Coming into the military was a huge pay cut for me. Pre-Army I was a leasing agent by weekday, occasional exotic dancer by weeknight, and actor by weekend. I had bars baby … bars! Now things are different. If it helps paint a better picture: there have been several occasions since the beginning of my military career where I had to seriously choose between food & GQ. The magazine.
Of course I chose GQ!
Now normally what I would do in a new relationship is fake it until I make it. Being in a long distance relationship has forced me to handle things that most traditional couples wouldn't have to do at this stage. Plane tickets. Hotel rooms. My strained financial situation was first revealed to Mr. Diggs one afternoon as we were spending time at his beautiful Virginia chateaux.
I was feeling like a gold digging queen. He had just taken us out to eat and we were on our way to a theme park. We stopped to fill up and I thought, "well let me put gas in his car. It's the least I can do." So I trot over, swipe my card, and to my horror and utter embarrassment, the word "declined" flashed across the screen for both me and him to see. I slinked back into the car and into my shell as only a good Cancer can do.
"So far you've done everything," I said to him, as we drove to the park. "From plane tickets, to dinners, to hitting the town, you have fronted everything financially. Yes I've done small things but I feel like all the strain is on you! I want to be a part of the life we are trying to build! Together!" He listened, not saying a word until I was finished. When I was done he placed a hand on mine and, before he even spoke his next words, I already felt calmer.
"I know," he said. "I was where you are once. I know how the cards are dealt now. But we are in a relationship and brand new as it may be, we have to make decisions a lot of couples don't have to at this stage. I know when you're able to, and trust me babe I will be HAPPY when that day comes, you'll do the same for me."
That man. Always knows how to light up my days. As comforting as this news was, it did however shake my entire foundation. Everything I believed in financially was turning. I could make the decision to sink into myself and withdraw emotionally which would eventually break us. Old questions I thought I had answered were left unanswered now.
Is it possible to have romance on a budget?
Just how much does money really matter?
Unable to answer these questions alone, I turned to my most kept secret: the Facebook status. No it's not your traditional interview, but it usually yields good results. It's a way for me to ask my best friends the same question all at once. Because we all live in different parts of the United States, this saves a lot of leg work. And phone calls.
My childhood friend Jessica Hayden was glad to share her views on the matter. To her, romance is completely possible even when "you're so far in debt, you're drowning in it." I asked her how she defines romance and her answer would leave even the toughest critic nodding his, or her, head in agreement.
"I love it when my fiance cooks and cleans the kitchen for me," she said, "and massages are intimate and romantic. I love to go out somewhere dark and quiet and just dance under the stars. Playing games that help you connect with your partner can be romantic, and also very informative! He does good to set everything up and get me comfy to watch movies and 8 times out of 10, he lets me pick the movie. Occasionally, though, he will want to watch something and that's okay. It's really little things like that, that can get me going."
"We are struggling to make ends meet financially," she added, "but we aren't together for the financial stability. We are together because we are in love with our mental, emotional, and yes even physical compatibility. If I wanted someone simply because they're financially stable, I'm sure I'd lose interest fast. Besides it's not when you have everything that your relationship is defined, it's when you have nothing that you truly discover what your relationship is made of!"
With this advice in mind, I sat down with Mr. Diggs and we hashed it out. It was the first time I had ever been completely open and honest with anyone when it came to my money. It was scary letting someone into an area of my life that I deem to be one of my weakest. I've always averted financial conversations by coming up with some funny retort and changing the subject. I felt exposed and naked, but it was the best feeling knowing that he took me, good and bad.
The truth of the matter is that when it comes to it, romance can't be bought. It's one of those age old, and sadly undervalued, truths that is often overlooked.
It's the thought behind that simple dance under the stars that speaks to a person's soul.
It's the thought behind picking up a Playstation 4 controller that says how you really feel.
It's the thought behind that homemade birthday card that binds two people together.
True romance can be formed only with thought.
He Diggz Me by Fred Mitchell