MY GRANDMOTHER used to drive my father bonkers because whenever he asked if she might leave him such-and-such a piece of furniture, she always used to wag a finger at him playfully. "Oh, no, that's a secret! You'll know soon enough! If you knew what was in my will you might not want to visit me any more!" she'd say. Implying, of course, that he was only after her money. But she was also of a class (or liked to think she was) that simply didn't discuss money. Never discuss sex, money, politics or religion, was her credo. Money was a taboo subject, like death.
Snobbery is a great barrier to discussing money, of course. Very, very grand people feel they should be above money and all that revolting trading nonsense. They have hommes d'affaires to deal with that muck. A friend of mine, whose father was one of the richest people in Europe, says that whenever money was discussed he had to leave the boardroom and lie in a dark antechamber with a damp cloth over his forehead. And, according to research, men apparently find it much harder to talk about money than women because they see it as a competitive thing, particularly when discussing it with other men. (Only recently I heard a friend ask another friend how much he'd got for a piece he'd written for a newspaper. "Let's just say it gave me a few good lunches," he said. Why not just say the exact amount?)
The journalist Richard Ingrams said recently that he hadn't been paid for a BBC TV appearance, and he was fed up with being expected to do things for free. It seems apparent, perhaps because of his age, class and sex, that before accepting the engagement he'd been unable to say those two simple words: "How much?" So it was nice, this week, to see Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, breaking the mould by confessing how much he earns (about pounds 55,000 a year, but only pounds 5,000 of that from writing poetry - see Poetic Licence).
Another barrier to discussion about money is that we don't really have a language for it in relationships. We can talk about sex and orgasms together, but not about pounds, shillings and pence. But why does June's husband hate talking about money? Could it be that he doesn't want her to know how little he has, because if she does she'll start worrying about the future? Or is it that he has rather a lot stashed away, and he's anxious that if she knows, she might start badgering him for dresses from Versace and necklaces from Tiffany? Could it be that, even though they're married, he doesn't see his new wife as "family" because they've got together so late in life? Perhaps he's left all his money to his children. Or is his reticence a power trip? While she knows nothing about his finances, he feels in control.
Presumably she's tried asking him straight out, and found that he's unwilling, or unable, through embarrassment, to talk. She could always write him a letter, asking whether he'd find it easier to discuss it on paper. "I'm your wife; I don't feel you trust me; surely we can share this information...", etc.
Or she might suggest they make their various wills and go to the solicitor together. He might find it easier, if he's of the old, crusty brigade, to discuss money with a professional, even if it is a man.
Get wise to him - and yourself
Why did he marry you if you were so far beneath him that he couldn't trust you or talk to you? It sounds to me that you suspect that he has debts of his own, rather than having a hang-up about talking about money.
If he won't talk to you, the best thing you could do is to sort your own financial affairs out and ensure that if he does slip under a tide of debt, you won't be responsible for them, too. Keep all your receipts and speak to a solicitor about any mortgage or debts that might bear your details as well as your husband's.
Wake up and smell the coffee, girl!
Next Week's Dilemma
I have a friendship with Sally that goes back 10 years. When her husband died I was there for her, and when I got divorced she was there for me, and through her I met other single women. That's where the problem occurred. We lived 30 miles apart and she introduced me to Ann, who lives very close. We've become good friends, but this upsets Sally. She says I've gone behind her back and crossed a line that friends should not cross; that I should contact Ann, the other friend, only through her. I'm so upset and confused. I don't want to lose either friendship. Is Sally behaving like an immature schoolgirl, or a control freak?
Yours sincerely, Helen