Thursday, November 11, 2010

Economic Disparity


Whew! Last night was our monthly discussion group, and it was a very full house! We didn't have the time to explore more than a small fraction of the subtopics at hand, and my role as moderator looked a lot like conversational traffic cop. Such fun!


One of the side points in the discussion about partner selection criteria that seemed to pull up some intense feelings was regarding the way that varying economic factors can play into poly relationships. Even in mono settings, if one partner has significantly more resources monetarily than the other, it can create pressure and imbalance. One person can feel like they're "carrying" things, another can feel as though they are taking advantage. Deciding on how to pay for dates, outings, and other domestic factors takes on a different angle when one person's monetary resources greatly outstrip their partner(s) or metamours.


There have been a wide variety of ideas bandied about on how to manage finances in poly relationships, and I'm not interested in rehashing that here. What was of more interest to me was how some people in the group had strong feelings on how money impacted their relationships, and why.


I'll use myself as an example, as this has been an issue for me pretty much from the very beginning of my poly experience. I grew up in a family that was familiar with poverty. The joke I've made for years is that my parents are very highly educated poor people who choose to work in jobs that don't pay well at all. Frugality was a virtue, and we didn't do things we couldn't pay for, cash in hand. The vast majority of my clothes came from (still do!) second hand stores, and we clipped coupons, repaired things, and lived below the going standards for technology, vehicles, and entertainment. Credit cards were seldom employed, and only in emergency situations. Money was the root of all evil, and any excess went to those less fortunate.


Fast forward to my first multi-partner relationship: My long-distance partner, C, and I would travel to see each other 3-4 times a year. At the time, PG was going to school (on unemployment), and I had a nursing infant, along with a small business to run. C had more money than I did. It was offensive to my sense of independence, but, if I wanted to spend time with C, I needed to allow him to pay for the majority of expenses for our trips. My own family was barely scraping by, and expending resources for luxuries like travel, wasn't a viable option. It stuck in my craw, but it was worth swallowing my pride to spend time with him. Usually, at some point on a trip, I'd pay for some meal, small gift or something, just to feel as though I was contributing.


Advance to current day: S earns more than I do by a very significant margin. We own our house 50/50, and I put into the household account in that ratio. This is a stretch for me, but I want to keep that level of accountability within my domestic arena. When it comes time to go out or buy something extra for the household, I'm conscious of wondering how is the item/event at hand is going to be paid for. There have been times where I have opted out of a proposed plan because it exceeded my financial comfort zone, or I've offered another alternative that fit more in my budget. There have been times where S offers to pay, and I decide my pride is getting in the way of my relationship, and accept the generosity of my partner.


When I'm out with D, we usually alternate paying for things, but I try to pick up tabs a bit more often, as he's currently unemployed. I don't put them on the household account, because I don't want S to be subsidizing my dates with D. There are things that we'd like to do together that have been set aside for the moment, because some activities would require a higher level of financial cooperation than is currently possible. It's not a relationship issue, but it is an awareness level.


At times, we do community stuff, and that comes out of the household pot. Both S and I value community, and part of the way we value that is by participating in, and hosting gatherings. D often will come over early to help set things up, or assist with clean-up afterwards. We all participate at the level that we can, and that is sufficient.


For me, it's not what I buy with my partners that is important. It isn't the venue, the stuff, the travel, nor gifts. It's the time spent with, and feeling connected, to those I care for. Whenever I find myself getting a bit tweaked by the economic disparity in my life, I try to refocus on that. Money doesn't create happiness. It is simply a tool to be used as directed.
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