Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Suddenly Cinderella: I am engaged to the love of my life, who comes from another country. Up until now, we’ve lived a very typical life together of young professionals who are just finding our feet in the world. In other words, we’ve been frugal, lived within our means, eat at fancy places only on special occasions, travel economy, and so on. My fiancé is, in fact, the more frugal of the two of us. I’ve had to encourage him to buy “fancier” clothing and to stay at better hotels. I’ve met his parents when they visited him and they struck me as nice, middle-class folk with no airs, much like my own parents.
Since our engagement, I’ve wanted to visit his home country. He kept being noncommittal and evasive. I began to get suspicious that something was wrong.
Eventually he confessed that his family was in fact EXTREMELY wealthy (I do mean “extremely”). I Googled them and it’s all true.
I know this isn’t a bad thing, but I can’t help feeling totally blindsided, almost deceived. I recall with mortification the times I complained about “1 percenters” to him, or when I took his parents to what I thought was a fancy restaurant, but which surely was like a Wendy’s to them. I can’t help acting a little awkwardly around him, and I think he feels a little embarrassed too. I almost feel I never really knew the man, and I wonder if we live on totally different planets. What can I do to get over this?
A: You write that your fiancé is more frugal than you and that his parents have no airs, so it’s possible that his evasiveness was an attempt to avoid this very situation. It’s possible that these are “1 percenters” who want to be seen as more than their bank accounts; rich people are people too! Look at the clues in the ways they’re choosing to live their lives; is it more likely that they’re doing some sort of middle-class drag show to bamboozle you, or that they, despite their wealth, haven’t been corrupted by it?
This is not an exact comparison but it might be useful for you: What if the financial situation was the opposite? What if they seemed like nice, middle-class folks and you found out they were destitute? Would you think less of them? Would you feel fooled? Or would you think these people can be defined by more than their net worth?
As you think about this, also extend that grace to yourself. This seems to be as much about your insecurity, which is normal. Money can change things and people, but it doesn’t have to. They’ve had this money the whole time, and if you never Googled them, you would never have thought of them differently. Just like Constance Wu’s character in Crazy Rich Asians, you’re going to have to zero in on the truth of your relationship you’ve already established and block out the noise of the money. That’s the key to getting over this. At least until the sequel.
Because of circumstances beyond my control, fate, and bad timing, I am underemployed and having to use the local food bank to help supplement my family’s grocery needs. I only go once a month and only take what we can use. While having to deal with my own embarrassment and shame, I find myself resentful of the other people there.
I get extremely angry when noticing people with expensive accessories and clothes vying for a limited number of resources, when I have had to sell pretty much everything I own just to stay in my apartment and keep my daughter in clothes and shoes. How can they justify coming for free food or other amenities while still owning an iPad, $500 purse, and more jewelry than Mr. T?