A while ago, this email came in to the blog: 'My boyfriend of two years has just started as a graduate in a major bank, and I've found it difficult to understand his new life.
'It is so bizarre. Your blog has helped me to understand the finance culture somewhat'.
A few weeks later we meet at a Starbucks for coffee. She is in her early 20s, a fast-talking, cheerful woman of south-east Asian descent.
"When I read the interview on the blog with the banker's wife it was like reading a very possible – but nightmarish – scenario of my future. I don't understand how she can be okay with all the late nights and going to social events on her own, and generally being with someone who is always somewhere else. Why is she making excuses for him? Why doesn't she fight back, why doesn't she say, 'I deserve someone who's there for me'? She seems to have a very traditional view of how women should behave.
"The interview on the blog with a banker's ex shows the other extreme, she doesn't seem to take anything.
"He always wanted this, to go into banking. And I never understood how this would impact my life. Over the summer it was still all right, his hours were between 9am and 7pm. I was like, okay, I can handle this. But things were already changing in him. He began to make jokes about colleagues' wives and how they spend their money. How the girlfriend of a colleague of his had to wait till 4am the next day for him to appear. He'd turn this into a joke. I began to realise: he is dropping hints how it's going to be between us.
"In the first week when his proper job started, it was work till midnight every day. It's crazy how you adapt to that. These days when he finishes at 10pm I think to myself: 'Wow, that's really good'. I am changing as well.
"When I finished university I moved back with my parents. They don't know about us. But they must suspect something. All of a sudden, I start getting phone calls at 1am, 2am. We used to talk on the phone every night before bed for at least 40 minutes to an hour. Now I just text him because I know there is no point in calling, he won't pick up. I go to bed and wake up the next day to find his text.
"Friday nights is when I am with him, when I stay over at the flat he recently moved in with a mate. It's an awful place, in his room there is just his bed and wardrobe. They're never there. The kitchen is disgusting because it's never used. One time when I stayed there I had to wait till 3am for him to come home. All this time I was just waiting and waiting, and back then he didn't even have a television or any internet. What I do now is I fill up my whole day and evening, because I don't want to sit in his flat waiting for him.
"When he comes home really late he's had six Red Bulls and he'll want to talk. But I'm exhausted. I am thinking, tomorrow morning we'll have a chat and a lie-in. But then he gets an email, saying: 'Be in the office tomorrow by 9am'.
"My parents always worry that I might end up with a loafer for a boyfriend or husband. Ha ha! It's the opposite, my man works too much.
"I remember how one time back in our university days, we talked priorities. For me it was happiness, and being surrounded by loving people. For him that came second. The job was first. He is the sweetest man in the world. And I can see that this is what he wants to do, that this job is where his heart is. I tease him about his weight gain. You're chained to your desk all day, I tell him. When he goes out running for lunch he'll call me. He'll ask, what should I order? And we have this three way conversation with the guy taking the lunch order.
"As I said, I am changing. Sometimes he gets to leave the office by 8pm. He calls and I feel I have to cut my program short because maybe we can spend an evening together, perhaps even go to a restaurant. When this happens I feel really stupid, leaving my friends and dropping everything for him. The power balance in our relationship has shifted completely.
"He is a great man and we had it really good in university. He's under a lot of pressure. His parents have financial difficulties and he is helping them pay their debts. He is very religious and he doesn't drink. This is not making things easier for him at the bank. In fact his parents have said that if he has to drink to get ahead at the bank, then this is okay. But he won't. Same dilemma with strip clubs. My position makes no sense, I know, but as long as we're not married, I'm okay if he has to go. But if we're married, then it's not acceptable.
"Since he doesn't drink himself, he has no idea what to order for other people when he's buying. So he will text me, asking: 'What's a good drink to buy an older man? What's a good drink to buy a girl my age?'
"I was with him the day he got the phone call offering him the job. We were at a train station, he was so excited that he came running towards me and picked me up. People thought we were very strange, but we were just so excited – he had worked so hard and finally he had an offer.
"He is incredibly competitive. The other day we were talking about a friend of his who is also in finance, but with much better hours. I pointed that out to him and he went: 'Oh no, he's with a shit bank, I don't want that.'
"Is it making him happy? A little while ago we were having dinner and he got a message that he had made a mistake. This threw him off completely. He couldn't stop fidgeting, wouldn't listen to me. The rest of the evening he'd fret about work.
"Everything has become provisional. When we plan something, he says 'But I may have to cancel'. When we're out, there is always the chance of him getting called back into the office. He comes with terms and conditions.
"He's got more willpower than I'll ever have. But he's going to have to change himself, to fit in. Right now he cannot stand being told off by someone. That makes him feel like he died. He takes every rejection incredibly personally, even if it's a job application or something else to do with work. He'll obsess over what somebody said to him.
"Oh God. You know, he tries really hard. But I told him very seriously: look, I don't like your job. I didn't choose to be in this situation. If I had wanted the bankers' lifestyle I would have gone into finance myself. I work in a shop. I live with my parents. I have huge student debts, a big overdraft … Now he has a really good salary, he looks smart – suddenly he holds all the cards in the relationship.
"He says things like, let me take you shopping. I don't want him to buy me presents to make up for the fact that he can't spend time with me. But this is how he talks now: I'll buy you something, I'll make it up to you.
"He is in mergers and acquisitions ['M&A' – the buying and selling of companies] and when he talks about his job, I have all these acronyms thrown at me. Speak English, I want to scream. I met some of his colleagues and I dread meeting the others: 'What do you do?', 'I am in banking'. 'And what do you?', 'Well, I work in a shop.' I have no credentials, ha ha!
"These colleagues of his, they are like super people. Incredibly good looking and intelligent and accomplished. I know what they have done to get there while I can't even bother to go for a run when it's cold out. Ha ha! I am not like them and I am fine with that but they are an intimidating group of people.
"Sadly, all they can talk about is work. Same with his flatmate who is with the same bank, but in a different division. You will not believe how boring and childish conversations between the two can be. Who works harder, how to get into the right jobs, how hard it is – they can go on all night. 'My bank is better at M&A'. 'But my bank is great at … ' and a few abbreviations fly across the room. One says, but you're not even a real trader. And then the other has to defend himself.
"It never stops. We may be together and then he's emailing India to get their guy there to finish something by 9am. Sometimes he'll call the guy at home, in India, and make him go into the office. That's the pressure again. Some time ago I got a call and he said: oh my God, they're firing people right now. But he could stay.
"When he tells me what he does all day, I often think: I can do that. He'll be telling me that he spends at least half his time formatting documents; measuring the space between lines to make sure everything looks perfect. Presentation is so important in banking, apparently.
"Still it must be really hard, some of it. He has this colleague who cries all the time. She can't take the pressure. Apparently one managing director only wants to work with her, because of a particular skill she has. She'll be crying in the toilet and he'll cover for her, make up excuses why she isn't at her desk.
"I worry that I'm being too harsh on him. The thing is, I can't talk to my parents because they don't know he exists. My friends wouldn't understand, they are totally appalled when I tell them about his hours and what it means for us. I must find out what I actually feel. I don't know what I feel anymore. What's okay in a relationship, what isn't? Is it okay to rush through a dinner together because he has to go back into the office? When he doesn't call me, in the past I'd think: I'll have a go at him. Now I am making excuses why he didn't.
"Talk to him about it? That's the thing. I feel I can't even shout at him anymore, can't tell him off. Because he has such a heavy job. In the old days when we fought it would last for hours. Three hours for the fight and then two hours silent treatment to get the point across. I don't do this anymore because there's no time.
"When something funny happens in my life, I would always look forward to telling him about it. These days I often forget before I have a chance. Same if I hear something amusing or interesting. I try to save it up for him but we go for such a long time without seeing each other, it slips away. I would send him links but he these days doesn't have time to look at them anyway. YouTube is blocked in his office.
"So there we are. I travel an hour there and back on the tube just to see him, for maybe one hour. It's always me begging to see him: 'What time do you finish?' I am getting into petty and ridiculous competitions with his family who are also claiming his time. During Christmas he had four days off and he couldn't even give me one.
"I would feel really awful if he lost his job for me. At the same I have made these new friends over the past few months, and I can't even introduce them to him. They must think I have an imaginary boyfriend. I would like to introduce him to my sister. But he's never available before 11pm and by that time my sister is asleep.
"I remember when we were still at uni and one of his flatmates who was also aiming to go into banking said to me point blank: 'The two of you might as well break up.' I was like, that's not very nice. We laughed it off. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he said: 'I'm surprised you even made it this far'.
"Last Saturday, before he went into work, I asked him if this job is want he wants to do with the rest of his life and he answered no. I was so surprised. But when I asked him want he wanted to do instead and how he saw his future, he told me he wasn't completely sure but that he would have to slog it out as an analyst for a few years. After that he could practically go into anything."
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image: © Greg Habermann