More Than Money
Issue #28

Who Knows You're Rich?

Table of Contents

“The Cost of Denial”

I was one of the last people to find out I was rich. As an inheritor, I knew in theory that I had plenty of money in the bank. But because I didn't feel entitled to use it, I couldn't experience myself as rich. At the same time, I attracted romantic partners who felt utterly entitled to my money.

This was a painful lesson-to be repeatedly taken advantage of by women I loved, and whom I thought loved me. With the wisdom of hindsight, I see now this was a natural consequence of my denial-my partners were simply compensating for my unwillingness to acknowledge my wealth's existence. As my friends say: luckily, I could afford the tuition; and I am wiser now, as well as more able to enjoy and be open about my wealth.

What changed? Before, I was afraid of being seen as a walking wallet. I felt personally responsible to right all injustices, and was a sitting duck for personal requests from anyone in need. Personal requests still tug my heart, but I have set up a "Board of Directors"-that is, five friends whose acumen I respect - and have committed to getting their input before agreeing to any requests. (By the way, I highly recommend www.circlelending.org/flash, a website that has templates and advice for successful personal loans.) I have admitted my ignorance about what can truly be done to change economic injustice, and so have declared a year's moratorium on my philanthropy. During this year I will study how change happens and how I might best leverage my giving.

In the past, not only was I afraid of being a walking wallet, I was also afraid of being treated with deference or revulsion because of my money. I'll never forget when my men's group met at my house for the first time: the leader took one look at my obviously expensive beach house and launched into a discourse on how much he resented me. At the time, I didn't have the language to engage him in conversation. Now I do. Now I could empathize with his pain about economic unfairness, but not take it personally. I could re veal that he doesn't know at what cost the wealth has come to me and let him know how I feel being objectified like that. I know from gay friends that being "out" about money has incredible parallels to being "out" about being gay; in both situations, having the language and confidence to talk about it is a pre requisite to being open. Still, there are times to be open and times it makes more sense to "pass" (that is, to keep hidden about one's identity).

I used to drive an old Ford Taurus (for a while, the most popular car in America) deliberately to hide my wealth. Well, last week I bought a Lexus-not because it's expensive, but because it is high tech, comfortable, and highly reliable. It feels like me, and I'm fine with who I am.

--based on conversations with Anne Slepian and Pamela Gerloff


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