"So how much do you earn?" one of my former college buddies asked after I landed a new job.
We were in Jo'burg at the time, fresh out of varsity, and she was still in the middle of job-hunting.
So I told her the amount. I'll never forget the look of horror that crossed her face.
"Erm. Should we get another coffee?" she answered, clearly looking for an out from this suddenly awkward conversation. I instantly felt squeamish, as if I'd pitched up naked to a party.
Since then, I've never – nor will I ever – disclose how much I earn. It doesn't matter who is asking, I'll just look at them blankly and let an uncomfortable silence settle over us.
It's weird. I mean, my friends know every intimate, cringe-worthy detail about my sex life: when was the last time I got laid; with whom; how he was; how freaky was it; whether I came (or not); if I ever want to see him again. They could probably write a book about my bedroom habits. I hope they won't.
Whether we're talking about life, work, boys or books, no topic is off limits.
Well, except money obviously.
• "God, I'm so broke," we may sigh to each other, the day before payday.
• "Can you believe how much tax we pay?" we may whine to each other on payday.
• "Let's go wild and have a glass of wine!" we'll say, the day after payday. "Know any really cheap bars?"
• "Jeez, I can't believe I'm so broke again," we say two weeks later.
But that's as far as we'll go.
I mean, if I ever happened to see their salary slip, I would jump at the chance. I'm being honest, okay? I'd like to know how their bank balance compares to mine. And, yeah, I would in all likelihood be staying up at night and thinking: "Wow! It's so unfair that she earns that much more than me." Or "Hm. Would have thought I get paid that much more than her?" It would torture me.
And the real thing about money, isn't it? The emotional bullshit that comes with it.
I hate the way psychologists could talk about it as if it's a distant thing by labeling it “shame”, “pride”, “depression”, “disappointment”, “frustration” or whatever. But the truth is on some visceral level, none of us can unweave our feelings from our finances. And that makes it almost impossible to talk about how much debt we're in, or how undervalued we feel, or how embarrassed we are by our money habits. It makes us, in a sense, dishonest – with ourselves more than with other people.
And the really sad thing? The people who force you to face yourself and your issues – your social circle – are the people you're most scared to talk to when it comes to your finances.
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Maybe it's just me who would never openly talks about my bank balance with my buddies? Or is it actually a social taboo? Tell me.