My girlfriend and I are planning to get married this year. Her finances are in perfect order (she's frugal, with no debts, while I owe $8K on credit cards), so we agreed that she'd manage our money after marriage. But recently, something happened that has me worried. I bought a ski jacket and asked her opinion on it (color, style) and bragged that I'd gotten it for only $40. We both love deals, and she likes to have input into how I dress. But, she turned what used to be a fun moment together into a lecture about how I don't need another jacket and should be clearing my debt instead of spending. I'm afraid I'll see this escalating after marriage. — Hammered
"Hey, honey!" you call to your girlfriend, who looks up from the sink where she's rinsing out plastic bags to reuse. "How do I look in my spiffy new jacket?" Of course, you're fishing for a compliment — "Like a million bucks!" — not an estimate: "Like $8,040 in debt, if you don't count fees and interest."
Unfortunately, one man's el-cheapo ski jacket is one woman's quilted nylon warning sign. The way you see it, it's not like you did a P. Diddy and splurged on some one-of-a-kind parka they had to kill 20 ostriches and a baby seal to make. The way she sees it, there's always going to be a $40 something-or-other twinkling at you from a store window, and instead of the voice of fiscal prudence, you'll hear "Visa: It's everywhere you want to be!" (Modeling cut-rate ski-wear in bankruptcy court?)
Couples who have no problem laying out their weird sex proclivities on Date Three go all shy schoolgirl when it comes to talking about money, or figure they'll just get married and work out the financial nitty-gritty later. Bad idea. A person's relationship with money is complex: It comes out of how they were raised, experiences they've had, and their genetics. You and your girlfriend are overdue for a frank discussion about how you each view money (Hopes! Fears! Dreams!), the origins of your thinking, and where you think your shortcomings are. Opening up about your money issues should help you have compassion for each other's fears: in her case, living pawn ticket to pawn ticket; in your case, spending a lifetime having your allowance docked by your mother.
You can probably come up with reasons for buying that ski jacket ("No sooner did I come home than she was raining on my parade!"). But, since you're about to enter a partnership, it would be a show of good faith to act more like a partner — like your actions have bearing on the whole. You and she should probably have a joint account for mutual expenses (bills, trips, savings) and separate accounts to use as you wish. As long as you're paying off your debt and aren't racking up more, you two should have a deal that she doesn't get to lecture you or even give you an eye roll about what you buy. But, before you marry, be sure that you can accept each other's differences. For a relationship to work, you need to find "that thing your partner does" endearingly annoying as opposed to annoyingly annoying ... even if you can't buy into their notion that the fundamental human needs are air, water, food, shelter and bugging the dog with the coolest new battery-operated, radio-controlled helicopter.
Queer and present danger
A gay guy from work invited me to his wedding, and I'm wondering how it will be different from a regular wedding. I don't want to say or do the wrong thing. — A Man Who's Not Used to This Sort of Thing
Gay marriage can take some getting used to. As Craig Kilborn put it, marriage has long been "a sacred union between a man and a pregnant woman."
The truth is, a gay wedding is generally just slightly more gay than weddings already are, with all the ice sculptures, tiny foo-foo snacks on little silver trays, and ludicrous flower arrangements. Sure, the guys' gift registry might test your comfort level with a request for some bizarre item for their bedroom — like a table lamp from Crate & Barrel. And, at the ceremony, you will probably be asked to participate in some weird rituals like toasting to the couple's happiness and eating cake. Beyond that, a gay wedding is "a regular wedding" in that two people in love are pledging to spend their lives together. They'll let you know, in subtle or direct ways, what to call them (husband and husband, partners, etc.). Otherwise, the usual wedding rules are in effect: Don't chew with your mouth open, take the liquor home with you, or try to grope the bride (should you spot one wandering down the highway on your way home).
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners into Impolite Society.