Vanessa Golenia | Longreads | September 2018 | 19 minutes (4,692 words)
“Should we tell each other how much we make?” I asked Peter, trying to sound casual while in bed enjoying post-coital ice cream. In the late summer of 2016, after 15 months of shuttling back and forth between our apartments in Ubers and exposing our roommates to the nightly soundscape of our sex life, we decided it was time to move in together. We were having fun deciding what colors to paint the walls, and which pieces of furniture to combine, but had so far avoided any discussion of money.
Part of it was my fault. I had no interest in talking about incomes, believing that when you’re in love, you’re in love — fuck the money. Why talk about numbers when you can instead focus on finding out what he thinks about the afterlife, or learn the juicy details of his last breakup, or memorize how he takes his coffee (a shot of espresso with whole milk in a handmade ceramic cup)?
But the main reason we’d avoided talking about money for so long was that there was a significant income gap between us and neither of us felt comfortable finding out just how wide it was.
Peter is a visual artist and it’s common knowledge that unless you have a trust fund or a wildly successful career, artists don’t make a lot of money, especially in a place like New York City where a pastrami sandwich from Katz Deli costs $22 and a parking space in a dimly lit garage costs $600 dollars a month (enough to cover rent in other cities). Most artists are barely scraping by here — constantly making empty promises to each other about banding together and moving to Detroit.
Like most artists, Peter didn’t make enough money to live off sales of his paintings and photographs alone, regardless of how compelling I thought they were. He had a full-time job as a gallery director and took freelance jobs installing art and curating private collections. I had no idea how much that paid, but the more I got to know him, the more I sensed it wasn’t much.