Photo: Marc Royce
Q: For the first time in my life, I'm in a serious relationship with a wonderful man, and we've started talking about marriage. We hold the same values, including a healthy respect for money. He pays bills on time, has good credit, and is debt-free apart from student loans. My boyfriend is somewhat old-fashioned financially: We dated for five months before he let me pay for dinner. We're both in our mid-20s, working in the architectural field and dreaming about starting our own firm. But he wants to wait until he can afford it, which could be years from now. The problem is, he doesn't come from the same financial background I do—when my parents died, they left me a great deal of money. Although he's aware that I have a little extra padding, he has no idea how much. I don't believe he would abuse my inheritance, but I'm afraid he'll never be comfortable spending it. I worry that his pride will become even more of an issue when he learns the full story. How do I introduce him to my bank account, and get him to think of this as our money?
A: Your lack of honesty with your boyfriend—and with yourself—is the more important problem. How could you keep such a big secret from the man you might marry? Your boyfriend is going to be justifiably hurt that you didn't reveal the truth about your circumstances earlier. And I have a strong sense that you aren't being up front about why you've hesitated to explain your wealth.
Deep down, I think you're scared about losing the money if you pool yours with his and then eventually go your separate ways. Rather than pretend there are other factors at play, let's be real: You love this guy, but you want to protect yourself just in case. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. It's a healthy and smart way to think. Too often, women lead with their hearts and offer their money to their partners. When something goes wrong, they find themselves out of love and a chunk of their savings.
Dating someone doesn't mean you have to stop being cautious, but you shouldn't be dishonest, either. Integrity and respect are the cornerstones of a close relationship. So you need to start talking with your guy right now. If you work through this obstacle and decide that you'd like to use your money to build a future together, then go for it. But please don't add his name to any of your accounts. The minute you do that, he's equally entitled to a slice. When you get married, insist on a prenuptial agreement stating that the money you acquired from your parents belongs to you alone. You can spend every penny on your husband if you want to, but the choice should be yours.
From the May 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine