When it comes to finances and my single status, a recent visit to the Business Office at work perhaps revealed more than I was prepared to know. I was there to enquire why I owed so much in back taxes, and so the lady pulled up my history and said I had filed under the wrong status. “Turns out,” she says, “you’re a Single, Zero.” I thought: You said a mouthful there.
But as she analyzed my income and exemptions, I found myself taking inventory of the sum of my experiences: I’ve traveled all around the world, leveraging my experience to grow in my profession, and making close friends throughout. And so, while reflecting on how I’ve invested my life, it occurred to me: The only thing that makes me even slightly resemble a Single, Zero is not reflecting the distance I’ve traveled through the choices I make. Or in other words: Selling myself short. Especially when it comes to men.
Case in point: my last serious relationship. Let’s call him The Cheapest Man Alive. Or … Cheap, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. My relationship with Cheap lasted a year and during that span the only thing he ever paid for was memorialized on the memo section of a $60 check. That memo read: “For Plan B a.k.a. No Baby.” Need more proof? He was so cheap that he would want to split meals and then split the price of the split meal.
If my math is correct, that’s “cheap” to the second power.
Certainly, someone has to date the cheap guys, but I wonder if their frugality also says something about their feelings. Since navigating the dating world myself, I know that it does for me. For example, on first dates if I don’t like the guy I insist on splitting the bill in order to be fair. But what of the guys who both split the bill and really like you?
I delved into this situation when I started seeing a struggling musician. Over the course of the month we spent together, we would always split the bill and then sometimes I’d pick it up out of pity. One weekend, to save money I suggested we go camping. He brought his guitar and an array of tuned harmonicas. I brought food, supplies and a Black Box of wine. And so we spent a night under the stars by a river playing music and drinking wine, warm by a fire, having a blast.
When he invited me over to his apartment later that week, I decided I would talk to him about money using a speech I prepared in my bathroom mirror. It went like this: I really like you, but when I pay for everything, it makes me feel like we are just friends. Before I could even begin said speech, though, he stopped me to say he had a surprise for me waiting on the kitchen counter. I softened. “Go check it out,” he said. I smiled adoringly.
When I got to the kitchen, the only thing on the counter was the leftover Black Box of wine from our camping trip. “Where’s the surprise?” I asked, hoping I hadn’t found it. “It’s on the counter,” he said.
I came out holding the box of wine, trying to hide my mortification. “See, I didn’t drink it,” he said. “Well, I had one glass, but that’s all.”
Accordingly, I ripped the bladder from the box, squeezed the dregs into a glass and drank to the last time we would be seeing each other.
Now, people say that money talks, and certainly while sitting in the Business Office at work, mine seemed instead to howl at me like the Ghost of Relationships Past: Single! Zero! In more ways than one! And so I continued to take inventory. I looked back at the musician sitting on his couch, proud of the fact that he didn’t finish my Black Box of wine. I reflected on my ex who only sprang for the checkbook when it came to his offspring, and I realized that being cheap isn’t always about how you spend your money. Sometimes “cheap” can be the way you make someone feel.
While being frugal can be an admiral quality, being cheap is usually a sign of selfishness. If you’re in a relationship where you can’t tell the difference, listen to your unconscious mind and remember that it speaks to you, not in words, but in feelings. If you find you’re in a relationship with a cheap significant other, let that person go and spend the time (and money!) you’ll save investing in yourself.