• Barbarella
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She's lookin' for a prize, man you killin' me/Actin' like you don't see the dollar signs in her eyes/She wants her nails done, and her hair, too/Plus a diamond necklace, that's all on you.

-- Ludacris

'If you could have any kind of car you wanted, bought and paid for, what would it be?" "That's easy -- Corolla," I said.

"Come on, think about it. Money's not an issue. Any car in the world." David leaned toward me, expectation written on his face.

"Well, I've eyeballed the Passats, but I would have to test drive one first. But the Corolla is a sure bet -- she's practical, reliable, and comfortable."

"I told you, practicality doesn't factor into the equation." David's doubt in my veracity was evident in his tone. But his smile revealed his admiration for my reasoning.

"I stand by my answer. What about you?"

"Austin-Healey 3000. Or a Mini," David said. Then, with a smirk, "But you know I'm not that into cars."

David's atypical priorities were among the many things that attracted me to him before we first met. In his online ad, he had written, "I drive a 1985 Saab with over 200,000 miles on it. But I would rather buy a piece of original art than a new car." David was the first person I ever met who truly did not give a shit what other people thought -- an attitude I considered impossible but that, if achieved, could be more liberating than a bonfire of bras.

I once overheard a middle-aged attorney joke about his new hot rod: "I like my cars like I like my women -- new and fast." What a cliché, I thought -- a man with diminishing testosterone levels purchasing virility in the form of rubber and steel and hoping the honeys won't notice the difference. A man like David who did not rely on status symbols was a rare thing, and I wanted one.

Such an atypical man naturally sought a like-minded woman -- one who was not impressed with the flashy mating dance of the yuppie, who responded more to eloquently spoken words than to a glimpse of a well-endowed money clip. I made it clear during my first few interactions with David that I was my own person, that the last thing I needed in life to make me whole was a man. My determination to maintain financial and emotional independence was a potent pheromone for this advanced male I now call Lover.

The foundation for my values had been set years before, instilled by my father, whose greatest fear was to see any one of his daughters become dependent on somebody else, thus limiting our choices in life. "Never get stuck," Dad used to say. "Don't ever rely on anyone to take care of you." Through my father's eyes, a man was judged by his work ethic alone -- he who flipped burgers day after day received more admiration than a CEO who was "in between jobs." Hard work and independence were the only ways for a person to gain Dad's respect. As a result, not one of his daughters is comfortable with the idea of a free ride.

The lessons of my youth were cemented while living in Los Angeles. It was in America's shallowest city that I learned what kind of woman I never wanted to become -- the gold digger. Vanessa was the first real gold digger I encountered. As the receptionist in our small office, her income was modest. And yet, each day, she would strut from the front door to her desk in a boldly colored ensemble branded with the logos of Versace or Louis Vuitton, and peel away as the clock struck 5:00 in her shiny red sports car.

Vanessa spoke openly of her two boyfriends -- one she fucked and her "sugar daddy," or the one who paid her bills. "He's nice," she once said of the latter, "but he's old and fat." When I asked how she got him to pay her car and cell phone payments, and fund her wardrobe, she said, "I tell him I'm having trouble with my bills, and he asks me how much I need." She never flustered at my questioning, which only astonished me further.

One Saturday evening down at my local haunt, the Formosa Café, I overheard three women competing to see which of them could earn more free drinks. The same night, when a man sidled up to me at the bar and said, "So what'll it be?" I politely refused his offer. I had no interest in either following through with the obligation to chat and/or go home with him, or the heart to give him the brush off after collecting my prize, which was clearly something these other girls excelled at.

David is the first man I have seriously dated whose income is greater than mine. Most women (particularly the money-hungry, dependent kind) infer from this that David's financial status was a major draw for me. The opposite is true -- the inequality of our income is the only source of discomfort for me in our relationship. I would rather pay his way (and have) for a romantic evening or weekend getaway than have him pay mine.

Shortly after we began dating, I excitedly told a coworker that David and I were flying to New York to check out a piece of artwork he was interested in purchasing. I showed her the image online and, noticing the price, she said, "Wow, that's expensive. You should have him buy you a new car."

I stood in shocked silence for a moment, attempting to figure out how one related to the other. Unable to make the connection, I said, "I don't know what you think his choice in art has to do with my transportation, but you're assuming two things here. One, you're assuming I don't like my car, when, in fact, I like it very much. And two, you're assuming I am the kind of person who would ever accept such a gift, let alone ask for it."

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