January 15, 2013 by lucieromarin
Some time ago, a married friend told me that she’d been given a friend’s old fridge, and remarked, “We’ve hardly had to buy anything since we got married; people keep giving us stuff.” Well, even I am not petty enough to begrudge a single-income family a second-hand fridge, but it did get me wondering why my single friends were never offered spare white goods or furniture.
The answer was given to me at a church committee meeting. The group was planning a fundraiser; it was suggested that ticket prices be set higher for single people than for married people. A married woman nodded, saying, “Single people have money to spare, don’t they? I mean, they don’t have mortgages…”
At that moment, I discovered that it is possible for the human mind to explode and implode at the same time. The implications of her statement caused successive interior detonations every time I saw her for at least six months afterwards. There are people in our parishes who do not know that it is possible to be too poor to afford a mortgage. When they look at the single people in their communities, they assume that they are on mortgage-friendly incomes and are just not spending it on anything. That’s why they think we’re selfish.
Some time after this, a friend mentioned to me the cost of her daughter’s school fees. Without thinking, I exclaimed, “Good Lord – that’s more than I earn in a year!” She was gobsmacked, saying, “But how can anyone live off that?” whereupon I understood why my Christmas gifts to her and her children had not met with a response in kind. She had assumed the gifts came from my school-fee-free largesse and were the due owed by my state of life to hers. That is, she had no idea what they really cost – and, I suppose, how could she have known, if I didn’t tell her?
Well, I’ve just finished reading Slavery, Inc, so I’m not about to suggest that the most pressing concern in the world right now is one where we tell our neighbours that we’re poor. Besides, it also occurred to me that there’s a compliment embedded in the misjudgment: if we’re being mistaken for high-income-earners, (or even moderate-income-earners) we must be wearing our relative poverty with some class! How much worse would it be to have the experience related to me by one married woman: when she and her husband were looking at a house, the real estate agent said to her, “We get lots of people like you – you know, rich people who dress poor.”
What could anyone say to that?