Is it money? Or is it manners?

July 5, 2014

nice-girlsSex is no longer taboo, not when we can read in any newspaper about 12-year-olds having oral sex. Or crazy farmers having relations with their livestock.

No, sex has fallen off the taboo meter.

People talk about the sex in The Wolf of Wall Street but that movie’s not about sex. It’s about money.

 We’re not supposed to talk about money.

It’s a taboo subject, which means I want to talk about it today.

I’ve blogged a bit about this before, but this time, I’m taking it further.

Let me set the stage in case you don’t remember.  I had a very long career during which I made my own way up the ladder and supported myself during a long single life. After divorce I never took or even asked for anything, just what I came in with.

I worked hard and I did ok.  I wasn’t rich, not by any means, but I did have a good salary and managed to save, invest and earn a little bit of security for the future.

Enter my darling husband. Or, more appropriate, RE-enter my darling husband.

I’ve known him since he was 20 years old. We were married when he went to law school and during the early years of his legal career.  We lived in the sh ithole that was called “married students housing” during school and afterwards had begun to improve our standard of living –and then we were divorced.

He worked hard and did well in the ensuing years. By the time we remarried, some 26 years after our divorce, he’d established financial security, which, when added to mine, meant we both had a comfortable retirement coming.

We live a happy life. Not an extravagant one, unless you count our travel. Which we like to do as much as possible.  But other than that we live pretty modestly. No mansion, no luxury cars, we eat home most nights, go to discount movies, all the usual things. Most of my friends have much better jewelry collections , bigger homes and more expensive clothes and cars. They cocktail and eat out more often than we do.

Oh, I do have one killer engagement ring.

“Hmm, why didn’t I get alimony?” I asked him, joking around one day.

“You’re getting it now,” he said, looking at my ring.

I deserve that ring, by the way. It’s symbolic.  I mean, he did leave me once.

Anyway, back to money.

It’s been surprising–no–shocking is a better word–how many people feel that they have to comment on our financial status. On their perception of it.

Not exactly snarky comments, but comments nonetheless.  For some reason, our financial situation lurks in the background to be pulled out from time to time. It always blindsides me.

Some of these people have their own financial security.

Others could have, had they made some of the decisions that we did.

Or the sacrifices.

A few have stable and generous pensions. And much bigger and fancier houses.

None of them are poor or even close to it. Some have significant six-figure incomes.

But for some reason they simply have to comment on our finances in some way.  Some even assume that my husband or I should pay for…whatever.

“You can afford it.”

It rubs me the wrong way. In a big way.

Because they usually can afford it just as much as we can.

I don’t get it. There were many years –DECADES, even–when I was friends with people who had big money. I never once had an expectation or made a crack about their means.

Maybe the people who make these comments have forgotten their manners. How does what we have or don’t have enter into anything?

It doesn’t.

It’s offensive to make assumptions about people and it’s not polite to comment about their means–either their lack of means or your perception that they have means.

 I have two words for these people:



40 comments on “Is it money? Or is it manners?
  1. That sounds very frustrating Carol. It does seem that some people feel entitled to comment on other peoples lives, whether it’s their finances, or children, or relationships. I’m learning to distance myself from people who no longer make me feel good. But it’s not easy, habits can be hard to break, (at least for me!).

    • When some of your closest friends do this, you really do think twice. I’ve started pushing back on it. I had one that I can’t blog about that was just over the top. Honestly.

      • Roz Warren says:

        I was just joking with my sweetie today about writing a dozen essays that can only be published after my death, about the things I can’t write about now without getting into LOTS of trouble. Maybe you can do the same with respect to that over-the-top comment. Which, of course, I’m dying to know about.

  2. PatU says:

    Tell me about it! I get that All. THE. Time.

  3. I never know what to say when people make ignorant comments of a financial matter.
    It is SO rude.
    I have let people that do this fade out of my life.

  4. kim tackett says:

    You know, I just realized that I make snarky comments to my friends about their early retirements. I am envious (also self employed, and will be able to retire once my daughter is done with college), but I didn’t chose the government job. My friends did, and now have awesome pensions which enabled them to retire before 60. Also, one kid, state school (I have two, out of state, both with year abroad experiences). So we made our choices too…When I read your piece I realized I do say stuff that isn’t that dissimilar to what you’ve experience. But it’s about time. So now…I will stop it : ).

    • I didn’t choose that path, either, and do have friends with cushy retirements. Would have been nice, but that wasn’t my choice, either. 😉 Fact is, I couldn’t have stood it.

  5. Carol, I love how direct you are. I am sitting here smiling, thinking about those very friends of yours who might have made those comments. Hope they read this! Thanks for the good advice.

    • This is such a hard topic to write about, Margaret, because money really is the last taboo. I feel hugely blessed that M is back in my life and all the rest is frosting. It would’ve been the same blessing with out it.

  6. Cathy Graham says:

    So true about the difficulties to speak openly about finances even more than sex these days. The speculations and judgments others make can be very hurtful and totally wrong as a result.

    I am very nervous about finances and tend to bury my head in the sand whenever it comes to the topic. It doesn’t interest me beyond keeping the bills paid, a roof over our head and food on the table. My son is studying business. He can worry about all the finer points. LOL!

    Good for you taking a stand whenever people step over your boundaries about your financial situation. None of their friggin business!

  7. I’m not retired, nor do I have a lot of savings or income, either, but every time I purchase anything that is considered the least bit expensive, I’ve noticed that the cost of whatever it is becomes a subject of interest to some people. My shoes, my glasses, my phone . . . it’s no one’s business what *I* thought was a reasonable price to pay for something I need — or, for that matter, simply want. When I bought my car back in 2005, people demanded to know what I paid for it. The few people I gave a number to reacted as though I had been royally screwed and the clear implication was that THEY would have gotten a far better deal than I did. Why is that their business? Irks me to no end. It’s MY money, and I decided going in — after much research — what I would be willing to pay. GAH!

  8. Some people do get a kick out of poking their noses in others businesses and put them down from time to time. Such people I believe, are wrapped in their own insecurities which they project by rubbing you the wrong way. I normally give it back to such people and then try to stay away from such negative situations.

  9. Karen says:

    My favourite episode occurred after I’d signed my first publishing deal a number of years ago. At the same time, for completely unrelated reasons, we bought a new car. This apparently convinced one of our neighbours that my writing had made us suddenly wealthy (couldn’t be further from the truth). She took to asking me, whenever we saw one another, whether I was “rich yet.” I wanted to strangle her. Finally, one day as I passed her house, she bellowed from her front doorstep, “Hey, are you rich yet?” I yelled back, “YES!!” I suspect it wasn’t the answer, but the glint of malice in my eye that convinced her to stop asking.

    As my mother used to say, some people got no couth.

  10. Karen says:

    This really hit home because I experience friends and family making comments about money all the time. My husband and I have been married since I was 18 and I will turn 61 in a few months. We went to college (completely under my own steam with no family help) and graduate school together (hubby’s Ll.m. degree and my M.A. degree work were accomplished by managing a 42 unit apt building.) We spent 9 1/2 years abroad for “his” jobs while I ran our family life in three different countries and had small jobs (teaching English, doing part time journalism,editing and teaching writing classes.) We also saved every penny of our ex-pat COLAS, saved, saved for our retirement, put our daughters through great colleges, drove and still drive serviceable cars instead of luxury cars. Now we have a very comfortable retirement, can continue to live in the Bay Area, travel, etc. I am always so surprised at the snarky comments I usually can’t even reply. And in my case, sometimes the remarks (usually from male family members) insinuate that I had nothing to do with our financial success. What does one say? I think I’ve been too concerned with being polite and need to unleash my inner outrage.

  11. Lucia P. says:

    Are you secretly following me around? I say that because I just had this conversation last night with my husband. So you are spot-on in my book. If the rules of a friendship dictate that I cannot: express my happiness, live how I want to, and have to explain or dilute the positive things in my life, that’s a friendship I have to back away from.

    Thanks for a great post.

  12. Well said…I hope they get the message!

  13. Donna says:

    I have 10 million responses to this. All of them funneling back to one thing….too much focus on themselves. Aside from folks who have money issues, I see this with people who have poor health, marriage problems, or children problems. They see other people’s blessings and wish they had…a better marriage, better health, better children and the ability to maybe just pay their bills. Folks with a lot of money still have money issues, they may not have the money we think they do, just what they want us to think they have. Whenever you focus on yourself you cannot see what others are dealing with. If your friends appreciated the fact that you are back together with your husband, which is a great story, they wouldn’t think about your finances. Money would be a small detail in a very interesting life. (Besides every bone in my southern body screams how unseemly it is to talk about money). When people focus on themselves they become very unhappy…I learned that the hard way….I am my most unhappy…when I focus on me. And I am completely blissful when I am serving others.
    As an aside the little sign you posted at the end of your blog is completely true…there is plenty of work to go around, plenty of love to go around, plenty of opportunity….that hasn’t been the message given in a while. Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t make any one poor. I wish that message was sent out more.

  14. Laurel Regan says:

    While I will joke about my own situation and the fact that I’m in the wrong line of work, will never be able to retire, etc. I can’t imagine making any kind of comment or reference to another person’s finances. How rude and presumptive! I think it comes from being brought up in a family where finances were very personal and private (for example, I’ve never at any time known what my dad’s salary was) – just not something that was a part of polite conversation. Sorry this has happened to you. 🙁

  15. You are absolutely correct- on all accounts . I’m sick of it too.

  16. Kim says:

    I’ll confess to thinking or assuming things about one’s financial situation at times. I don’t think I’ve ever said it out loud to anyone other than my husband but that’s really not an excuse.

    My moments of frustration and lame commentary came with statements like “How come THEY can travel to Timbucktoo and WE can’t?” or “Gee, it must be so nice for them to be able to go out and do those awesome things every week.”

    You know what? It’s stupid and it’s petty and I realize now that those were my insecurities at work. I still have the occasional thought but I’m getting better thankfully. I don’t know what people have been through or how hard they may have had to work to be able to have that vacation so who am I to judge?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Really appreciate your perspective.

  17. I agree, this has become a disturbing trend! I have been on both ends of the have’s and have not’s and it’s nobody else’s business what I spend my money on or if I have it to spend or not.

  18. Lana says:

    I LOVE your final quote. I think in general our society has no manners anymore, so people feel they can say/ask/do anything they want. Very well said!

  19. Becky Blades says:

    Sing it, sister! This should all go without saying. Like politics and religion, money is a topic that is personal and unique to the individual. Minding one’s own business out of consideration for another is the very essence of manners.

  20. Lynne says:

    Manners? What are those????? Honestly, I have gotten to the point that nothing surprises me. One gets criticized for success and criticized for failure across the board – financially, physically, emotionally…grrrr!

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