I googled my BF and found out he's really rich.
I'm scared that our very different upbringings might lead to problems down the line.
A BIG CUTIE:
After 4 miserable-ish years of online dating through college (not everything was miserable, but the dating was), I finally met someone, a recent graduate from another school, in my last semester.
He's a real cutie, communicative, smart and goofy, and after doing some inner work about accepting the attention of someone who actually likes me and revealing some of the heavier baggage I carry around in relationships (which he handled gorgeously), I can feel myself on the verge of really falling for him. We met about a month and a half ago, have been seeing each other about twice a week since then, and just started calling each other boyfriend/girlfriend a few days ago, which is exciting!!
But here's the thing -- I did some Googling I maybe shouldn't have, and found out that his father is a pretty powerful guy in the industry that I want to work in. This brings up two sets of issues -- one, I had intuited that he came from a much wealthier background than me already because he grew up in a wealthy area, but I didn't realize his family was like, written-about-in-Forbes wealthy, and I don't know how to deal with that. My family was on the lower end of the middle class and I had no idea that generational wealth even existed before I went to college. We still trade off with paying for dates and stuff, which I like, but I'm scared that our very different upbringings might lead to problems down the line, and I just don't know how to talk to him like "hey, you know how you went to private school all your life? There weren't private schools where I grew up."
The other issue is that I wish I didn't know that his dad is such an important guy! I wish I didn't see that info and immediately have my brain say "oh, maybe he can get you/one of your talented friends a job," but the end-of-college anxiety zone and the industry I'm trying to break into push me toward thoughts like that! I feel gross that I know this and scared that it'll change my view of this human I've been spending time with and really enjoying, and I don't know how to address it.
Generally, I feel like the etiquette with internet info about dates is to not act like you know it until they bring it up naturally, and that's what I'm planning on doing now, but I'm spiralling about this a little bit, even though I know we're still so early in whatever this relationship is/will be. So how do I date someone who grew up very differently from me? How do I push away the opportunistic, ugly thoughts that are cropping up now that I know this info? Why is there so little good info about dealing with money in dating? Help!
Hi hi hi you sweetie angel!!!
The great great news is there is nothing here that is a red flag or bad or gross or mean. Nothing he’s done is a dealbreaker, things are just a bit uncomfortable on your end. That’s great news!!! Ultimately: you’re dating a great guy who has a bit more money than you thought. I’m not saying that to minimize what you asked about in your letter—very very real issues— but to remind you that the problem is manageable.
First of all, it is super super normal to have googled your boyfriend. That’s not weird at all; it’s 2020. I personally would not tell him that I did that and found out this information about him because that’s who I am, but if you are the type of person who likes having everything out in the open and you really really feel like telling him, that’s ok, too. You don’t have to do what I would do!
Honestly, this sounds like something that I would hold inside and then after about one year of dating, (after I’d met his dad, we’d had some fights, etc) I’d bring it up and we’d laugh and joke about how I googled him and was nervous about his life. Again, that’s just me and you do not need to live your life like I would!!!
If you do decide to tell him, here’s what I would say, “Archibald (Since he’s rich, I assume his name is Archibald) soooo I googled you—just to make sure you’re not a murderer—and uh I found out about who your dad is, and it’s kind of weirding me out to know this and I feel like I know a secret or something, so I just wanted to tell you so that it’s out in the open. I know this is probably a weird conversation to be having, but I’ve just been feeling insecure about the money disparity between our upbringings.” And then see where the conversation goes from there. I’m pretty sure he’ll assure you that he’s no different than you (which isn’t true) and that he doesn’t care at all what your background is (which is true).
Obviously, I guessed at some of your feelings in the above paragraph. I don’t know how you feel, but you do, which is great because then you can tell him if you want!
At some point, whether you bring up your googling or not, money is going to come up between the two of you, as it does in all relationships. Money is inherently uncomfortable to talk about (esp in such a capitalistic society) because it means so much. It’s not just some random number tied to your family, for a lot of people it’s the difference between going to college or not, having insulin or not, getting to eat or not. It’s real and it has real life consequences. It’s not just “Oh, you grew up in a house with a three bathrooms instead of one,” it’s “Hey, I won’t get jobs and you will because I couldn’t afford to have an unpaid internship.”
I’m not going to pretend that talking about money with him is going to be smooth and that he’s totally going to get it right away. I have dated people richer than me/my family and much less rich than me/my family and it is very uncomfortable on both ends. That said, it is 100% on the person who is richer (and yes, your parents having money counts as you having money unless they have literally cut you off and you don’t speak to them and haven’t since age 12) to be understanding, empathetic and supportive, to do a whole lot of listening and acknowledging of privilege. It’s not always comfortable to admit that a lot of things in life were handed to you and that people have every right to be resentful about it, but you know what’s a WHOLE LOT more uncomfortable? Being poor. Not getting to go to college. Working throughout high school to support your family and having your grades suffer for it. Not being able to afford to go to the doctor. Those things are way harder than having to admit that your life was made easier because of your parents’ money.
My point is this: the only way any of this is a red flag (which it is not yet!!!!) is if it turns out that your boyfriend isn’t conscious of what growing up rich gave him. If he gets defensive of rich people and how great they are, that’s at least a yellow flag. If he’s not willing to listen to you about your experience, that’s a red flag. If he won’t admit that he had and has a leg up, that’s a red flag. Not only are these things…not good to have to be around…they will inevitably lead to a terrible dynamic between the two of you. If, however, he is aware of his privilege, a generous person to people who have less than he does, and empathetic about the lives of others, ok great. Green light. I’m not saying he isn’t going to say something clueless and potentially callous out of ignorance once or twice. I am saying that he needs to be open to hearing that what he said was wrong, and he needs to be ok with apologizing and learning.
Now, let’s get to how to deal with the internal side of this—the real meat of the problem:
Right now you’re ruminating on this issue, your brain is getting stuck on it. I imagine that part of this is is you taking your general anxiety about dating a new person and putting it all on this new information you have. I assume (I could be wrong!) that these thoughts crop up more when you’re feeling insecure about the relationship in some way. I presume that you have many times where the two of you are hanging out and you aren’t thinking about this. Remind yourself that this is you looking for ways that this relationship won’t work out, WHICH IS NOT YOUR JOB. Your job in a relationship is to be kind and loving and leave if it’s not working. Your job is not to guess what might be a problem some day.
Remind yourself, too, that you do not need to act on fears or insecurities. You can feel worried about something and not blow shit up because of that. You’re allowed to go, “Wow, self, that is not a helpful thought. Thank you but no thank you.” In fact, I strongly encourage you to do just that when it comes to thinking about his dad helping you or your friends. (NOTE: The industry this person works in was redacted at their request, but I know!!!!!). The industry you work in is big enough that this person is not going to make or break your career. There are plenty of jobs. Go forward with the assumption that you will not have any contact with this man outside of him being your boyfriend’s dad. If in a few years you’re very very close to him and he would like to help you, great. If not, that’s fine too. I will not ignore that it’s very helpful to have a rich, connected dad and that it would help a lot, you can find work without him. It will take more time. It will be harder. But please please please relabel this man in your mind as your boyfriend’s dad and not Powerful Person in My Industry. If you don’t, you and your boyfriend will eventually have a weird, stilted relationship where you resent his relationship with his father.
That is not at all to say that you won’t have the occasional petty, ugly, small thought about his life, his connections and his wealth. You will. We all have petty, ugly, small thoughts. We all do! It is a part of being human. Thoughts do not follow your rules all the time. Sometimes I accidentally think about someone naked that I don’t want to! It doesn’t mean that I want to see them naked, it means that brains are high-functioning machines that like thinking and feeling shit. You do not have to take every thought you have seriously. You can laugh at yourself, and say, “Self, that is a very ungenerous thought you just had about your boyfriend’s dad!!! We are not going to entertain that!”
Keep hanging out with your boyfriend. Keep having fun. The more you get to know him and the more time you have with him, the less he’s going to be My Boyfriend Who is Rich and Who Has a Successful Powerful Dad and the more he’s going to be just … Archibald. (Or whatever his real name is).
Be honest with your boyfriend as you go about what you’re insecure about. You don’t have to share literally every single feeling and thought you have about his money or his family. You do have to be open (at some point) to talking about money and how it has affected your guys’ lives. Wealth disparity is real, it’s not going anywhere. It may lead to uncomfortable thoughts and conversations between you two, but it does not have to break you two up. Give yourself a chance with him! Give him a chance!! Give this relationship time and space to grow. Don’t ignore red flags, but please don’t go measuring, cutting, and sewing one and handing it to him.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.