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Dealbreaker: I Can't Afford Him

I grew up lower middle class and was the fourth owner of my Honda Accord. He could fly around the world if he happened to wake up bored.

In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.

I met him on the eighth floor of the university library. He asked if he could use my calculator, then sidled over to my table to complain about how long he would be on the bus that evening. I offered to give him a ride home, but after we left campus, he refused to tell me where he lived. So I brought him back to my place.

He was sitting in my room paging through my books when my roommate pulled me over and said, “I thought you weren’t going to do this anymore.” I had sort-of-kind-of sworn off men forever earlier in the day, saying that I was tired of short, meaningless sex acts punctuated by infrequent moments of human connection. At the time I had been very serious about this new life of celibacy, self-denial, and asceticism, but that had been hours ago.

We started dating. He was energetic, adventurous, and didn’t even want to go steady. There were moments where I felt like he could slip his hand beneath my ribs and palpate something I had not thought him capable of reaching. But there was no use getting too attached either way. He was moving back home after he finished school unless he could find a lady to marry, and I was not a lady, so there was never a thought of any windswept promises of love.

Besides, I had sensed some additional complicating factors from the second date, which consisted of me picking him up and taking him back to my place to stay the night. My car overheated in the middle of George Bush Drive, in a thick river of heavy traffic. We hitched a ride to a gas station for a jug of water and he started in on the car.

“You should get a truck,” he told me.

“I work in a bookstore. I cannot afford a truck.”

“You should get your parents to buy it for you.”

How could a person live without money? So easy to get, so easy to spend, no big deal, buy a truck. He did not know that I had grown up lower middle class and had never thought much of being the fourth owner of my Honda Accord, of dressing in clothes my grandmother mailed me in giant trash bags, of keeping my head down and not worrying about the things I couldn’t change. He was convinced I could find the money somewhere, that I could simply devise a big new pickup from the thinnest of bank accounts. If not, my parents could always take care of it.

I never met his parents, but I learned a lot about them over the course of the relationship. They were the type of people who would fly their kid around the world if he happened to wake up bored. Once, burned out on paying bills on a bookstore paycheck, I made the mistake of asking him how he managed to make ends meet—of course his mother and father took care of everything. After a year of dating, he drove up in a brand-new car. And later, when his father deemed it too feminine for his son, he upgraded to an SUV. I got the sense that if his parents ever figured out where he was driving it, their generosity would shrivel.

To a boy who was born wealthy, it seemed that I was just doing things the hard way. When we stayed over at my place, he’d complain that we weren’t doing anything. We’d go out to eat and he’d ask why I wasn’t eating. He’d pay, but sigh and sigh about it. I started to fork over money I didn’t have and then come up short for rent when the month turned.

But on other days, we could be so happy doing nothing. One night, tracing constellations from the lawn of the academic plaza, I explained to him the significance of walking under the Century Tree, this old goliath with branches that twisted to the ground under their own weight, forming a perfect arch. "If you walk under that arch with someone, you will marry that person. If you walk under alone you’ll be alone forever," I told him. He looked at me and shook his head. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

That night he and I walked through that arch, with no one else to witness the event. It felt right. It felt like something we might do if we ever got around to meaning it. I did not love him, but maybe I could have if everything else had been just like this.

But when he left the country for a month to cure his summer malaise, I went on a date with someone else. That first night I spent with this horticulture major, we didn’t do much of anything at all. He took me to a garden and told me the names of all the plants. We sat out front of his house for an hour talking, and not once did he say a thing about my goddamn car.

I broke up with him via text message, because I really didn’t think he cared. He told me some time afterward that he had taken the relationship very seriously, but it was hard to judge the commitments of a person to whom everything comes so easily.

I later heard he had fallen into the clutches of a former enemy of mine, a smug asshole with lots of money. Two years later, I was thumbing through the Marvel section at my local comic book store, searching for a copy of Uncanny X-Men #203 ("Phoenix Versus The Beyonder") at a reasonable price, when the new guy walked in. He dropped a hundred on role-playing figurines for his tabletop campaign, then waltzed over to gloat over having had sex with my ex. Without looking up, I spit out something cutting about him “eating my leftovers.” I may not have any money, but I know what I'm worth.

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