older man, no money

Reader D. N. writes:

I met an older man. Basically a generation older. He’s great and I’m in love. But…. he’s financially unstable. In fact, in my 20’s as a student, I am more financially stable than he is. What do I do? I am always thinking about the future so I am wondering if it’s worth it to stick it out in hopes that things improve or end it now before I get too attached to a financial mess.

Dear D.N.:

Money is one of those issues that turns out to be a bigger problem than you ever think it’s going to be. If two people have different ideas about money, the relationship is going to fail. Big time.

From having dinner or drinks out with friends, I have come to categorize people into three groups of financial thinking:

The Keep Trackers.

These are generally people who were raised around money and whether they actually have it or not, they treat spending very fairly. If you go out to dinner with one of these people, they will take pains to split the bill exactly. If they spring for your dinner once, they will keep track of how much you owe them, even if you both know they have more money than you. On the converse, they will also keep track of exactly how much they owe you, so it’s actually rather a good thing.

The Free Spenders.

Most of these people were raised in middle class families where there was at least some money. They don’t keep track of who owes what to whom. If they spring for your dinner, they’ll just wave it off and say, “You can get me next time.” And, in fact, you probably had better offer to get it next time, or they’ll start to feel used. These people are generous almost to a fault, but they still believe in a quid pro quo kind of lifestyle. They expect everyone to step up and do their part without having to be reminded to do so. These folks are nice to go out with because you never feel a cloud hanging over your head.

You don't have to put the poorhouse in the doghouse.

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Never Had Its.

For the most part, these are folks who were raised in a house without money. They may even have an unconscious “the world owes me” ideology going on in their heads, unbeknownst to them. These are people who will accept your offer to buy dinner without ever returning the favor, whether they have money now or not. They aren’t necessarily aware of the fact that they’re mooching; they’ve just never had that much disposable cash on their own, and so they think that if someone is offering to spend money on them, that person must have the money to spend. Unless you’re a Keep Tracker yourself, these people can get rather tedious after a while, and will take advantage without even noticing it.

What does all this have to do with your relationship? I think that as long as you and your gentleman friend have the same ideas about money, even if he doesn’t actually have any, you’ll be fine in the long run.

I am personally a Free Spender. It’s how I was raised — we just offer to buy dinner. Many of my good friends are the same way. I dated a Never Had It for a while, and he just let me buy everything without offering to so much as do extra chores around the house to make up for it. It just didn’t occur to him that I wasn’t in the position to be a sugar momma. Eventually I started keeping track, which is against my nature and very hard for me to do, and put a lot of strain on our relationship, especially when I started asking him to pay it back. (He still owes me at least $3 grand, which I have had to write off.) (Jerk.)

If we had both been Keep Trackers, this would never have happened. In fact, if we had both had the same ideas about money, it would never have happened. If he had been a Free Spender like me, he would have at least had some urge to keep things relatively even somehow, and I wouldn’t have started to feel so used.

If your older beau makes you feel used because he’s always letting you pay for things and doesn’t “pay you back” somehow (affection, services, attention, something), then yeah, you should end things now. But if he’s capable of making you feel that things are equal regardless of the financial situation, keep him.

Please note that I am not advocating that people avoid mating with members of a different class. It is a truth that people tend to marry other people from their same financial class, although there are always exceptions (yes, even exceptions outside of the Hollywood rags-to-riches fairy tale). I think it’s just easier to be with someone who has the same ideas about money as you, and those ideas tend to come from your upbringing, which sadly has a lot to do with what social class you’re born into.

But I am saying that the amount in a person’s bank account has less to do with how your relationship is going to work out than their attitudes about money in general. You can be perfectly happy with this poor old man as long as you both agree on how money works for you.

Let’s not get into your differing opinions on music or politics, though. Whew.


4 Responses to “older man, no money”

  1. 1 Melisa
    July 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I think that people’s idea of money come more from their parents then their economic class. My Dad went through the great depression and both my parents went through WWII and they have always been very frugal and counted every penny. As free spending as I wanna be and should be based on growing up middle class, I can’t help but being a keep tracker. I find it annoying to be that way but it’s hard to stop keeping track!

  2. 2 Chris
    July 15, 2010 at 10:32 am

    i would say that any older man who is comfortable being paid for by a student in her 20s is baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad news

  3. 3 Richard
    July 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    D.N. gave a massive hint: “stick it out in hopes that things improve”. D.N. obviously wants the man to change his ways.

    If he and D.N. were the same age, then the odds would be against things improving. A person’s core behaviors become established at a very early age and tend not to change -ever- barring a life altering event. Like near starvation, war, famine, disease, becoming a parent, etc. No, getting married isn’t really a life altering event although divorce often is.

    The man in this case is “a generation older”. He’s very unlikely to change. He’s had decades to establish who he is and what he does. Whatever he’s doing works well enough for him that he has settled in. Maybe not comfortably settled, but not uncomfortable enough to change.

    Sure, something might happen to make him change. Probably something traumatic. Does D.N. want to live through that and be his support? Besides, he may have grown out of the relationship when (if) the trauma has passed.

    Finally, what need does D.N. have that is being met by a much older man who can’t even provide stability? That’s the thing to wonder, not whether HE can improve.

  4. 4 Brian
    July 21, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Great article. I think the categorization of spending types is spot-on. I am especially aware of this being a person who often has to travel on business with others. I get to see each type, and they’re exactly how you characterizing them. I also had a relationship similar to yours where I became fed up with paying for everything. That didn’t end the relationship, but it probably led to events that did.

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