When I first met Mark, he told me he was in the process of starting two businesses. He said he wanted to retire by the time he was 35 and that he planned on owning a collection of jets, cars and other fancy things a writer like me could never dream of owning.
I wasn’t impressed by the amount of wealth this guy was counting on or the number of material items he hoped to possess one day but the fact that he seemed so ambitious and determined to succeed made him attractive.
As someone who came from a small town, big dreams were rare. Most people I went to high school with settled in working at doctor’s offices and credit unions after graduation. Being a creative type or entrepreneur was mostly unheard of so when I met Mark in our college town and he told me his plans for his future, I thought I had found someone like me. Someone who came from nothing but wanted to be something.
Quickly after getting into our relationship though, I realized we came from completely different backgrounds. His parents were extremely wealthy and had provided their children with a life of privilege.
Mark told me about their yearly family holidays to Europe, ski trips to Aspen, and his study abroad semesters to exciting destinations. His parents paid for his $100,000 aviation degree and gave him a hefty living allowance every month that paid all of his bills, never forcing him to have a job in college or after graduation so that he could “find himself.”
When we watched the first episode of "Girls" and Mark heard about the controversy surrounding the show he said, “I don’t understand. Why is it a big deal Hannah wants her parents to give her money while she finishes her book? Seems pretty normal to me.” Cue the music to the Twilight Zone.
I, on the other hand, had never come close to that lifestyle. I was raised on a small agricultural farm a few miles from Michigan’s largest prison. My parent’s didn’t have an abundance of mone,y but I never knew it because we were rich in land and fresh produce and flowers in the green houses.
In my family, college was encouraged but not forced. My parents and siblings never had an education past high school so no one knew the steps of how to get into a university and because of that it was up to me to figure out how to get there. My dad had cancer and spent a lot of time in the hospital so between dealing with that and the farm, my future education was a topic that went left undiscussed between my parents and I.
After dealing with my father’s death when I was a teenager, I was almost 21 when I finally entered my first college classroom and I was eager to be there. My mom never offered to pay my rent, my tuition or even for my groceries. It was simply an understanding that after I moved out at 17 I was on my own.
I saw college as a way to better my life and to become more than what my parents had modestly achieved and because of that viewpoint I scoured my college campus for resources. I used my time in college to make connections, take advantage of professor’s office hours, and take on as many internships and jobs as I could.
I’m not saying struggling like this or having a family that doesn’t give a shit if you survive or die is better than having a cushy life of free tuition and trips to Italy. I’d love to have just one day of my life where I don’t have to worry about money. However, I do believe the things I’ve overcome have made me a stronger, more independent person.
Trouble started brewing between Mark and I when we realized how fundamentally different we were. I had been struggling over the summer with the death of my brother that had led to me working less. I was barely keeping my head above water financially and was dealing with an eviction while he would tell me his mom had just put $2,000 in his bank account because she “was worried he was getting depressed.” I scoffed at this and honestly, I was jealous.
“Why don’t you just get a job?” I would ask over and over.
Mark told me he wasn’t qualified for any real jobs, he had never had to work before and had no experience in anything so he was trying to create his own business. He refused to take even basic jobs at coffee shops or bookstores because he said he was taught to “never trade hours for dollars.”
Besides, his mother told me he wasn’t allowed to move out of state for a job despite Michigan’s crumbling economy. Yeah, that’s right. He wasn’t “allowed” to move, even though he’s a grown-ass man. And he sure as hell didn’t want to rebel against his mother because then his money might stop flowing.
He would come up with ideas about designing Iphone apps, dorm furniture rentals, food trucks, and a slew of other business ideas that never happened because these ideas needed real work and hours put behind them, a concept difficult for him to understand when he was relying on his trust fund.
He wanted money and success to come to him as immediate as the bank transactions his mother gave him did. Soon I discovered the ambitious guy I first met was just someone totally and completely lost, a victim of overparenting and privilege. Maybe someday he would achieve his dreams of fortune but it certainly wouldn’t be anytime soon.
Our relationship took a turn for the worst when I only had $20 to my name and was unsure of when my next paycheck was going to come. I wasn’t that depressed about it, though. I had food in the cupboards, a mattress on the floor I could sleep on, and a stack of books to read. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, obviously. I was taking steps to get back on my feet and I knew it wouldn’t always be like this.
Mark, however, constantly criticized me for my standard of living. He told me he had never had less than $1,000 in his bank account and that was at his “most desperate of times.”
“How can you be okay with only $20 in your account!?” he asked me. Although he boasted about his wad of cash he was depressed, lethargic, and cried tears every few days about his miserable life. We simply couldn’t understand each other.
He went on to tell me my family was “fucked” and that “a real family” provides all of the things he had been secured with. I realized then that our differences in backgrounds and mindsets were far too great to ever achieve a happy and successful relationship.
I don’t expect the next guy I date to have overcome the same obstacles I have because I understand there are many different types of families and situations out there, but I want someone who knows what he wants in life and is willing to do anything to achieve his goals, even if it means slinging coffee at Starbucks for awhile.