‘I denied it for a long time. No, I didn’t miss those luxurious dinners and candy trips at all. And I actually found it reassuring that he drove such a small old car, at least that way I knew he didn’t have some ego problem to cover up.
A man without money, I thought that was refreshing, I said. It had made me realize even more how privileged I had always been and that life is about much different things than material things. And I really meant the latter. That’s why I’m now ashamed of my cheeks. Admitting that Bart’s limited budget has become a serious obstacle in our relationship feels like a defeat.
When I started to look around a bit after the divorce, income and wealth were not a criterion at all. I didn’t even think about it. Until then, the men I had been with had always been in a good mood. I think I took it for granted.
On the dating sites, I was particularly interested in the statements the men made about themselves. Or that they were a little sincere. And whether there was any self-deprecation to discern. I was looking for a man who was nothing like my ex. My ex always had a hidden agenda and didn’t do self reflection let alone laugh at himself. No, he’d rather laugh at others…
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So he mockingly did the same when I told him about my new boyfriend at our son’s weekly handover. ‘You? A part-time teacher and artist?! Surely she can’t afford a woman like you?!’ He almost stayed in it. For a change, I was glad our son was already playing with his headphones on. How painful is it to hear how contemptuous your father is towards your mother?
Of course I got bumped in the leg. A woman like me? What did he mean by that? With all the poison he carries, he put me away like a shallow luxury doll in need of maintenance instead of love and connection. So cynical, it made me sick.
It was immediately clear to me why I had left Bernd. He is so obsessed with possessions and money that he has no idea that you can love someone for who that person is and not for what they have or have achieved. Poor man, I thought, with a comfortable sense of moral superiority, would he ever experience what true love is again?
I suddenly found it very good of myself that I had opened myself, albeit hardly consciously, to a man with different ambitions and standards. And I was greatly rewarded for that. Bart was everything I was looking for: gentle, kind, interested in others, creative. Yes, he didn’t have much to use, but what could it be? He had so many other things to give: love, attention, time, warmth, compliments, jokes, his knowledge of art and history, his large sociable family, all things that could not be expressed in money but were worth infinitely more.
Sounds good huh? Yes, I almost convinced myself too. For a year I also didn’t care that Bart and I couldn’t do the things together that I used to do so much and loved to do with Bernd. I was so madly in love that I thought everything was heaven – a long walk through the woods, a pasta with cheap wine on his roof terrace or curled up on the couch watching a movie – as long as it was with him.
And if I already felt the uncontrollable need for luxury, I went out with a girlfriend. Eating lobster, drinking cocktails, delicious! Because it’s not like I can’t afford it. I am well married and happily divorced, I have inherited a significant amount from my parents and I work so I really don’t have to live on a stick.
Only Bart is a proud man. He doesn’t want anyone to have the slightest suspicion that he’s taking advantage of me. When we go to the terrace or eat out, he wants to pay – or at most share – which means we can never let ourselves go.
Before we sit down, he does a huge study of the prices on the menu, but even if they fit within his budget, I dare not order what I want, because I am afraid it will be too expensive for him. In addition, the wine in such restaurants is usually bent, and the quality of the dishes is rarely anything to write home about. So yes, all things considered, I prefer eating at Bart’s.
Very occasionally I get through to him that I can treat. On my own birthday, for example, or when I think we have something special to celebrate. But then he never seems to feel completely comfortable, which really makes it no fun for me anymore.
Like I said, I didn’t find any of this a problem at first. No matter what we did together, Bart and I got along so well that the height differences in our bank accounts didn’t matter. But a turning point came.
One lazy Sunday morning we were enjoying a home cooked breakfast very peacefully when I had the stupid idea to start a winter sun holiday. Of course, I knew very well that such a trip is very expensive, especially if you can only go during the school holidays. But for me, a winter holiday is like a basic necessity of life. The extra injection of sun and sea really helps me get through the grey, cold months. Sounds spoiled, I know, but that’s just how it works for me.
At first Bart reacted understandingly and patiently. He said of course I could go, but he couldn’t afford it. He didn’t mind, because he doesn’t like long journeys anyway. I should have left it alone. But I had it in my head that I wanted to do this with him, and I suddenly thought that I had already added more than enough water to the wine and that he should now come to meet me.
‘How?’ he answered boldly, ‘you know I have no money for it, and you also know I will never go with you at your expense.’ Then I suggested the unforgivable: ‘Maybe you could work a few more hours? Or apply for a position as head of school or something similar?’ He just exploded. How could I ask him that?! Should he just give up painting? His passion, his reason for being? Just so I could get on with my poor rich man’s life?
Suddenly there was a huge gap between us. We both felt it. We both regretted it immediately and quickly tried to fix it. But afterwards I wondered what he really regretted. Did he realize that he had hurt me too by judging my lifestyle so mercilessly?
When I asked him, he replied with a smile. I shouldn’t take it personally, he said. He just didn’t like the world where all that luxury was considered normal.
That comment didn’t make it any better. Because no matter how you look at it, I’m part of the world he seems to hate so much. I am now so aware that the openness at the beginning of our relationship is completely gone. The gap between us is real and will never be completely closed. Did Bernd have a point when he said that a man like Bart can’t afford a woman like me? How unbearable!’
The names in this article have been changed.
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