This was going to be a hard conversation. While I usually looked forward to dates with my boyfriend, I had been dreading this one. He had suggested we go to a charming neighborhood tavern—an old church somewhat irreverently turned into a pub. Inside, it had stained glass windows and repurposed church pew booths.
We decided to sit outside on the shaded flagstone patio shielded from the busy street by a glossy laurel hedge. It was late summer, but a cool breeze lifted the corners of the paper napkins and fluttered the umbrellas overhead. I both wanted the conversation to begin and wanted to be done with it. We were here to talk about something that most polite society avoids discussing on a date: money.
Before I started dating my now-husband, I hated talking about money. I thought it was unimportant and extremely boring. Not because I had millions of dollars lying around—quite the contrary. I was a poor private school teacher with no savings.
But, deep down, I believed some money myths. They went something like: “I don’t need to worry about saving because I have so little left at the end of the month anyway.” Or, “Talking (or thinking too hard) about money is so materialistic. I’m better than that.”And (most insidious of all), “Those daily three-dollar Americanos don’t add up to any significant amount.”
Talking about money was like trying on jeans that I knew were too tight. There wasn’t enough to go around, so why even bother?
So, I pretty much avoided the subject—until I couldn’t any more. I was in a serious relationship that was moving towards engagement. We were talking about all of the hard stuff: family life, career plans, where we wanted to live, etc. When my future husband suggested that we have a conversation about money, I squirmed. (Well, I probably whined. My whining was more adorable then.)
He had a list, he said, of common expenses that we could go over together. Each of us would say how important that item was to us financially. I could tell this was important to him, but it sounded stressful to me.
“I hate talking about money,” I told him. “But what if we went out for a beer and talked it over somewhere pleasant?” At least I’d get a date out of it, I thought. That was how I ended up on a money date.
I drank about a gallon of ice water and waited for him to start the conversation. The list was long. It started with items like: a dishwasher” and “A.C.” and built up to “buying a home” and “traveling abroad.” I sipped my beer and listened to him say how much he liked air-conditioning. As we went through the list I felt another money myth slip away: ”Money is stupid. There are so many more important things to talk about.” As we discussed these items, I learned that money actually was important to talk about.
During the course of the conversation, I learned a lot about the man sitting next to me. He was open, frank, and funny. He liked air-conditioning; he did not want to drive a brand new car. He made me feel more relaxed and open to saying what I thought, too. (Something I really struggled with while dating). There were a lot of things on that list that I didn’t care about; we agreed on a lot of stuff, too, which surprised me. We both were willing to spend money on travel to see our parents, and we didn’t care about eating out that much.
As a light breeze fluttered my skirt against my shins and I leaned back into my tippy café chair; I realized my shoulders that had been stiff with nerves were finally relaxing. This was actually kind of fun—a little like playing house. I enjoyed imagining a little world in which we traveled to visit in-laws and drove a reliable—but not fancy—car.
I actually don’t remember most of the items on that list. And I’m sure that, three years into marriage, I have reversed my opinion on some of them. But there were two lasting effects of that money date. The first was that it shattered for me the myth that money was an unimportant subject. I realized that what people were willing to spend money on said a lot about them. The proverb, “where your treasure is, there your heart is also,” came to mind.
The second effect was the precedent that date set in our relationship. From then on we were a couple that talked about money. And it wasn’t a terrible or awkward conversation. Sometimes it was actually really fun and interesting. I got to know my husband a little better, he got to know me, and I’m sure we avoided some unnecessary fights.
I was terrified that our first year of marriage was going to be miserable—another myth I believed—but it was great. My husband’s wisdom in bringing up the topic of money early before we actually combined our finances saved us a lot of heartache, and I credit that “money date” as the first step in that direction.
Editor’s Note: Dating Unscripted is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.