance, money, and capitalism
February 10, 2020 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Captain Awkward on money, romance, and capitalism: I’m stressed about my boyfriend’s money management skills and how I can help him without getting myself into a bad financial situation. I also recognize that he’s probably embarrassed on top of being stressed, so I’m trying not to make him feel ashamed. He was raised below the poverty line and when he made it “big” in his industry, he was earning huge salaries, so I think he’s allowed himself to fully enjoy it. Now he’s unemployed but is still living a “huge salary” lifestyle.

... It doesn’t matter what you personally believe, this is the shitty culture, this is the shitty history, this is the shitty capitalist air we breathe (which can legally be a certain amount of polluted if it makes certain people enough money) and the shitty capitalist water we drink (which can legally be a certain amount of polluted if the polluters can show they created a certain number of jobs) and it takes some effort and pushing back to say, I do not think we are what we earn, I do not think that certain things like “shelter” and “health care” need to be “deserved,” I do not attach shame to things like getting into financial trouble or needing help or being unemployed, and I do not think a good credit rating or money in the bank has a moral value, or that men have to be “providers” in order to be good people or partners. But those attitudes still affect me and everyone around me.
posted by Bella Donna (36 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
You pulled the exact quote I copied while reading this article. This is one of the best "ask" columns I've read, it speaks volumes about our culture while still tying it all back in neatly to this personal relationship problem. I also absolutely loved their brief history of the economic and moral patriarchy's origins.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:25 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Wow, that was a lot.

Also, can we post this as a gentle reminder below the AskMeFi posting box:
“I can love someone without taking on all their problems or trying to fix them.”
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:46 AM on February 10 [28 favorites]


This is a complicated topic. I had a girlfriend who, when we started dating, was employed. Then she got laid off, and I got laid off, and for the next 3.5 years I was the only one seeking employment and trying to make any money. She racked up credit card debt and spent pretty heavily from our joint checking account. Made me feel guilty when I encouraged her to find work and she actually said, while on the phone with a friend, that "you wouldn't want grumpybear69 to be supporting you." Eventually I found a good job and was making good money but still felt stretched thin, financially, unable to pay down my credit card. Then we broke up and all of a sudden I was no longer having financial issues. I resolved to clear out my debt and never get involved again with someone who was fiscally irresponsible, because it sucks and creates really weird relationship dynamics.

I don't think it would have been as bad if we weren't cohabitating, with a joint account, and/or if she didn't act like it was my obligation to support her indefinitely (her dad, on one visit, literally said to me "you make money, that's your role in this relationship"). But all of those things were the case, and it made clear to me some bright lines I needed to draw for future relationships.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:59 AM on February 10 [19 favorites]


I think money is a really challenging issue for many of us. It is certainly a fraught topic for me. I ran away from one relationship once in part because I saw myself becoming too financially dependent on my partner. I ran away from another early on when I discovered how desperately poor this new person was. It was not a judgment about his character, he was a wonderful person, but I was attempting to rescue him in a super new relationship and I knew my codependence was going to make a healthy relationship impossible. Not for everyone but for me.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:06 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Also: capitalism sucks.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:07 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]


This is a fantastic analysis. What it comes down to for me is, money is hugely important to both the letter writer’s identity and the boyfriend’s identity (the way money can be for a lot of us), but only the letter writer appears willing to sacrifice her (financially healthy) identity as a tightwad for the sake of love—the boyfriend is not willing to give up his (financially unhealthy) identity as a high roller. The boyfriend making that sacrifice would not only benefit the two of them and their relationship, it would also likely benefit his other friendship (which he is sacrificing for money) and his other family like his kids. And yet it’s the woman who feels compelled to sacrifice, as usual.
posted by sallybrown at 10:14 AM on February 10 [38 favorites]


"And yet it’s the woman who feels compelled to sacrifice, as usual."

Don't know about the overall numbers but grumpybear69 sounded pretty sacrificing in that relationship. "Most" of the women I've known in problem relationships were "saner" than "most" of the men. I always thought that that had something to do with it.
posted by aleph at 10:37 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


And I should say I consider things like the patriarchy a form of functional insanity (in a lot of ways). Don't know about "official" designations of such.
posted by aleph at 10:45 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


It absolutely grinds my gears when someone is thoroughly winning at capitalism yet still goes careening down the road to throwing it all away and dragging other people in their life down with them because they had to have two houses, private school tuition, and eight fucking cars.
posted by allegedly at 10:52 AM on February 10 [26 favorites]


It makes me deeply sad that we have people who consider that *needs* to be that way. (And how they got to that place :(
posted by aleph at 10:54 AM on February 10


I remember reading that in a typical heterosexual cohabitation, the amount of household chores and work that a man contributes drops as his partner starts earning more than him. I wonder if this sort of thing is related.
posted by Hactar at 11:03 AM on February 10 [16 favorites]


Would think "it was related" at least some of the time. Don't know how much.
posted by aleph at 11:06 AM on February 10


It absolutely grinds my gears when someone is thoroughly winning at capitalism yet still goes careening down the road to throwing it all away and dragging other people in their life down with them because they had to have two houses, private school tuition, and eight fucking cars.

But isn't that inherently what "winning at capitalism" is? The system encourages us to always grab for more. In the same way that you'd think someone with a billion dollars wouldn't need or want to fight for more billions of dollars, yet that never seems to happen with capitalist "winners".
posted by the legendary esquilax at 11:57 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Do not loan this individual money. Run from this relationship immediately.
posted by Gwynarra at 12:00 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Christ. This dude wants to have her rent out her house and move in with him to assume half his housing payment? And makes "jokes" about how she should pay for his incidental expenses? A dude with (I thought the above comment was a joke before I RTA) 7+ cars and two houses. Wants her. To pay his bills. Meanwhile he's already declared bankruptcy once, is currently in arrears to his best friend for a significant amount of money, and has yet to actually learn anything. His big plan for getting his finances under control are to convince her to hand over her paycheck?

Y'know, when I've been in a boat like this (neither dude had much money, though, I out-earned them both), not only did I get "jokes" and snide remarks about how I should bankroll the relationship because I was in a better financial position and they were the poor suffering slob who couldn't find a job/whatever, but as a face-saving effort to make him look good in front of others, both these dudes would also "joke" that the reason they were broke was because *I* spent THEIR money. Women amirite? /flames

These people are users. I sure as heck hope she pays increasing attention to how his other personal relationships are weathering his financial crises, because he'll treat her the same way he treats those people. Maybe he learned that at Rich People School too.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:10 PM on February 10 [31 favorites]


I love how thoughtful and gentle and practical-while-kind Captain Awkward is. Even when she is clearly identifying what is a good decision and what is a bad decision, she never (rarely? generally?) doesn't do the DTMFA or tough love or choosing the asshole in the situation Thing that the internet loves so much.

The rapper/musician/writer Dessa tweeted this week: "Our allergy to complexity presumes the worst of our readers and precludes the best of ourselves." I think Captain Awkward does a great job of not being allergic to complexity.
posted by crush at 12:46 PM on February 10 [20 favorites]


Money will probably be the thing that keeps me single for the rest of my life. It's been a struggle but I'm finally at a point where I'm making good money and able to pay all my bills and buy groceries without running out of money days before the next paycheck comes, but I'll never shake the worthless feeling that sank into the very marrow of my bones when my last serious boyfriend told me, in the midst of a really awful breakup, that he was sick of being with me because I didn't make much money and I was bad with the money I had, and ultimately I wasn't worth being with anyway because I can't afford to buy a house in the Seattle real estate market.

I would honestly rather be alone forever than have someone in my life who thinks that way about me. And since we live in a culture that correlates your worth as a person with how you make your money and how much of it you make, it feels almost unavoidable to date without being in a shitty situation like that again.
posted by palomar at 12:51 PM on February 10 [34 favorites]


Palomar, I'm really sorry that your ex said that to you. That's abusive and shitty language. You deserve a lot better.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:09 PM on February 10 [33 favorites]


Eh, everybody's complex, doesn't mean everybody's suitable for dating. Women not having basic thresholds and boundaries for minimum good behavior is how they end up (in a system engineered against them) in these terrible relationships chronicled on r/AITA and the like. Listen to this woman, feeling that she has to justify not giving up her hard-won house so this dude doesn't have to sell a car or two of his seven or eight! It's like people don't understand: if they're using you, the part where the relationship is otherwise great and they love and respect you isn't actually true! People don't financially exploit people they truly care for.

Late capitalism sucks. You're still not in life to be some dude's personal UBI guarantor.
posted by praemunire at 1:55 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


Then we broke up and all of a sudden I was no longer having financial issues.

I had an ex like that and I am so glad we didn't live together or actually go through with marriage. He was just a financial toilet and blew his paychecks within 12 hours of getting them. I am not getting involved with anyone who can't take care of himself/hold up his end on that stuff again. I don't make enough to be anyone's breadwinner and financial support.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:17 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I am just going to quote a bit more (my bolding below) to make a point:

You, the Letter Writer, don’t buy into patriarchal ideas about who should Earn The Money in a relationship, you are trying hard not to judge your boyfriend for falling on some hard times and handling it badly. I am trying to do the same and yet, we are made of contradictions because when I read your letter a deep, unusually resonant voice came out of me and that voice said,“Nononononono, you do not fuck up YOUR. MONEY. for a man who can’t manage his.” You didn’t specify pronouns but from what I can observe I’m pretty comfortable tagging this post with “Feminism.” Too many of the stories of a good, no-nonsense woman who bet on a man with a dream end with the guy rich and the woman much worse off and I am kind of done with those in both fiction and life.

There were no pronouns listed by the letter writer. They may be female, they may be male. I agree entirely with Captain Awkward that many (cis, straight) relationships end up with the woman much worse off. It is more common for women than men to slide into poverty after divorce. Even so, we do not know the letter writer's gender. I wanted to make that point because my elderly dad got fleeced by a female partner a few years back. I have been guilty of irresponsible financial behavior and living in denial. I am not a member but there is a reason something like Debtors Anonymous and Underearners Anonymous exist. I agree with Captain Awkward's analysis and her advice; I am just not sure I agree with her belief that the letter writer is female. Either way, that is not the point. The point is behavior and boundaries, not gender. /end of rant
posted by Bella Donna at 3:56 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


his passion of selling rare European cars

It seems like a passion for rare European cars is not unlike a passion for horses or a passion for yachting, in that if this is something you want to make a little money at, it helps if you have a lot of money to lose.
posted by sobell at 3:57 PM on February 10 [10 favorites]


It absolutely grinds my gears when someone is thoroughly winning at capitalism yet still goes careening down the road to throwing it all away and dragging other people in their life down with them because they had to have two houses, private school tuition, and eight fucking cars.

OOOOOOOO yeah THIS so hard. Once I had a job where I helped people apply for welfare over the phone by providing a free screening, and this dude called for food stamps and was listing his assets and their worth, such as a large house with an inground pool, a convertible, a van, some other non-essential vehicle, and a bunch of other things that basically drove home that he was really not financially strapped, but that there was a fundamental inability to like, make smart choices or a willingness to make dumb choices with his ample resources. He hung up the phone super rudely on me when I told him that he was vastly over the income limit.
I have another friend, whose parents are a neurologist and a professor of geophysics who grew up in Harvard Square, complain to me about money and about how he financially helped his parent replace a water heater because they were like, too inept or something, but was weaving this story as if this high-ranking, well-established neurologist didn't have the means to replace the heater, and that he, the dutiful son, came in to rescue the parent from the swamp of poverty, or something. I had to draw some serious lines with this person and found myself practically yelling at them one day that mismanagement of resources is not the same as being poor, and it's a slap in the fucking face to people who are actually poor to make it out like these are the same. Yeah, that put a strain on our friendship.
posted by erattacorrige at 4:51 PM on February 10 [10 favorites]


I do not attach shame to things like getting into financial trouble or needing help or being unemployed, and I do not think a good credit rating or money in the bank has a moral value, or that men have to be “providers” in order to be good people or partners. But those attitudes still affect me and everyone around me.

I don't think this story is about the screwed-up expectations of capitalism. This is a story about selfishness. The question is not is he successful at making money. The question is whether his time and effort is spent entirely on what he wants or if he is also motivated by what his partner wants and by their shared goals and desires.
posted by straight at 4:52 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


I hope the letter writer realized through typing out their question how terrible the boyfriend is behaving and immediately set some firm boundaries. I'm not saying that he is a terrible person, just that he is not handling his situation well and if left unchecked he will take the letter writer down with him.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:19 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I think it’s indicative of how different classes interact and intersect with money. The guy in question is like mid 30s, has 2 houses and 7 cars, and 2 kids in private school on a $5k a month. If you added in all the other stuff maybe $6k. That’s about $100k a year in income. That’s a lot of assets for not much cash but since the asker also apparently grew up equally lower income she can’t see that and make the best choices, which very well may doing something else with the vacation property sale rather than starting an antique car business but maybe not.

Also he might have an ex-wife making decisions about educating his new family has little power to change, but it is kind of a thought experiment how if they were her kids and she was the one making such decisions and possibly forgoing income for a few years, is a tone argument the most important one about whether the ticket gets paid or not?

I honestly don’t think either one of them is right or wrong here, but I don’t think they should be together because both are still framing every decision based on their own personal desires rather than a coupled ‘team’.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:23 PM on February 10


This so amazing and truthful. I had to stop about halfway through the post because it's so accurate. I'm going to continue tomorrow.
posted by bendy at 9:52 PM on February 10


I don't think this story is about the screwed-up expectations of capitalism.

I think it absolutely is about the screwed-up expectations of capitalism, and Captain Awkward makes that case pretty clearly:
"It’s hard to write about how people handle money without writing about how we see “virtue” and morality and value. Your boyfriend’s prior success and big lifestyle has aspirational qualities, he has what everybody is supposed to want, right?

I’m writing this in the United States, where people are supposed to act like you in order to become like him, if that makes sense, and where the collision of “wealth,” “thrift,” and “deserving” are part of our origin story.

You mention that your boyfriend grew up poor and I can believe that. I can believe that once he “made it” he spent money like someone who has no idea how to be with or manage money – which who would have taught him, who would have believed this knowledge would have been necessary someday?

Your boyfriend went from struggling to being a person who could buy anything he wants, and over time that became an important part of how he sees himself, his identity. He’d do a lot to avoid losing that identity, so he’s holding onto the trappings as hard as he can. And who wouldn’t want to hold onto that, if they could?"
The Captain isn't absolving the guy of any responsibility for his actions (well, inaction, really), but she's definitely pointing out that one of the big reasons the guy is having trouble dealing with his situation is that being a wealthy person has become how he defines himself, because capitalism as it currently exists assigns a higher value to wealthy people. The guy is having a for-real identity crisis, because he's been set up by a social/cultural/financial system to believe that better people have more money and more of the things money can buy.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:33 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


the advice-giver stopped reading the question at some point and it shows.

He will have to make some hard decisions that he has been putting off and would like to keep putting off. He does not want to be a person who doesn’t have a vacation home anymore or who only has one car for driving his one ass around town.


this is made up and directly contradicted by the question. His whole source of funds is selling a car every month or two, which will eventually get him down to one, and is trying to sell his stupid vacation home, which will leave him with one (1) house to live in. and after that, zero of each. he has BEEN making these hard (dumb) decisions for a while. because this kind of decisive (if short-sighted) action is at odds with the captain's idea of entitled rich boys, they have I guess chosen to disregard it.

he is a dummy for sure. has an inability to think of the future for sure. but in the same way people make such ostentatious efforts to distinguish between poor and broke, they should understand the difference between wealthy and having a lot of money.

This guy has a bunch of stuff, which he is selling off in the same way that we of more modest means used to carry big bags of our possessions down to the half-price books & the buffalo exchange & come back home with a few twenties. It looks different because he has more and more expensive stuff than we do, but the problem is the same: what he has is not self-renewing, and at some point (maybe next month!) he will be down to one car and one house and have no more to sell. there comes a point where you have to sabotage yourself and your prospects to keep the lights on, by selling actual necessities of life at far below their real value. and he is not as far away from that point as he might look. he does not appear to have a plan for what to do when he has nothing pricey left to sell.

whereas wealthy people don't get into this situation because their money is self-sustaining. all they have to do is hold still and not touch their principal and it keeps filling up their accounts. "loss of identity as a Rich Person" my ass, he never had such an identity. Rich People don't jump to selling all their shit to pay the bills this easy. Rich people have investment managers.

he is an idiot who should not be given any money by his loved ones until he's down to zero houses. he should get a damn job. but the fixation on whether it is proper to feel sympathy for someone with a lot of expensive objects has nothing to do with anything.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:35 AM on February 11


You mention that your boyfriend grew up poor and I can believe that. I can believe that once he “made it” he spent money like someone who has no idea how to be with or manage money – which who would have taught him, who would have believed this knowledge would have been necessary someday?

But this is the wrong part. Again, 2 houses, 7 cars, some portion of private school, and a commercial shop rental - for $5k a month. The median 3k sq ft house mortgage across the US would be over half that. He has managed his money really well for a solid decade (I would guess), but lost his job.

His cars also represent inventory in a business. It might be one the girlfriend finds stupid, or that we as a 'society' don't see much use in, but it's a business none the less. And since he isn't immediately self-sustaining, we declare him 'unsuccessful' and that he should stop and get a 'real' job, where that means one with someone else being the carrier of capital (as in the cars and shop rent).

I am saying there is little proof that this guy is truly bad with money, rather that he lost his job and instead of going to work for someone else chose to start his own. That's a slightly risky decision, but to cover it all he has to do is pick one of the 3 homes he and gf have, rent the other two, and now he's managing his assets, covering his bills, and can move on with starting his business.

"whereas wealthy people don't get into this situation because their money is self-sustaining." This is a tautology. Wealthy people don't sell assets out of duress because they are wealthy.

That is not correct. 'Wealthy' is an end state, not a starting one. People starting out to become wealthy probably do make riskier choices starting out than these 2 do, but combine their assets to maximize income, not minimize expenses because you can only cut so far. And maybe sometimes they get lucky, and you don't hear about all the ones who failed except in columns like this.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:43 AM on February 11


this is made up and directly contradicted by the question. His whole source of funds is selling a car every month or two, which will eventually get him down to one

I got out of the 'selling a car every 4-8 weeks' that this was his nascent business, not selling off his personal cars. For example, the income is listed as 'a few thousand' which has to be profit as opposed the tens of thousands or more that a rare antique classic car should be given.

It's also described as a 'side hustle,' not selling off as assets. Letter writer clearly would understand the difference.
You're just misinterpreting what's going on.

and is trying to sell his stupid vacation home, which will leave him with one (1) house to live in. and after that, zero of each. he has BEEN making these hard (dumb) decisions for a while. because this kind of decisive (if short-sighted) action is at odds with the captain's idea of entitled rich boys, they have I guess chosen to disregard it.

A hard choice would be selling both homes he can't afford and buying a smaller one, or moving in with his girlfriend. He's selling a vacation home to put money in a pie-in-the-sky business idea so he can keep his 3000 square foot house, and trying to make the numbers work out by mooching off of his friends.

If you really want to make a case that burning through your assets at many times the rate you need to, and alienating friends, is a "hard but dumb choice," I guess OK, but Captain Awkward isn't disregarding the facts. They're just describing them the way most people would.

he does not appear to have a plan for what to do when he has nothing pricey left to sell.

Yes, he does. He's going to be running an antique car business! Maybe it will work out. Probably not.
posted by mark k at 8:18 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


he does not appear to have a plan for what to do when he has nothing pricey left to sell.

Yes, he does. His plan is called "have my girlfriend subsidize my life."
posted by sobell at 10:49 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; FakeFreyja, if you're going to stay on this site, it needs to be clearer from your behavior that you want to participate in good faith; I'm giving you a 24 hour ban to underline this point.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:20 PM on February 11


Like grumpybear, I wanted a conversation about the expectations on men to be breadwinners, both internalized and external. This appears instead to be a much less interesting story about a very wealthy person taking risks that us mere mortals would not. He'll probably get away with it, too. Film at eleven.

My gestation was hard on my mother. She was advised to take leave from work and to rest in bed as much as possible. This was a problem because my parents were at that time new to the country and quite poor. They could not really afford to lost half their income.

So there they were, in bed, looking at a sonogram of me, crying and discussing what to do. (This is the only family story I know where my father cries.)

My father describes this as a transformative moment. He had been something of a party boy in his youth. Not irresponsible, exactly, but very much enjoying each day as it came. Now, he realized, it was time for him to "be the man."

So he took a second shift, and picked up as much overtime as he could. He says he worked at least hundred hours a week every week. I'm often skeptical when people claim these implausibly long workweeks. Him, I believe. He had to clock in and out at the door, and you bet his bosses double-checked his time cards.

It's a complicated story. On the one hand, he says it was his choice and that he's satisfied with what it brought him: two children, both now educated, debt-free, and working better jobs than his.

On the other hand, I can't help but remember a comment he made once after my engagement. My wife is one of those hotshot web programmers, has worked at multiple companies whose names people know. He said, I'm glad you married a woman who can support the family if you lose your job. It's a lot of pressure to know that your family is counting on your income.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 11:45 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


One of the many things about patriarchy that sucks is that men are often expected to be the breadwinner. I do have a friend who has been the breadwinner for her family for her entire marriage. I know that it has been exhausting and demoralizing for her, and I can’t imagine it would be different for men who find themselves in that role.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:00 AM on February 17


I think it is fine for a couple to agree for the woman to be their primary financial support.

But you can't reject that part of the patriarchy and keep the part where the man makes all the financial decisions and the woman doesn't need to know all that stuff.

If this guy wants his girlfriend to bankroll his business with her house and her salary, he better treat her like more like a business partner who has a say in the decision-making and setting priorities.
posted by straight at 4:49 PM on February 17


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