Relationships

For Richer, For Poorer

Friends often remind me, "It's not too late to marry for money." Maybe they're right.

"It's just as easy to love a rich one." That's what a billboard ad for spaghetti sauce said. Personally, I never found it to be true. Although I grew up in a tony suburb where classmates "summered" in Maine and "wintered" in Palm Beach, I always fell for the scruffy rebel who smoked behind the cafeteria, preferred Marrakesh to Princeton and was voted most likely to be disinherited.

In my twenties, I turned a cold shoulder on the doctors, lawyers and physicists of tomorrow. Money was irrelevant and totally uncool. I made love on a veritable ocean of mattresses on hard wood floors from Boston to Berkeley and back. If any of my partners had trust funds or even steady employment, they did their best to conceal it. It wasn't until my thirties that I realized that most of my female friends had made the kind of matches Jane Austen would approve. They married "good providers," men who followed the Lakers, Consumer Reports and the Dow Jones Average.

As friends moved from starter houses into three-garage McMansions , I consoled myself with the knowledge that I still had my independence, my freedom and didn't have to pretend that conversation about oral surgery or tax law was fascinating.

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"Look at you, getting around town on a bike," friends would coo from the air-conditioned comfort of their new Lexus SUV.

Then came their vacation houses and invitations to visit them in Sarasota, Maui and Aruba.

"You must come," they'd say, but never settle on a date because they were always jetting off on a vacation from their vacation house. Don't bother to untangle that knot. I didn't.

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The few times I actually took them up on their ambiguous offers, I was subjected to fantasy real estate tours, as if I could possibly afford a condo with an ocean view anywhere other than a dicey section of Haiti. Or I was picked up at the airport and quickly abandoned while my host attended a fundraiser for endangered Tasmanian frogs.

The only time I actually fell in love with a wealthy man, it was by mistake. Jim was standing in front of me in the supermarket check-out line, his clothes splattered with paint. Naturally, I thought he was an artist or tradesman. By the time we ripped off each other's clothes, it was too late. Jim was a surgeon. He was attractive, charming and loved to dance. What could go wrong?

"How do you feel about having children?" he asked.

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"Um, why?"

I was 47. Jim was 52, divorced, with five adult children and one grandchild. As it turned out, he was determined to reset the dial on his bio clock. If I were a Hollywood Super Star, I might've been inclined to subject myself to the wonders of medical science. But I knew the risks involved and declined. Jim sent me a dozen, long-stemmed, red roses and married a woman in her thirties who quickly produced the desired proof of his virility. I considered myself lucky. If this scenario had taken place in Henry VII's England, my head might've rolled.

Me? I went back to fishing in smaller ponds stocked with artists, photographers and writers. Their cars were as old and unreliable as mine. Their sofas as lumpy. Their retirements accounts as ephemeral. The only thing that was truly rich was the conversation and laughter.

Well-meaning friends remind me, "It's not too late to marry for money." They suggested I hang out at medical or law conferences and learn to play golf. No thanks. I'm challenged, as it is, by Scrabble. If romance is going to find me, it has to come to where I am: curled up on my sofa watching "SNL," standing in line at Trader Joe's or chowing down on free eats and drinks at art shows. That's where I met Evan, reaching for the last of the Humboldt Fog.

"You take it," he said gallantly.

"No, you," I insisted.

Our eyes met, toothpicks poised in mid-air. We forgot about the cheese and chatted about art, politics and the last episode of "SNL." I was attracted to Evan's easy banter, silver hair and tweedy attire. Something about those suede elbow patches. I figured him for an academic. I was right. And wrong.

"I teach economics and have my own CPA firm," said Evan. "It's noisy here. Would you like to go somewhere and grab a cup of coffee?"

That's when it hit me. That old billboard just might have a point.

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