My Year of Finance Boys

From The Paris Review:

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the hedge fund analyst knew me better than I knew myself. It was his job to predict distant developments, covert motives, hidden risks, and shortly into our brief relationship he turned his powers of divination on me. After I told him I was writing a novel about finance, he suggested that I’d been drawn to him partly for mercenary reasons: that I was, in a word, dating him for research. He took it in stride—he lived and breathed all things mercenary—but he did issue a polite warning.

“Never put anything I tell you in writing,” he said.

I’d like to think that, in his predictive genius, he also knew I would eventually ignore this warning.

The hedge fund analyst, whom I’ll call Jake, was the last in a string of finance boys I dated during a peculiar if productive period of my life. Almost as soon as I’d embarked on my novel about finance, I’d begun scanning dating apps for Patagonia vests and Barbour jackets. I wanted investment bankers, private equity associates, traders. I maintain that my motives were not as Machiavellian as Jake would go on to imply. I’d decided my novel would treat the technicalities of finance lightly, and I was already doing research sufficient to my purposes: auditing finance classes at the university where I was a graduate student, reading textbooks, conducting interviews. But Jake was probably right that my creative and libidinal impulses became, for a time, precariously interfused.

My interest in finance men as romantic material was as mysterious to me as my interest in finance as material for a book. I’d never earned enough for money to be anything but a source of panic. I had no idea what a derivative was and thought bear and bull meant the same thing. The distinction between a 401(k) and a Roth IRA was lost on me and in any case irrelevant because I had neither. And yet at some point during my years in New York, I became curious about the world of finance, then dazzled by it, and then—as my interest concentrated itself on the men who operated its levers—transfixed. Maybe the political convulsions of 2016 had awakened my class consciousness and spurred me to learn more about the people who shuffled the world’s capital. Maybe, as I neared thirty, I’d grown tired of financial precarity and subconsciously begun a search for a mate who would ease my misery. Maybe I saw in these men an obscure point of recognition. All I knew was that my curiosity would persist until I satisfied it.

. . . .

On my very first outing, I had the fortune or misfortune to have many of my preconceptions confirmed. His name was Andrew, he worked at Goldman Sachs, and he was, to my jubilation, supremely boring. He’d gone to prep school in New England and college in California and now lived with roommates in the West Village, though he had his eye on a one-bedroom in a glass monstrosity in Tribeca. He was tallish, blond, inconspicuously good-looking, and responsibly dressed: the kind of person who lives in your memory only as a pleasing, gleaming outline, devoid of eyes.

He described his life in a white-noise murmur. He told me about a presentation deck he’d recently been tasked with putting together. He told me about the challenge of assessing new markets. He told me about his fraternity days, his weeks on Fire Island. He told me about his life’s dream. He wanted to clamber up the ranks of investment banking, he explained, and then start a company of his own. “I went to the Harvard of California, and now I’m at the Harvard of finance,” he said. “I want to do something unexpected.”

. . . .

In each of these men I saw the same enigma. Something about their jobs seemed to have drained them of personality, blunted their curiosity, thinned out their speech, as if the drama of being a person had been shrunk to a matter of market efficiency, as if after thousands of hours of sitting in conference rooms and hunching before Bloomberg terminals they’d mistaken their spreadsheets, pitch books, white papers, and cash flow statements for materials out of which to assemble a soul. It didn’t occur to me then to wonder if I might be projecting this blankness onto them, or to wonder what purposes of my own such a projection might serve.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review