For Love or Money: How Finances Can Affect a Relationship

The author of a great new anthology, The Secret Currency of Love, talks about how money affects all of our relationships — and offers advice about how to handle the check on a first date, trying to change your dude's financial habits, and the one good thing about this terrible economy.

Before I go into more details about this completely maniacal and terrifying flirting plan I've decided to put myself up to — i.e., introducing myself to at least one stranger a week — I thought you guys might like to take a little break from hearing all about moi. And that it might be fun to give you the scoop on a great new anthology, The Secret Currency of Love, edited by my friend Hilary Black. It's about how money matters affect all of our relationships — the ones with significant others, lovers, friends, and family — and how hard it can be to talk to the people we're closest to about finances.

Did you do this book because you were hoping it would help women be better able to talk to their mates — and to each other — about their finances?

HILARY: Absolutely. And in an economy like this one, money conversations in intimate relationships will be all but unavoidable. The only upside is that I think it will cause people to be more open about money and the power it wields in our personal lives. Because this is happening to all of us, it opens us up more, so that it's more acceptable to acknowledge our financial worries — something that as recently as six months ago was not appropriate for dinner-party conversation.

Have your own presumptions about money changed as a result of working on the book?

HILARY: I've learned that everyone — rich or poor, single or married — has financial issues to work through.

Marie Claire's executive editor, Lucy Kaylin — whom I have a total girl crush on, by the way — has an essay in the book about trying to change her husband's financial ways ... and then learning maybe that wasn't such a great idea. Can we change men, financially? If so, how? If not, why is it a bad idea to think we can, or to try to do that?

HILARY: Getting a man to modify his financial style is tough to do — unless he has already decided he needs to change. It has to come from within, or it won't happen at all.

First date: Should the guy pay? Should you write him off if he doesn't?

HILARY: I do think that on a first date, it's both chivalrous — and informative! — if the man pays.Sure, it's a convention left over from a time when there were more "rules" in the dating world. But today it is one of the few measures by which a woman can judge a man's interest. However, I personally believe that in a relationship, couples should share expenses.

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If the guy is paying during the courtship, when do the two of you start to split things? And how do you broach that topic, early on in a relationship?

HILARY: I think couples should start splitting expenses as soon as it's clear that the relationship is both exclusive and serious, although each individual's income should obviously be taken into account. I think the best way to broach it is in context — when you're planning your first extended vacation as a couple, for example.

Good advice. The book also touches on the topic of the role money plays in friendships. I thought Bliss Broyard's essay about feeling increasingly uncomfortable as her friends got richer and richer — and she didn't — was interesting. I know there have been some activities — certain ritzy vacations or lavish dinners, for example — that I haven't been able to go on, with friends, because I couldn't afford them. So I wonder: Does money have an even bigger impact on who we, as women, befriend than it does on whom we date?

HILARY: My personal feeling is that money plays less of a role in friendship than it does in romantic relationships. After all, when you make a friend, you're not asked to take on her financial values, as you are in a marriage. But I do think it's fair to say that money plays a subtle, and sometimes unsettling role, between women.