The conversation started innocently enough. "Haven't seen you for so long, how are you?", "What are you doing now?", "How is business after we open up, less people playing games?", "What is your wife doing now?", "How much is the flat, if you don't mind saying?" As the discussion invariably drifted towards $$$, huat ah!, this reminded me of an earlier phase in my relationship where I had to grapple with this question:
How would you feel if your partner made more/less money than you?
I'm not concerned that my partner earns more/less than I do. I don't feel better/worse for it. Truly. Perhaps this might be difficult to believe, but I am more concerned about other things, like how much we need to live a sustainable and fulfilling life, what our work ethic and values are, and what personal aspirations drive us forward.
This question, or variations of it, gets more airtime than it needs in Singapore. On second thought, I stand corrected. Answers to this question are freely offered even when no one asks it.
I feel many different things about this - all of it shaped by my upbringing, faith, and life experiences. Philosophically, money to me is a means to an end. We earn and spend it. Money in, money out. It's a tool.
So as a lens to interpret everything else I believe in: how much/little money someone earns is not a reflection of their worth or value. It could be how society values/mis-values their work at that particular moment in time. It's clear that many people do vital work but are not paid for it, and vice versa.
When I first met my partner (and now wife), I was in a non-profit. I took home only a third of what she earned at that time in a corporate role. A few months into our relationship, we started to have arguments about where to go and what to do for dates, what was affordable, and how much money was ok to spend.
I was very uncomfortable with her spending what I thought was a lot of her money on me, on things like nice meals and gifts. There were unspoken gender norms and cultural expectations. We had different experiences with money and struggled with the internal and external pressures of keeping up with everyone else and progressing in life. For example, acquaintances comparing notes about their holidays made us wonder if our relationship was all the poorer for the lack of it then.
All that was necessary, because it forced us to prioritise and communicate to ourselves and others what was important to us. It helped us to articulate what was meaningful for both of us in life. It taught us to value and budget for those things appropriately. I learnt to temper my naïve (or even cynical) ideals about living in a consumer-capitalistic world, to see the practical importance of having/earning enough money to lead a fulfilling and purposeful life. It is possible to do meaningful work AND be justly rewarded for it in order to enjoy the beauty of living AND provide for the people we love.
I can't say that we've solved this question today, but we've gotten much better at talking about money matters in the context of all the other things that are important to us. Perhaps, until our next discussion of how much money has to go inside the ang pows, haha.
If you would like a dedicated space for important conversations with your date/partner, or a safe way to discuss those burning questions, check out the Pillow Tok for 2 (Dating) set or Pillow Tok for 2 (Couples) set. The play sets have been designed to help you and your partner explore issues that matter, in a fun and meaningful way. Why wait until tensions or conflict arise, when we can comfortably (re)discover what matters for our loved one? Make time for each other today.
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