People don't talk much about the big M-word in most relationships. Oh, not marriage. Marriage comes up enough times that it's less the elephant in the room than the elephant people are having a dance party with. What I'm talking about here is 'M' for money. How do you discuss that delicate thing—your finances—with the person you love?
In the beginning, all is good. You casually date, sometimes he pays, sometimes you pay. Money isn't something you talk about, unless you discuss things you'd like to do one day: hot air balloon, scuba diving, drive a new car. Implicit in those statements is the idea that if you had more money, that's how you'd spend it. If you're a broke, just-out-of-college couple, you stay in, eat Wai-Wai and watch pirated movies on your laptop. It's a cheap lifestyle, but you're so in love that it looks glamorous. If you're further on, you splurge on fancy dinners and expensive holidays, life is short, you tell yourself, and falling in love is expensive.
The trouble really starts when you decide he or she is 'The One', and both of you take the plunge and move in together—either before, or after marriage. Suddenly, the thrice-a-week romantic dinner is the daily daal-chawal. You're grumpy because you have a deadline and you can't watch a movie right then, even if your partner wants to. If you have to see yet another Wai Wai noodle, you'll throw up, and you just got back from holiday so you can't go again. Also, you hate to mention this, but your bank balance is a bit low. How to bring up money in front of the one you love? They'll think you're being cheap or strange or a combination of both.
Why are we so shy about discussing money? I think it should be one of the first things a new couple talks about—especially if they're in very different jobs or have very different priorities. She wants a new car, he wants to travel, she's a saver, he's a spender.
It usually comes to a head when people start thinking about having children—the big bills start coming in around then, and you can't bargain with a maternity home, or pay school fees on EMI. (Can you?) This is when your relationship will last or break. It's one of the big questions, as big as “where would you like to live?” or “do you want to have kids?” and yet, no one wants to discuss the money, who's paying the bills, what you're saving for and so on and so forth.
I've seen it often: one partner feels guilty, the other feels resentful. Still no discussion, until finally there's a major fight. And another. And so on, until they finally realise that they can no longer dance around the subject.
For all this, I'm terrible with money. I panic when I spend, but I don't manage to save very much either. Usually I make impulse purchases, or buy the cheapest thing, which wears out after a few months of use. My partner and I split the bills depending on who has more money in their account that month, and we have nothing put towards retirement. But, on the plus side, we agree usually about the stuff we want to spend on. And we're working on being more responsible.
It's only scary to talk about for the first few minutes. And when you're done, what a relief it is.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own.
Last Updated 6:38 PM IST