“Well, I only have one other pair of shoes.”
When my boyfriend said this on a recent brunch date, I knew I was in uncharted territory.
As a sorority girl, I have been stereotyped time and time again. While not nearly all of the conclusions that people draw based on my letters rather than my personality ring true, there are a few that stick. Yes I love crafting, wine, and have been known to wear the occasional bow. I would also be entirely lost without Daddy’s money. Sure, I’ve had summer jobs and even earn the odd paycheck while at school, but the majority of my lifestyle is backed by the immense generosity of my father. When my checking account falls on hard times due to a pair of shoes I couldn’t live without, my dad has always been there for me.
It’s not something I’m proud of. I wish I budgeted better, and worked more, but honestly my friends are exactly the same way. Every time I say “I shouldn’t” there’s someone right beside me telling me “Yes, you need those shoes. But if you don’t get them, can we at least go get margs?” and I’m right back in the hole. I’m so grateful that my father has the money (and the patience) to bail me out of the financial mire I so often find myself in, but because of the privileged atmosphere I come from, and that many of those in the Greek system come from, the people in my social circle are for the most part, in my socioeconomic circle as well.
So dating a boy with only two pairs of shoes is something new for me. Yes, I knew that most of his closet consisted of T-Shirts and (horror of horrors) cargo shorts, but I’d thought that was just bad taste combined with a certain level of apathy. But when I commented on the fact that the canvas shoes he always wore had nearly disintegrated with wear, and casually asked why he didn’t throw them out, the response nearly floored me.
I have now learned that my boyfriend pays for nearly everything in his life by himself. His scholarship to our university has allowed him to feel comfortable about where he stands with student debt, but he still has loans to worry about, and day-to-day living expenses. When I run out of money, I shamefacedly call my dad, saying, “I’m sooo sorry, but I really just need another $100 to make it through the month.” When he runs out, he waits for the next paycheck from his work-study to come in, staying in and avoiding temptation until then. In extreme situations when he does borrow from his dad, it’s always with the promise of repayment.
His family isn’t exactly hard up, just a normal, lower-middle-class family making ends meet with not much room for luxuries (though I’m still coming to terms with the idea of at least 20 pairs of shoes as a “luxury” rather than absolutely necessary). In this relationship, I’ve come to expect fewer fancy dinners, and more afternoon milkshakes. And as much as I believe in feminism, I have to admit it bothered me a bit at first when my half-hearted suggestion that we split the bill wasn’t brushed aside. But he cares about what I want, and listens when I talk, which is more than I can say for some of the guys who’ve taken me out for steaks without a second glance at the check. I am now privileged in a new way: privileged to know this man and to know how hard he has worked and continues to work for everything he has.
Of course, I still expect a birthday present—but knowing that I’m someone he’s chosen to spend his hard-earned money on would make even a pair of socks feel special.
After all, I’ve still got Daddy to depend on for the shoes..