What It’s Actually Like to Marry Rich


So THAT’s what white privilege looks like

by Liz Sullivan

A wedding couple sit in the back seat of a car, holding hands.

When I first started dating my husband, I didn’t know he was wealthy. We were in college and he had a job, a regular apartment, bought two-buck chuck for date night, and parties always included two large pizzas for $20. It all seemed pretty standard.

My Boyfriend’s Secret

Eventually, the clues started to add up. His family had multiple homes. They went on ski vacations to Canada for the holidays. Twice a year, they had a weekend of “family meetings” with a coach where they talked about tax structure and estate planning. I didn’t attend these meetings for the first few years of our relationship; now, I understand that they were protecting information about assets and investments, but at the time, it seemed strange, confusing, and exclusive. Eventually, Alex mentioned that his dad’s company went public when Alex was in high school, and his family had started a new foundation. I don’t even think I knew what a foundation was at the time.

The first time I felt our class difference acutely was when we decided to try to plan a trip to Ireland with his family. I was invited along, but when I saw the plane tickets were $1300, I explained that I just didn’t have the money to make that happen. After much discussion, his parents offered to pay for my plane ticket. I was thankful and overwhelmed and excited about visiting a new country. I also felt guilty as fuck. It somehow felt like a betrayal of my family to accept such a gift, since they would have given it to me if they could have.

My Normal Middle-Class Upbringing

Growing up, there were some instances of “no that’s too expensive,” but there were many more of “sure, we can do that.” I had an allowance, my dad turned over his 1987 Mustang when I turned sixteen, I didn’t have to work in college, and I graduated with relatively minimal debt. Our family was solidly and, as far as I remember, happily middle class. And while I knew there were people that had more than us, and people that had less, the concept of class was outside my realm of thinking.

As my relationship with Alex got more serious, I was invited to attend parts of the family meetings, and eventually the full weekend. I joined them for ski vacations (where I sat in the lodge and read because skiing is just not my thing). I got more interested and involved in philanthropic and socially responsible investing work.

What Class Tension Looks Like (In The Home His Parents Bought Us)

But despite having a grand old time, we butted up against class issues in awkward and weird ways. We had different ideas of what was “expensive.” Visiting with his family often included an international flight and a weeklong vacation, whereas visiting mine meant visiting suburbia for the weekend and playing cards. With his parent’s help, we eventually bought a house in San Francisco. I should say he bought a house, because I couldn’t significantly contribute enough to be included on the paperwork. I simultaneously wanted to celebrate and throw up. Most of the time, I still have trouble verbalizing that we own our home.

On top of feeling out of my element, it felt ridiculous and insensitive to be complaining about vacations and buying a house and not having to watch my cash flow like a hawk. I felt pressure to feel grateful and excited, instead of uncomfortable and undeserving. I had no framing for how to think about class or class differences. When I tried to talk about feeling like I was straddling two worlds, people looked at me like I was insane.

It’s important for me to state that neither my husband nor his family had a particular set of expectations around what it meant to be wealthy. Because it happened suddenly and later in life, his parents immediately knew they wanted to proactively and consciously handle being wealthy. Yes, they had multiple homes, but they were also very socially conscious, and for lack of a better word, down to earth. In terms of family and personal dynamics, I didn’t feel different hanging out with them than I did hanging out with my own family.

Realizing I’d Been Privileged All Along

Most of the tension stemmed from the expectations and internalized feelings I had about what it meant to be wealthy. And I felt (and continue to feel) conflicted about enjoying luxuries that weren’t available to my family and friends. I also started to realize that my class privilege, while expanded by my relationship with Alex, wasn’t new. I had grown up with a ton of privilege and opportunities that I hadn’t recognized. Which also meant I had been living in a bubble where I didn’t realize how that privilege was influencing my way of being in the world.

Eventually, I found a group that organizes young people with wealth toward creating a more socially, racially, and economically just world. I found a community of people facing these questions: What does it mean to be wealthy in a world with such huge economic disparities? How do we act responsibly? Is it okay to enjoy nice vacations and owning a home? Should I give it all away? Ultimately, we face the question: How much is enough? And it’s fascinating to see how that changed for me as I had access to more.

And Then I Married Rich

Getting married brought up a whole new set of issues around budgeting and expectations, and brought our families squarely into the conversation around class. It isn’t just Alex and I in a cross-class relationship; our families are too, and they were having to face it. I shed a lot of tears before realizing that I’d been actively working on my relationship to class and wealth for two years and was only scratching the surface—so how could I expect anyone else to automatically get it?

After the wedding (which was joyous and wonderful and lovely in all the right ways), and our honeymoon, I found myself facing the reality that now I wasn’t just a partner to a young person with wealth. I was legally bound to one—with a prenup that put me on the deed of the house. And the reality that Alex, in his thirties, will have access to a trust that we will have to decide how to administer. Not to mention the fact that Alex, as a tech-sector employee, is a wealth earner himself. And while he has always been of the mind that his money is our money, I have been more resistant to accept the new responsibility of being a young person with wealth. But marrying him pretty much sealed the deal.

Class Privilege, White Privilege, And No Easy Answers

My relationship with Alex blew my relationship with class, wealth, and privilege out of the water. I’m so thankful for it, and it’s also overwhelming and messy and sometimes exhausting. Once I started digging into my class privilege, my eyes were opened to my white privilege. I started exploring my feminism more deeply and intentionally. This new lens has made me literally question my life’s purpose and the decisions I make every day.

So many people say, “Marry rich,” like it’s all gold-plated hummingbirds and rainbows. Like it will solve all your problems. Instead, I found that marrying rich brought up a lot more shit than it solved. It’s made me more acutely aware of the privilege I’ve held my whole life and has made me commit my life to fighting for justice in a way that I never would have otherwise.

This post originally ran on APW in February 2014.

Liz Sullivan

Liz Sullivan recently finished a long graduate school course in nutrition and is excited to finally be a registered dietitian. She loves to read, cook, eat, drink coffee, and do almost anything outside. She lives in the Bay Area with her lovely family.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Annoyed

    How did this article have anything to do with “white privilege”? The clickbait subheadings on this site are getting out of control.

    • Anna

      The author does say explicitly that encountering class privilege so clearly also helped her acknowledge her racial privilege.

      • Annoyed

        Sure – but the subheading makes it seem like the entire article is about white privilege. “So THAT’s what white privilege looks like” – what is? The article isn’t centered around that at all.

        • rebecca

          The article is about hereditary wealth. Hereditary wealth in the US is almost always concomitant with whiteness and not for coincidental reasons. This is a privilege white people have bc we built and maintain the structures that enforce it. The entire article *is* about white privilege.

          • Annoyed

            It is never explicitly stated in the article that Alex or his family are white. If this information was core to the ideas being discussed, it would have been clearly presented within the body of the text.

            I read APW daily but don’t typically comment – coming out of the woodwork today because this was a great article overshadowed by poor editorial choices, in my opinion. If I was the original author I would take issue with this repositioning of the content.

          • It’s a line pulled directly from the text. “Once I started digging into my class privilege, my eyes were opened to my white privilege. I started exploring my feminism more deeply and intentionally.”

          • Katharine Parker

            This is the only line in the piece that mentions race, and it refers to the author’s own whiteness. I also read this as the author recognizing the white privilege she already possessed through the process of understanding and analyzing her new relationship to wealth, which is fairly different from an exploration of institutional racism and hereditary wealth.

          • Katharine Parker

            That’s a relationship that the author isn’t analyzing in this piece, though, and white privilege is about much more than wealth.

          • rebecca

            I don’t think identifying one benefit of white privilege implies that that’s all white privilege is, however, you are right, I may have chosen the wrong tack to defend what I think is reasonable editorial choice. In general, I do think that if you’re talking about white privilege and somebody’s asking you to be quiet, you are probably doing something right.

          • Katharine Parker

            I don’t see anyone asking the author to be quiet, but critiquing a subheading that suggests a different article from what is present.

          • rebecca

            I was not referring to the author (although her work is certainly commendable). I was referring to the individual who wrote the subhead.

          • Yes. Exactly this.

        • rg223

          Also, not sure when this originally ran, but I’m pretty sure that was not the subheading at that time. I do agree this is a pretty big repositioning – there’s only one or two references to white privilege in the article!

          • Lisa

            It wasn’t. I remember this piece back from when I was lurking, but if you click where it says February 2014 at the bottom of the article, it takes you to “Marrying Up: How getting married forced me to face my class privilege.”

          • rg223

            Oh gosh, how did I miss that? Thanks!

          • rebecca

            I wasn’t aware that it ran before, but I’m also not irritated when I click through “How We Planned a $7K Green Wedding for 55 Guests-Tacos and ice cream cones forever” and it isn’t only about tacos and ice cream cones so I don’t think it’s inappropriate/not within APW’s editorial style.

          • rg223

            You know, I was going to respond to this and say I think this is an apples to oranges argument, because one is clearly defined as being “about a wedding” and the other is an essay that could be about any number of things, which makes the subheading more critical in communicating what the article is about. But then I thought about it more and I have to say, when there’s a wedding post and the subheadings mentions tacos, I read through the whole thing expecting text about the significance of the tacos or how they got the taco truck or how the tacos were the favorite part of the wedding, and then there’s just a PICTURE of the tacos and nothing in the text about the tacos, no matter how much I like the post otherwise, I’m definitely like “… but wait, the tacos.”

          • But here the text talks about white privilege, and that’s something as an editor that I very MUCH wanted you to read through looking for, and thinking about. It seems that I did that, so I’m satisfied.

          • Is the use of the word “that” (especially emphasised) which changes the meaning for me. “That” refers to marrying rich, implying that rich is white privilege. White privilege is something that was Other before. If it was “this” I think it would link better to the article’s theme of self reflection and the realisation the writer has had it all along.

          • HA. Yes. It’s true.

    • Anon

      I have to agree – remove “white” from the subheading and it’s a much more accurate description of what we’ll find in the article

    • Also Anon

      Just what I came here to say! Using that as the tagline suggests that “white privilege = being rich and white,” which is not the case (and is also the same logic that a lot of middle- and working-class white people use to deny that they have white privilege).

    • It’s one of the topics addressed in the article, and a really timely and important aspect of this. Sure, you can have white privilege and not be rich, but hereditary wealth is one of the forms of white privilege that looms the largest.

      That said, I think this article is about a lot more than that, but as an editor, I tend to pick subs based on themes in an article that I think are worth highlighting. You don’t see subs unless you’re already on the site, so they don’t honestly do much in terms of causing clicks.

      And beyond that, I don’t enjoy the types of titles that get y’all to read awesome articles on the modern internet, but I also know what the numbers look like… and we all click a particular type of headline. Again, subs don’t matter really, other than in terms of an editorial highlight, but what works as a headline is far out of our control (sadly).

  • disco

    It seems that you are serious about dealing with your wealth in a socially-conscious way, as well as encouraging others to do so. Please consider lobbying your family, the philanthropic organizations you work with, and other rich people you know, to make laws under which you will pay more in tax to improve everyone’s public schools and everyone’s public health care. This is the most sustainable way to meet your goals. One-off charitable attempts are not enough.

    • Katharine Parker

      I would think that the “group that organizes young people with wealth toward creating a more socially, racially, and economically just world” that she’s involved with does work critically analyzing the system that produces such wealth inequality and what institutional changes would be necessary to remedy that.

      • ruth

        If the author is comfortable sharing, I would love to learn the name of that group – so that I could potentially join. I may find myself in a position in the future of coming into way more wealth than i could have ever imagined, and if I do I want to use that power / privilege to push for social change, but its hard to know where to start. Knowing the name of existing groups so my hubby and i don’t have to reinvent the wheel (often a problem with activism) would be super helpful. Thanks!

      • disco

        Katharine Parker, yes, I would genuinely hope so! But very often, organizations founded by and run by the wealthy do not focus on structural changes, as they have very little interest in changing structures, or even feel their position at the top of the pile to be natural. Teaching low-income kids to code? That means cheaper labor for tech companies when those kids graduate. Encouraging female entrepreneurship? That doesn’t mean very much for gender justice, if we don’t have strong labor protections, health care, child care, and minimum wage laws in place for those women. Not all charitable activity is created equal; not all of it actually does any good. Many times it can just be the pet projects of the rich, operating with non-profit status, avoiding taxes, and socially connecting rich people with one another, which all just exacerbates our problems. To me, with all respect, none of the questions that she asked herself when describing the group sounded like the members of this group were thinking structurally. It sounded like they were thinking about themselves. Like you, I think I gave the writer the benefit of the doubt, but I think that supporting each other also means keeping people accountable to their own stated goals. <3

      • disco

        I just looked at Resource Generation’s website, and it looks pretty good! Brings warmth to my cynical old heart.

  • laddibugg

    “With his parent’s help, we eventually bought a house in San Francisco. I should say he bought a house, because I couldn’t significantly contribute enough to be included on the paperwork”

    Wait, what? NOW she’s on the deed but what paperwork was she talking about before?

    • LAinTexas

      I would have to imagine the mortgage loan itself and that sort of thing. It sounds like the loan may be entirely in his name, or was when they bought it. Maybe the laws are different in California, but I felt like I couldn’t contribute much when my BF and I bought our house last year – I didn’t contribute to the down payment at all, but I bought things we needed, like the lawn mower and furniture and smaller things. Regardless, we’re both on the mortgage and the title and all of that, even though we aren’t married yet.

      • laddibugg

        I could definitely see not putting your name on the mortgage if you had crappy credit, but I wonder what really went down here.

        • Cellistec

          I don’t think there’s any reason to assume it was shady. There are many scenarios in which it’s advantageous for only one person in a couple to take out a loan for their shared residence, and adding someone’s name to a deed after the fact is done all the time.

          • Amy March

            And a big one is that you are unmarried and one person is not contributing to the purchase. There’s no reason for that person to be an owner of the property. That’s a massive gift to someone you aren’t married to.

          • LAinTexas

            Cohabitation agreements exist, though, to protect both homeowners (or renters, if that’s the case), and we have one.

            And trust me, we would’ve gotten married a long time ago if I had my way, but he’s not there quite yet. We’re coming up on six years in February, so it’s not like this is some spontaneous, half-cocked decision we made after dating for only a short while. We were together for four years when we bought the home.

          • Amy March

            Oh sure! Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply there aren’t ways to do this responsibly, and I can see how I did. But I think as an initial assumption there’s nothing whatsoever shady about not putting a non married non contributing partner on a deed or mortgage.

          • LAinTexas

            Ah, yes – that makes sense! Thank you for clarifying. :)

          • Eenie

            Gift or liability. I’m not on the mortgage for the house my husband bought before we were married because I did not want the mortgage payment (or headache of selling) for a house in a different state than the one I lived in at the time.

        • LAinTexas

          Yeah, that’s true. We both got pre-approved for a mortgage from my credit union, and my boyfriend got pre-approved on his own with Chase, because that’s where he banks. We ended up going with my credit union, and they approved us for WAY more than we needed (on an unrelated note, no wonder so many people are house poor).

          Anyway, yes. I’m sure there’s more to the story than she was willing to share. Obviously, his family is invested in protecting their wealth/assets/interests (not that they shouldn’t be).

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      The prenup puts her on the deed of the house. I took that to mean, he bought the house, with his and his parents’ money, and if they divorce she gets the house. So even if she breaks up with her husband and his family’s money, she’ll be financially pretty well off.

      • penguin

        Wouldn’t they both be on the deed to the house after getting married?

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Property law varies from state to state, but where I live, no. The house we live in belongs to me, and my name is on the deed, the mortgage is in just my name. We had the option of adding PADude to the deed (the mortgage would still be just in my name), but specifically chose not tot, because he’s co-owner of his uncle’s house (on the deed and the mortgage of that house). If we got divorced, I’m sure the value of the home would be considered in splitting everything up, but after we’re married, the deed is not changing.

        • Amy March

          Not automatically, no.

          • penguin

            I meant that putting her on the deed of the house sounded to me like they would both be on after getting married. Not just her. Also not automatically.

      • The pre-nup probably allows for the house to become a marital asset, which means she might not get all of it, but it becomes fair game as they divide what they together have accumulated during their relationship.

  • penguin

    I’m excited to see a discussion of class issues/differences on APW. I ran into this with my own relationship (getting married VERY soon!).

    (Sorry this post morphed into something wicked long)

    I’m in a similar situation to the author, but a bit less extreme. My fiancé’s family is (by my standards) very well off, in that they own multiple homes and take fancy vacations. My family is not as well off – always had enough money for food and basic bills, sometimes a little extra, but nothing like my fiancé’s family. Still privileged in lots of ways, just different. I never really noticed it when I was first dating my fiancé, because he was just a normal college kid like me.

    They wanted to take a vacation right after our graduation, and said that I could come along if I could pay my part (I think they initially offered to cover my plane ticket but nothing else). I asked for details on the costs, and it was steep. The hotel cost alone would have been more than my entire savings, not to mention meals. I let my then-boyfriend-now-fiancé know that I couldn’t afford to go. He talked to his parents, and then they offered to pay the whole cost of my trip. It was really awkward for me, and I felt like they thought I was after their money, even though I would have been fine just staying home.

    Other examples – our wedding. His parents initially offered to cover the whole thing. Then they said that they didn’t want to just write us a check, in case we needed more money later. Then my fiancé called to talk to them about paying the remaining costs of the wedding reception (maybe 50% of the total wedding cost after what we’ve paid), and they said that they didn’t know they were going to be paying for anything (??). They definitely had agreed, and that was the only reason my FMIL’s damn knitting club was invited to the wedding (they are nice people, but I wouldn’t pay to have them as 20% of my wedding guests). Fiancé and I were pretty pissed off that they “forgot” that they were paying. They also said that they can’t get a check together soon enough, so they said they’ll have to pay us back.

    Thankfully we can cover the cost – because of my dad. My dad, who usually doesn’t have more than 3 figures in his bank account, sold a bunch of his collectibles and handed me a check for several thousand dollars (the amount is about 90% of what we owe on the reception). No strings attached, and wouldn’t hear a word about it. It was for any wedding costs we had, or for my student loans, or whatever we wanted to spend it on.

    • laddibugg

      No one is obligated to ‘pay’ for you but don’t offer and then act like you never said anything!

      • penguin

        Right exactly. It makes me feel like they view us as ungrateful freeloaders, but we’re not. If they’d said up front that they wouldn’t/couldn’t contribute financially, I would have totally respected that. It’s just the back and forth that is so frustrating.

    • CMT

      In your case you have class issues mixed with awful in-laws issues :(

    • NolaJael

      Ugh, I am so worried about my sister ending up in a similar situation. My (limited) experience with “rich” people (like multiple international vacations per year) is that they casually throw around the ability / possibility that they will / can pay for something and then conveniently forget. Like maybe it’s the rich person’s version of “Let’s do lunch sometime”?

      • penguin

        Advice for my past self (that might work for your sister): plan a wedding assuming that you are paying for 100% of it. If someone offers to contribute, just get a check from them. Until you have the money in your bank account, assume it doesn’t exist. We’re lucky that we can afford to pay this balance, although it uses up most of what we have saved. I’m hoping they pay us back, because then I can use that money to pay off my student loans by the end of the calendar year.

    • Katelyn

      Since I’m not sure you’ll be back on APW beforehand, HAPPY WEDDING DAY!!! I love seeing you in comments all the time with me :) I hope everything is working out with your mom.

      • penguin

        Yay thank you! I hope to be on for Friday Happy Hour, just depends on what errands I have to run that day. And yep, grandma/aunt intervened, “her outfit has changed” is what I heard about it (whew).

        • Lisa

          Wait, is there more mom drama that I missed by not being at HH for the past couple of weeks? Hope things are OK!

          • penguin

            Yep mom is invited now due to family dynamics, and asked me to look at her wedding outfit to approve it, and it was completely 100% white/ivory.

          • Lisa

            OMIGAWD. OMG. I’m so sorry. I know this is the exact opposite of what you wanted. Sending lots of strength, light, and virtual chocolates your way to get you through this last week.

    • suchbrightlights

      Penguin, are you my “also getting hitched on 10/21” friend and I haven’t noticed this whole time or are you THIS Saturday? MAZEL TOV!

      I had missed your in-laws conveniently forgetting that they’d offered to pay for the reception but I remember you talking about your father’s phenomenally unexpected generosity- that was incredibly kind of him and I want to shake him by the hand.

      • penguin

        The in-laws thing happened this past Sunday, so this was the first time I posted about it! Friday Happy Hour is going to be an epic bitch-fest for me haha. And thank you!! Totally agree about my dad, he is great.

        • suchbrightlights

          Oh… oh wow. So they got all the way to 7 days from your party and then dropped that bomb on you?!

          • penguin

            Yeah this past weekend was fun haha. Then they said since they were paying, FIL should get to give a speech, and he had something prepared. So he was already prepared for this “last minute” change? Fiancé and I are pretty done with them.

          • suchbrightlights

            So they went “we are paying,” then “we don’t remember ever saying we are paying,” and then “we are paying contingent on playing a role we hadn’t discussed”? Do I have that right? If so, that’s really gross and manipulative. Are they like that, or is this an aberration? In other words, how much wine do I have to wish you?

          • penguin

            All of the wine please.

          • suchbrightlights

            WOW.

            Just wow.

            Please. All of the wine bestowed upon thee. Take the bottle and run.

          • penguin

            (I missed the last two Happy Hours, but everything went great! Surprisingly enough haha. Virtual wine was much appreciated)

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            PENGUIN HI CONGRATS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO DETAILS

  • LAinTexas

    I resonate with this a little bit. I grew up pretty solidly middle class. My boyfriend grew up fairly poor – nothing like what I’ve seen in my urban, lower socioeconomic teaching experiences of my teacher life in the past, but poorer than my family, and his parents couldn’t afford to help him pay for college at all. However, he’s now a software developer in a high tech city and earns six figures annually. Even prior to getting into his current salary range (AKA when we lived in a different city with a lower cost of living), he still made significantly more than I did. It’s always sort of bothered me in terms of wanting to hold my own and pay him back for what I owe for my share of our expenses and that kind of stuff (we own a home together now but rented together for years before that). Like the author said of her relationship, he’s always been fairly lax about me paying him back, but I always try to do it. I’ve been self-employed for two years now, and my business grows a little more all the time, and I’ll earn more in 2017 than I ever have in the past, but for those of us who feel more independent, it can be a challenge, in my opinion, to be with someone who earns significantly more than you do. I think I might feel differently about it when we get married someday and presumably combine our bank accounts – it will then no longer be “my money, your money” but “our money.” Just another aspect of relationships that requires conversation and navigation…you know, like everything. Ha.

  • kazeegeyser

    The guilt over accepting an expensive vacation is real. My SO’s family is wealthy (but not THIS rich, they only have 1 house) and goes on several expensive vacations a year. I turned down the invite to go on a safari when I discovered that my share would cost over $10,000 (plane tickets, plus safari charges are per-person so sharing hotel rooms doesn’t defray costs). I recently turned down another invite to go to Bhutan when I was told that it would be “no big deal” if I had to cancel last minute due to potential work conflicts, since we would only lose “a small fraction of the trip cost” in deposits. I pressed my SO and discovered this small fraction was actually $1,000. I decided not to go. I’m having trouble verbalizing why, but it feels wrong to accept, since it’s an insanely generous gift but at the same time my say gets taken away – I get no choice in where to go and what we do. I just get to tag along.

    • sofar

      Yeah, I feel so spoiled sometimes turning down vacation invites from my in-laws (they do it up big, all the luxury) and even my own parents who like big, outdoorsy adventurous trips (which also end up being expensive). We just went on trips with my family and his and have agreed that we won’t do it again for another few years. One, because we both feel guilty about them paying for us and two because, as you said, you don’t even get a say in your own vacation because someone else is paying. My parents are bummed, but get it. His are like, “Why would you go somewhere and stay in cheap hostels and eat street food when you could just come with US and stay and eat in nice places????”

      • penguin

        Yeah I don’t think we’ll ever vacation with my fiancé’s parents again. It was awkward and stressful, and we didn’t feel like we could say no to doing stuff because they were paying.

      • Anne

        That sounds so much like boyfriend’s parents! Like, we hadn’t even been on a proper vacation, except for weekend trips, since we first got together in 2013, but they’ve been suggesting (at times multiple) joint vacations every year since then. Up until this summer, I had actually been on week-long vacations with his parents more often than with just my boyfriend. But they don’t understand that this bothers me, at all. So they are all disappointed and “But why not? This will be so great!” when I turn them down, plus, I feel guilty about turning them down as well as the fact that neither myself nor my family could ever afford their kinds of vacations… It’s just no fun at all.

        • sofar

          Seriously!

          I forget who said it on a post a couple weeks ago, but they were saying the only way she can be relaxed is when she’s in control of her own schedule.

          And when you’re on someone else’s vacation you have no control of your schedule. That, to me, isn’t a vacation!

          • nutbrownrose

            The first vacation I ever went on with just my husband was our honeymoon. I have never been so relaxed in my life. All the other times we’ve traveled together (which is realistically a lot), have been to see my family or his, since we lived an 8-hour drive from his and a 4-hour drive plus a 5-hour plane ride from mine (everything is harder when you live a minimum of 4 hours from the nearest full-size [not accepting only expensive puddle jumpers] airport). We did drive to a wedding in Alabama by ourselves once, but stayed with his parents on the way to and from and spent the whole weekend doing wedding things.

            But now, I don’t want to spend our vacation time or hard-earned money on “vacations” to visit our families (we now live 30 minutes from mine, so that’s easier), because much though I love them, it’s not the same as the freedom we had on our honeymoon to just do or not do whatever we wanted in a nice locale.

    • RNLindsay

      Yeah, that’s the problem with accepting these large gifts. They seem (and are!) awesome, but then you realize there’s usually strings attached. My in-laws have a vacation home that’s within driving distance so we used to spend many summer weekends there. It’s been made clear though that we are guests who are invited to the home, and must do as they want to do while there. It’s not just a place for us to go, hang out, and do as we please while staying with them. This means we go less often now, because although it’s lovely and nice to be there, it’s not how we want to spend all our free time.

      • kazeegeyser

        The free time thing is a big issue. When our loved ones offer us nice vacations, they assume we’d want to be spending more of our time with them anyway (at least those with good intentions). I think my SO’s parents don’t fully understand that I have limited vacation time that I’d rather spend on my chosen vacation or with my own family. And they are also very possessive of my SO’s vacation days, since they grew up in a family that vacationed together a lot so they’re not willing to accept that he won’t join them on the annual ski trip every year.

        This is something we still need to work on as a couple.

        • RNLindsay

          For sure! I get that a lot around the holidays. As a nurse, if I’m lucky to have a holiday off with time to travel – I want to go home and see my family! But my in-laws think I’ll want to use that precious time to go be with my BIL’s wife’s family (so my in-laws in-laws). Not exactly how I want to spend that time.

  • Chris

    So, I really appreciate Liz’s thought and effort in writing this post. It’s hard to be open about the intellectual and emotional challenges of suddenly being wealthier than you’ve ever expected to be, especially because the Internet is not a kind place for thinking out loud about these challenges.

    But the line in the last paragraph: “marrying rich brought up a lot more shit than solved” makes me a little nervous. Wealth didn’t solve problems in Liz’s life becuase she already had the means to live, because she already had a substantial amount of privilege. So, the problems are real, and I commend her goals for working toward social justice. I hope she can realize when her language can be insensitive towards the very real struggles that people who don’t have her racial and economic privilege face.

    • penguin

      That line rubbed me the wrong way as well, although I enjoyed the rest of the post. It makes it sound like her life is worse since she married rich, which doesn’t seem accurate.

      • Eenie

        I understood it as more complicated.

        I’m personally of the opinion that more money solves a whole heck of a lot of problems. Once you get above the “enough and some extra” level, it gets more complicated – not worse, but complicated.

      • uggggh

        Yeah, this was Bad. So sorry that you will never have to worry about paying your medical bills or putting your kids through college. Poor you.

        • EF

          or paying off student loans, or wondering what’ll happen if one of you gets laid off, or trying to figure out just how often your partner can visit their dying mother before it completely depletes your savings…

          yeah. tough life. i’m sure.

          • Amy March

            But she didn’t have those problems to begin with, so marrying richer didn’t fix them. I don’t think she’s saying they don’t exist for anyone at all. And actually yes, life can be tough for wealthy people.

          • Liz

            I responded to Chris’s comment below but I wanted to say that particular line was poorly worded. I meant more that marrying into wealth brought up a lot more complicated feelings than I expected it to, and my relationship to wealth and class was more complicated than I thought. I never meant to imply that my life was more difficult because of it and I’m sorry it came across that way. Since I wrote this several years ago, my main priority has been how to talk about this more clearly snf honestly and with more grace. Thanks for reading and responding and helping me think about this even more.

    • ManderGimlet

      Agreed, I feel that one line kind of undermined the good insight that comes before it. Deep soul searching is indeed difficult and uncomfortable, but significantly less so than entrenched financial insecurity.

    • Liz

      Original author here. I can totally understand your sentiment and agree. My original intent was meant to be “it brought up more stuff than I expected” but you are completely right about how it comes across. I originally wrote this several years ago earlier on in my personal process around wealth and privilege and have worked hard not make missteps like this anymore. Thanks for the gentle call out and to the posters below as well for pointing this out.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I really appreciate this line of thinking, but I also feel like it can be dangerous to oversimplify the complexity of sudden wealth or the struggles of a certain population. While I mostly have anecdotal experience to back it up, I think these issues can still arise if you come from a place of significant disadvantage, and assuming it wouldn’t denies a level of complexity to the people you’ve described. (Kind of like what Eenie said below.)

  • anon for this one

    While this is very different from my own situation, I appreciate this candid discussion of class. My husband and I both grew up lower middle class. We were actively taught to hate rich people because they must have cheated somehow. We both got terribly lucky with tech start ups. I think a big part of the reason we got together was because we were the only people in our social circle with our class bg. We haven’t let anyone in our family know how well we’ve done bc we’re scared of how it will change our relationships. We can wear jeans to work, so our parents assume our jobs can’t be that important. We own our home but it’s “only an apartment” so it can’t be too expensive (it’s in a great neighborhood in an expensive city). I am forever thankful for how lucky I’ve been, but my feelings about it are not uncomplicated

    • Elizabeth

      I’m the same, my family is not well off at all, but my FH and I are (lucrative fields, right company right time pure dumb luck and a dose of privilege). We struggle a lot with my family and his not doing a very good job of concealing their jealousy, saying hurtful things, and acting extremely entitled and expecting us to pay for everything every time we socialize. We’ve done our best to not talk about money or downplay our success, but it has definitely changed our relationships a lot and I wish it hadn’t.

  • Just Me

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, although not in the context of marrying wealthy. I’ve been making 6-figures for several years now, but most of that was going to pay of loans, and supporting a two-person household in a HCOL area (husband was a student) so it didn’t feel very different from my (privileged) middle class up-bringing. We never had to worry about if there would be enough money for food and gas, but were living in crappy apartments and saving up airline points to be able to make it to friends’ weddings.

    But then my husband switched careers last month to something that comes with a 6-figure salary, our loans are payed off, and I just got a 15% raise so……suddenly we’re rich? We are seriously talking about buying a house now, and I’m daydreaming about hiring a monthly cleaning service for the hypothetical future house.

    I’m struggling hard with all of the class implications…..who am I, and who have I become, and how do we balance that against our (still) middle class families. Is it ok to book a tropical vacation? How much more money should I be sending to charities?

    I would love any book/blog recommendations that tackle this topic in more detail. I don’t want to look back in 10 years and realize I didn’t use our wealth for anything other than luxury. But I also really want to go on that tropical vacation ;-)

    • ruth

      I’d just like to 2nd that I’d love to see such recommendations too! I’m in a similar situation.

    • Eenie

      I’m in the same boat as you! Last year I was unemployed and seriously worried about watching our savings account be slowly depleted every month. Two weeks ago I switched to a job that makes more than my husband (point of pride for both of us) – with ample opportunity for that number to grow.

      I felt guilty about hiring services (cleaning, lawn, taxes, etc), but I researched some local companies and feel really good about spending with them now. We tip our house cleaners additional money in cash. I feel like it’s a good way to invest in our community.

      Also interested in any recommendations! We need to sit down and start reevaluating our charitable contributions. Once my student loans are paid off, we need to have a financial summit and decide what our future budget looks like.

    • Lindsey

      Yes this! And also navigating suddenly having money while coming from a scarcity background. My husband is still in school, but when he graduates he will probably earn a six-figure salary, and I already do. His parents both come from solidly middle class backgrounds: his mother worked in retail and does not hold a college degree, his father has unsuccessfully, for the most part, worked in middle management. Our household income from my salary alone is already larger than theirs, and it makes him feel very uncomfortable, especially because they complain about money very frequently. Moreover, growing up husband had periods of time where the family did not turn on the heat because of cost, etc, so although not poor, they were struggling. This has given him a scarcity mentality so that he is never comfortable unless we are saving a very high percentage of our income, so it is a struggle to balance managing this emotion with a good level of donations and also some fun time for ourselves.

      • rebecca

        Do an early retirement calculator! Even if it’s not a goal that you have, it helped me so much to shift from that scarcity mentality. I found one through Mr Money Mustache (lol) and it was such a relief to just be able to put in our net worth, savings rate and income and be like “Ok, if things stay pretty good, we’ll be able to live off income from investments in x years, but if there’s another recession it’ll take us until y”

  • Anon for this

    I’m really glad to see this article run (or run again) on APW. Class privilege is something that has such far reaching implications and yet we so rarely talk about it. My husband and I are in a similar position to the author, albeit in switched roles – I grew up very wealthy, my husband grew up middle class. I’ve always had a lot of guilt about accepting help from my parents. I never wanted to be that “spoiled” trust fund kid. I was blessed to be able to go to college without incurring debt, because of my parents, but since then have supported myself, and now my husband and I support ourselves jointly. The one time we accepted help from my parents is when they very generously offered to buy us our house, enabling us to live in a much nicer place than we could have afforded on our own. We were really grateful for this, and yet, I feel this deep sense of shame and embarrassment when people inquire into how we got our house (because they know that someone working in my career field and hubby’s career field wouldn’t be able to afford to live in a place like this) One of the blessings of my background is I’ve been able to be very involved in philanthropic and social justice work, as both a donor and trustee of an organization that works for underprivileged kids and equality in the educational system. I try to be politically active as a very liberal person, who absolutely believes the rich should pay their fair share of taxes. (My parents are unfortunately Republicans and I’m often horrified by their views and behavior. I can’t change them, so I just try to do differently myself) If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn’t know I came from money – I’m one of those “down to earth people” too. And yet I have this deep fear that if people find out about my background, that we were gifted our home etc…, they will hate me, and I will be forever viewed as a less moral person no matter what I do because of who my family is. My husband tries to reassure me that this isn’t the case, but that fear and shame runs deep. I’d love to know the name of the organization for young people with wealth that the author alluded to, so I can join. I know that one day I may inherit a lot of money, and I really want to be an ethical rich person. It’s not a skill anyone ever teaches you (especially because my family by and large does not talk about money, and when they do, they do it pretty badly.) I’ve been looking for examples of ethical rich people to model myself on – there aren’t many…

    • CMT

      I think on some level you have to just accept that a random stranger or friend-of-friend might judge you if they learn your parents bought your house, or might make assumptions about you that are straight up wrong. And then work on having actual relationships with people who know better and who see how you actually live.

      • Amy March

        And for closer people it can actually really demystify things to just say “yes it’s a lovely home and we are so thankful for Jim’s parents helping us buy it.” I wouldn’t hate you at all for that, and it’s nice sometimes to hear that everyone else isn’t doing it on their own.

        • Lindsey

          Yes!! Some of our friends own nice homes and I was really beating myself up re why they could afford it when we live frugally and could not. When I found out their parents made a substantial contribution it did not make me hate them, I just felt so much better about why we could not do the same.

          • S

            I have a friend whose parents bought her apartment, and it seems bizarre to judge her for it – I’d take the same help in a second if it were offered. I think what’s most offensive to me is the idea of NOT taking that help and feeling somehow superior about it – that’s what privilege really looks like, to me. At the end of the day, whether you let your parents buy you a house or not, the fact is they still could do so, and you’re never going to really struggle in life unless by choice, and choosing to struggle is pretty gross and disrespectful when there are others struggling who do not have that choice. My friend is very self-conscious about it, which I understand, and I would be too, but it really bothers me when she downplays the assistance she receives from her parents. I know why she does so, of course, but it doesn’t feel right to make people with the same career as you think you can afford a certain lifestyle they could never access.

  • Pannorama

    Oh man, I have some of this in my life and have wildly mixed feelings about it. I grew up….not poor, but not really comfortably middle class. Worried about utilities being turned off, only bought cheap clothes, lots and lots of educational debt. My partner is not wealthy….but his grandparents are. He and his parents are definitely upper middle class themselves (from an American standpoint at least). [Surprise, the below got huge because I’m riddled with anxiety around money and class]

    On the one hand, I feel a TON of the social difference between our class brackets and it created a lot of anxiety for me at the beginning of our relationship. Even before we get to issues of money itself, I just don’t conduct myself in a way that fits in to that social strata. I didn’t go to Oxford, I don’t know what a fish fork looks like. And I’m pretty self conscious about those things just with him, let alone on the rare occasion that we end up at events hosted by billionaires.

    We live together and make financial choices together — and I’m much, much more anxious about money than he is. He has a big enough savings buffer that he doesn’t have to stress out about keeping an accounting-precise eye on his money. I don’t, after moving a few states to live where he does, and want to account for every penny. Luckily, he’s totally fine with me being the lead partner for financials in our house (especially since it’s kind of related to what I do for a living). But struggles arise around what we consider “not a lot” of money to spend on something, or what our margin for error is.

    The second layer of money is both more and less difficult. Most of the time, the money that his family has is something as I can treat as irrelevant to our life. I have no idea if we’ll ever receive any of that money, really. So in some ways, I can just ignore it and remember that his family is full of wonderful people whom I love and who don’t really care if I know about fish forks.

    I’ve also pretty readily made my peace with his family covering the cost of our (transatlantic) flights to visit them. I never want to take for granted the fact that they make that offer, but I know they do it because they want to see us (and it really helps that we have a great relationship so I don’t feel like an awkward plus one on those trips). But we’re not talking about things like vacations or cruises or anything, which would definitely be harder to navigate.

    But man oh man. At one point, his grandmother made an offhand comment to him (while I was out of the room) about paying off my six figures of student debt after we get married. I try really hard to not treat it as a real possibility, but I ache for that to happen. It would be such an outrageously giant gift that I do think I would struggle with it a lot. But it would free me from the weight of living under these loans I can basically never repay (I work for a non-profit and all my federal loans are in the PSLF program). I adore his grandma as a person, and I never, ever, ever want anyone is his family to think I’m out for their money or whatever. I just also deeply crave that stability and freedom.

  • Jan

    The stuff about travel is real, dude. I grew up pretty poor and my partner’s family is quite wealthy. He’d never even heard of Sallie Mae until he met me (he was 27). The first time I met his sister it was just before his birthday, and she excitedly took me aside to share a suggestion she had for a gift I could give him: a trip to Buenos Aires (“he’s always wanted to go!”). I didn’t know how to tell this woman I’d just met that I was paying more in student loans than I was on my rent, and I didnt even have a passport because the concept of international travel has always seemed so out of reach, so, thanks but no thanks…? I just smiled and nodded and awkwardly excused myself.

  • Strange class situation

    My parents are working class/blue collar and my husband’s parents are white-collar professionals in tech. My husband’s upbringing was very comfortable (international vacations, ski trips, etc.) and he thus felt secure enough to pursue a low-paying, socially-conscious, niche career. I love that he lives his values (which I also share) but I stress about how little we make and the fact that at this rate, it will be very difficult for us to save adequately for the future. I’ve been financially on my own since 18 (except help with my freshman year tuition) and have decent savings/no debt due to working since high school, minimal spending, and careful selection of inexpensive education. Despite coming from a family that makes well above six figures, my husband’s career choice has him in debt from years of grad school and earning little. I want to provide for my husband and be “what’s mine is ours” but it stresses me out that I feel I’m now working to save for two people instead of one, after starting from a much lower socioeconomic position. Our careers and earnings now affect our shared financial life. I know my husband would change careers if I insisted, but I hate to crush his dreams, and he always says that should his career really be a financial flop, his parents would be there to back us up. I think this is so extraordinarily privileged, and I just don’t want to count on this. They are sweet, generous people who worked hard to be where they are financially, and deserve to enjoy it, not prop up their adult children. I don’t say no to the things they treat us to, but would be so ashamed to ask them for help. Part of this may be a values difference – his family are immigrants from a more group-oriented culture, and I’m from an individualistic, bootstraps-lifting culture. Has anyone else faced this particular dilemma? What am I to do? I’m considering switching careers myself (though I currently make twice what my husband makes) to boost us financially, but shouldn’t this be a team effort (team me-husband, not team me-husband-rich parents!?)?

    • This sounds hard. Have you been able to honestly share your feelings with him in a nonstressed moment where you can talk? It sounds like you both have really good motives and maybe with some discussions and work you could find a solution that works for all of you? Perhaps he pursues his dream and also does a side job when he has time for a little extra income, or perhaps just talking through and agreeing on the steps you’d talk when finances got too tight would get you all on the same page and provide some reassurance? Good luck…

  • Re Joy

    Lovely essay, thank you for that! I have also only recently realized that not thinking about class growing up was very much linked to my (white, academic, middle) class privledge.
    I’d like to mention one book here: Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon, in which the renowned French sociologist writes about his personal story and the class structures in working-class France. It is very specificly French 20th century, but at the same time offers a broader account of class systems in the Western world.

  • IAintSayinImAGoldDigger

    I ain’t saying I’m a gold digger– but my girlfriend of four years /is/ an heir to a soap fortune from the 1830s. I grew up what I consider upper middle class– a lot like what Liz is describing above. I thought my girlfriend was the same for years and then realized that she’s. Very wealthy. She’s 20 and will technically own a house soon– although it will remain ‘an asset in her portfolio’ until she’s 25. She loves to give me gifts, which I appreciate but which also makes me uncomfortable, because they’re things that I enjoy but that I never would have bought for myself because they’re ten times more expensive than I feel comfortable justifying. I hate feeling guilty whenever she or her family treats me to something, because I know they’re not doing it in order to make me indebted to them, but I still feel like I’m taking advantage of her. It’s a complex set of emotions and I don’t know how to explain any of them to her.