Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The (Almost) Truth About Bubbles

You know, writing this blog can be a strange thing. What interests me most about money is often the way it informs daily actions and relationships, and as such, I write a very personal blog. This can get tricky: I tell stories about friends, family, co-workers and loved ones, none of whom know that I write these things. In order to protect the privacy of myself and others, I often change identifying details in these stories-- names, of course, but sometimes other things like locations, jobs, relationships to me, and even gender. But when it comes down to it, I am not, and could never be a fiction writer-- despite any minor embellishments, the heart of every story I tell is true.

That said, there's one story I've told where I realized my tweaking of details went a bit too far, to the point where the real issues going on were somewhat obscured-- and that is the tale of Bubbles: Part 1, Part 2.

The quick recap of those two posts is that "Bubbles" meets "Mike" online and before going out with him, tries to figure out how she feels about some hints that he might be fairly wealthy. Once they meet, Bubbles is disturbed that he turns out to be older than he'd originally said, but despite an initial lack of any real chemistry, wonders if he's worth seeing again because he just seems... nice.

The comments on the post got into the usual issues of male/female dating dynamics, male/female age dynamics, and male/female money dynamics, including this remark:

So the guy is a liar and she's not attracted to him. But he's got money so we'll give it another shot.

Are all women whores, or just Bubbles?

And this is where I started to feel like the message had gone astray, because "Mike" is actually "Mary."

So how does it change things that we're talking about a lesbian dynamic rather than a heterosexual one? If Bubbles is only interested in Mary's money, she's still a whore... but the scenario is totally different in terms of traditional gender roles and dating expectations, and that really changes the story.

Dating between women can be fraught with uncertainties-- when Bubbles met Mary, it was a "hey, it's great to make new friends, or maybe more" kind of thing, not "I'm auditioning potential partners to settle down with so don't waste my time." Bubbles was not entirely sure she wanted to meet a new girlfriend, as she'd only recently ended a longstanding relationship-- she would have been happy just to make a new friend to do things with once in a while.
Mary is older and obviously has a better-paying career than Bubbles, but it was just assumed that they are both independent, professional women who would split the check on their first date-- since, of course, they weren't even 100% sure it was an official date! Before they met, Bubbles did have those thoughts about the weirdness of meeting some rich woman who could be a potential sugarmama type, and there are surely female couples where that is how the relationship works, but Bubbles doesn't see herself that way, and has never really had that inner desire to be taken care of financially. If anything, her curiosity about Mary's financial status had as much to do with a desire to emulate it, and she found herself wondering if she'd be anywhere remotely near Mary's level by the time she was Mary's age.

In agreeing to see Mary a second time, Bubbles at first thought that they might just develop a friendship, and figured it was just as well she wasn't really attracted to her. She liked the idea of having a pal who wouldn't balk at going to a nice restaurant once in a while, as Bubbles doesn't have that many local friends who can afford to go out much. They met for dinner again, and Bubbles felt like they were getting along well-- after all, Mary wasn't really that much older, and wasn't necessarily that much wealthier, either. Or at least she didn't seem so very different in her attitudes towards money, as far as Bubbles could tell: she was just someone from an upper-middle class family who had a good job, had some lucky breaks along the way, and was old enough to have established herself in a way that Bubbles hadn't yet. Again they split the check without any discussion about it.

By the third date-that-might-or-might-not-really-be-a-date, Bubbles is starting to feel like her first impression of Mary was way off base. "She was just a bit shy at first," Bubbles thinks, "but once she relaxes more she's fun... and she's actually really cute... and I love her clothes! Geez, I better go shopping or she'll think I dress like a bum... but I don't know if the sale rack at Banana Republic is going to cut it, she probably shops at Saks... And her jewelry! It makes mine look like something out of a gumball machine..." Now there's a bit of inner monologue that probably wouldn't have happened had Mary been Mike!

Then, they finally have one of these classic moments:
"Let me get this one."
"No, let ME get it!"
"No, really, I've got it, you can get the next one!"
"No, I invited you..."
Under the circumstances, that kind of makes it more likely that it's a date, even if they're still taking turns paying. One thing leads to another and Bubbles eventually visits Mary's home. There's a bit of a "gulp" moment as Bubbles measures the disparity in their respective real estate, but she can at least chalk some of it up to Mary having bought her place long before the recent housing boom... and anyway, Bubbles is soon enough distracted by the surprise discovery that she and Mary actually DO have chemistry... like, serious chemistry, with a capital C.

So who would have expected it? Things seem to be going really well between Bubbles and Mary, and they're spending a fair amount of time together. When she returns the visit, Mary doesn't seem fazed by the fact that Bubbles practically lives in a slum by comparison. But then there's this one odd moment, after they've been joking about a certain kind of boots, when Mary emails Bubbles that she's seen the exact pair advertised for only $1,500 and would gladly buy them for her. Bubbles can't help but shudder slightly-- yes, it's a joke, but does it hint at something real? Is Mary the type to want to dress her up a bit? Or would Mary try to show affection by expensive gifts that Bubbles could never match? Mary doesn't seem like that sort of person, and clearly thinks $1,500 is a ridiculous price for a pair of boots, but she could buy them if she really wanted to. Of course Bubbles could too, but it would make a lot bigger dent in her budget than it would in Mary's. In any case, the remark is just laughed off, and Bubbles hopes it means nothing.

Then there's another offhand remark, about what Mary has told her best friend about Bubbles. Suddenly Bubbles wonders if things are developing to the point where she'll start to meet Mary's friends, and horrified, envisions them thinking she is some down-market girl-toy trying to take advantage of Mary, who perhaps is just besotted with this younger woman after years of being unlucky in love. Suddenly she imagines herself as the Susan Sarandon character in White Palace, except that the bathroom showdown with the bitchy sister involves Bubbles whipping out her business card and a bank statement to prove that she has a good career and plenty of money and isn't taking a penny of Mary's! And anyway, maybe Mary spends all her money... she doesn't seem like the type to live beyond her means, but she does have two homes, a car, a gorgeous wardrobe and some very expensive hobbies. Wouldn't it be ironic, Bubbles thinks, if I turned out to be the one with the higher net worth?!?

So where does it go from here? Will Bubbles' bank balance be besieged by lifestyle inflation as she tries to dress better for Mary? Or might Mary find herself changing some of her habits, worried that they might seem ostentatious to Bubbles? Will Bubbles feel uncomfortable whenever Mary pays for something? Or will she get annoyed if they keep things "too" equal, knowing that the cost of a dinner out is a much larger percentage of her income than it is of Mary's? What if they want to take a vacation together someday? What if Mary comes to her senses and thinks Bubbles is a slacker, or worse, someone whose affection she can't trust?

What if, what if... of course it's still really too soon in the relationship for Bubbles to be thinking about all these what ifs. She should just be enjoying the fun, flirty companionship and getting to know Mary better, not fast-forwarding to hypothetical situations where they might argue over money. Bubbles realizes that the worst aspect of Mary's money is that it had kind of distracted her from noticing a lot of other things about Mary, good things... things that she could have listed on a "Perfect Girlfriend Attributes" checklist (and probably did, as Bubbles can be the anal, list-making type). Of course nobody is 100% perfect, but Bubbles wakes up one day and thinks that if none of the money stuff had ever been an issue, she might have been able to appreciate all Mary's attractive qualities even sooner.

So that is where the curtain will close for a while on Bubbles' love life. Poor Bubbles, I haven't really been all that protective of her privacy, have I? Ah well, I know she won't mind...

NOTE: in response to an anonymous commenter re. the small number of lesbian investment bankers, I have to confess I hadn't given that issue much thought when deciding how to describe Mary's highly-paid profession, and will just remind readers of the post's first paragraph: LOTS of identifying details in these posts have been changed! Any similarity to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental!


Anonymous said...

I loved this post! As a lesbian (and regular reader of your blog), I appreciated your "coming out" with this aspect of the relationship and your thoughtful and witty analysis of the dynamics between gender, sexual orientation, money and dating.

MEG said...

One of the biggest issues (and problems) in all relationships is money. I don't think anyone should be labled a "whore" for being attracted to a potential partner who seems to have a lot of money/income. After all, if it's OK to not date a person because they are unambitious, broke, and/or have poor money management skills/values (and I think it is OK and necessary to refuse such potential partners), then why is it such a crime to seek a person with the opposite traits? I'm hardly a gold-digger; I have my own money. But that just makes it all the more important for me to find a partner who is willing and able to share my lifestlye and values--financially and otherwise.

The real issue is not how much money a person has (or seems to have), but whether or not your potential partner shares your financial values. As you said, Mary might be living beyond her means which is hardly very desirable. And even if she is rich she could lose everything tomorrow, just like any other rich person.

Single Ma said...

When is the release date?

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a gay person working in the financial services industry, there are very few out lesbians working in investment banking. I hope you are not violating someone's privacy more than you think.

Chief Family Officer said...

Wow, was that entertaining - I did not see that twist coming at all! Good luck to Bubbles!

Anonymous said...

awesome post!

what a cliffhanger...

from a queer reaer

Anonymous said...

Great post - thanks.

Anonymous said...

it seems a lot of work to change details and try to relate the story and issues in this fashion. i suspect you are bubbles. is it possible that the time and effort required to re-set the narrative is not worth it? that if you told it like "so i kinda sorta went on a date w/ someone and this is how i felt about it", the first-person disclosure would yield fewer negative consequences than one can imagine?

Tiredbuthappy said...

Great post. I also wonder if you're Bubbles. Maybe I don't have very close friendships or something, but I can't imagine knowing a friend's thoughts about a new relationship this intimately.