Dear Wanda and Wayne,
Growing up, I always had a job and I put myself through school. Today I'm in my late 20s, make a decent salary, and my only debt is school loans and a car payment. I'm proud of this. Unlike me, my boyfriend comes from a family with money. When we first met, he took me to nice dinners and drinks at places I usually skip because of the cost. We went to concerts, shows, even a few cool trips out of town to Seattle. I'd offer to help, but he'd always say not to worry and insisted on paying.
Lately things have changed. The bill would come and just kind of sit there. I'd put my card down and he'd smile and thank me. Other times he suggested splitting the bill or say he forgot his wallet. I'm happy to help -- I always thought 50-50 was the way to go. Still, it seemed odd.
The other night it all became clear. He admitted that while his family has money, he really doesn't. In fact, he makes way less at his job than he first told me. He said he's used to living a certain way so he kept living that way. In the meantime his parents got fed up and stopped supporting him, and now he is way in debt.
We've been together about a year. He's smart and fun and he makes me laugh. Now I wonder how well I know him, and after working hard to keep my finances in order, do I want to stay with someone who has so much debt? What should I do?
The Cost of Living
Wanda: To start, let's talk about how your boyfriend is truth challenged. From the get-go, he rolled out the relationship red carpet like you were a star of your own Cinderella story. You must have felt like a pauper-turned-princess who, after a hard-knocks life of toil and sacrifice, finally got the pampering she deserved. Who could blame you for enjoying it? I can only imagine your confusion when his behavior changed, though I wager it's nowhere near your confusion level now.
In plain English, your boyfriend lied to you. He lied about his job, his salary, his overall financial situation and even his relationship with his parents, who are clearly weary of his delusional inability to scale back his high-roller lifestyle. While keeping up his charade as a rich boy with nary a care, he racked up debt and worsened one aspect of the situation. Had you simply gone out a few times and called it good, these things might have remained his personal, private issues. But a year in to this relationship may be too late to come clean: Long ago, you should have known what you were getting into.
Now, time for some hard questions and conversations. Can you forgive him for being deceitful? If you strip away his high-flying, indulgent living, do you still find him as charming and "fun?" As someone who has worked so hard to be in a financially stable position, are you willing to team up long-term with someone who clearly doesn't understand (or care about) the value of a dollar?
And perhaps most troubling, why did your boyfriend feel he had to appear rich in order to seem desirable? At the expense of his own relationship with his parents? You need to have a tough talk with yourself, and then one with him. When it comes down to communication in this relationship, you'll have to be prepared to make a huge investment.
Wayne: So, it was all good in the hood when you were being wined and dined like a princess, but there's suddenly an issue when her highness has to reach into the royal handbag to pay for an occasional dinner bill? It sure is easy to say you're fine with going 50-50 when the ratio is actually 100-0, isn't it?
Now I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger ...
OK, sure, he put on an act for you -- all people in new relationships put on some kind of show. He was trying to woo you, and you ate it up. Over the year, you were living the "Pretty Woman" dream -- him picking up the entertainment tab, you stashing away your salary and chipping away at your student loans. Nice.
Now if you stay with him, you may have to take on the 50 of your 50-50 claim. Suddenly a date night consisting of a $60 meal and an $80 pair of concert tickets feels a little steep, doesn't it? But Netflix and Kraft macaroni and cheese just isn't as much fun, is it?
He wasn't completely honest, but he wasn't cheating on you or living an elaborate ruse. He was trying his best to win you over and make you happy. I'm guessing there were signs of strain along the way that you didn't notice or chose to ignore because you were enjoying the good life.
Now that you've tasted that better life, if you don't want to date someone who isn't rich, that's totally cool -- own it. Some people aren't the richer or poorer type. Just don't call this a trust issue.
If he's a good guy and good to you, adjust your lifestyle expectations, put up your side of the 50, and enjoy being with someone who is just like the person you claim to be: working hard, paying off debt and trying to maintain a relationship with a solid partner.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and believes in retail therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.