There are a lot of posts in my quiver, in my mind that I don’t write. Because… hard. You know the kind? A story you long to tell, a panegyric you need to scream out… but you don’t, because half, more, the people in your life will be grievously offended?
This is one such post.
I write it for Flora. And for your daughter, too.
We’re sitting in a coffee shop—on a park bench—on my beloved Common—in my kitchen. And you’re in agony.
Your marriage is ending—really, it’s over, it’s just a question of how, when—and you’re terrified.
You’re terrified of—well, everything, really, because all change, especially that kind of change, is terrifying—but you’re, particularly, specifically, terrified of…
What? I ask. Again. You always wait for me to ask, before you say, you say…
… you say money, you say economic consequences, you say financial vulnerability…
… you say if you took that out of the equation, you’d be able to think clearer, plan better, but you can’t. Of course you can’t. How can you take that out of the equation? It’s everything.
You say if you could be sure, if you knew, you’d be financially ok, your kids would be ok—you’d walk. You’d have left a long time ago. Or: you wouldn’t be so terrified at the thought of being left. You would be more rational about him leaving…
And I say… nothing. I make supportive friend noises, and tell you you’ll be all right. Say words like lawyers, child support payment guidelines, protection, blah-blah-blah. Meaningless, meaningless words, because I know, you know, how it will all play out.
We know that as you disentangle-separate-end, you will fight, bitterly, over his money.
It doesn’t matter that it was our money before.
Now it’s his. And it affects everything, 21st century pro-woman, pro-child laws be damned. The person who signs the cheques holds the power. Defines the rules of engagement. Has the most power.
That’s just the way it is.
I know this. You know this. We’ve seen this play out, in our lives, how many times? The circles we move in, dominated by attachment parenting-homeschooling-radical-homemaker-yes-I’m-a-stay-at-home-parent-and-proud-of-it people, however self-proclaimed in their lifestyle radicality, end up being so predictably hetero-conventional. He earns money. She “stays” home. It’s their—our!—money. We’re a team! A family! Everything is ours.
Until there’s no love, friendship, affection, respect, and only anger, resentment, betrayal, emptiness. Fury. Bitterness.
And then—ours? Ha. It’s mine.
You don’t understand. But I do. Because it’s not a male-female thing. Not a greedy-bad-selfish husband versus giving-good-selfless wife. It’s a breadwinner versus dependent dynamic. And it sucks that in our most intimate relationships who makes the money matters so much. But it does. Oh, it does.
In my family, it’s usually me—and it’s our money when things are good. But when I get angry? It’s mine and could you fucking stop wasting it?
(Sean pauses at this moment and looks at me. You sure you want to be writing this? he asks. I need to, I say. Can you take it? His eyes return to the screen.)
You’re listening, but she, she’s appalled. Do you see her? She’s there on the periphery, right there… And she screams: It’s ours, ours. We’re a team. Forever. He appreciates everything I do, everything I sacrifice.
Sure. For now. While things are good.
And now, you’re angry. Because you’re not stupid or naïve. And the decision to stop earning, to stop building a career, to become financially dependent on someone you love-trust-are-building-a-forever-life-with… you didn’t make it lightly. Or alone. You made it together. And so, for five, 10, 15, 20 years, that’s what you did… and now?
I want to tell you… I want to tell you that staying out of fear, financial or otherwise, is worse than leaving in uncertainty. I want to tell you to make your decision on the assumption that everything will be ok… but will it? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. The financial and emotional consequences of the dissolution of the worst and most dysfunctional of marriages are vast.
And really… yours isn’t so bad.
Still. I’ll tell you none of that. I’ll make my supportive friend noises. Give you contact details for lawyers and links to the child support guideline tables*** and mediators’ addresses.
And heave a great, grateful sigh of relief… that it’s my money.
That my decisions to stay and love and work and build and negotiate and change and continue and grow together—complicated though they are—they never include financial fear. Dependence on someone else writing a cheque. Paying the bills.
(Buying my compliance in the decisions he makes for our (his!) children.)
(This is really difficult to read, Sean says. I nod. I know. And yet… why? “I don’t need you. But I want you.” It shouldn’t be difficult. It should, actually, be glorious. I am free and independent, and I choose to be here, with you—when I could be, would be just fine without you. But I want you. I want this, us. But. Need? No. Not financially, anyway. And that’s all we’re talking about here, my beloved. Money.)
She —that woman over there, who is convinced that her partnership-lovership-marriage is forever? — is so angry with me. I don’t understand her, she says. Her partner. Their love. Their trust. How they’re rewriting the rules of conventional marriage… by living what looks like a conventional marriage (he at work, she at home) but what is actually radical homemaking** and how they’re going to save the world and raise a new generation of children who…
It’s a beautiful story. And why argue? She won’t listen to me anyway. And maybe, who knows? Maybe she will be one of the lucky one-in-two. After all, 57 per cent of the American women married between 1985 and 1989 were still married 15 years later. Only (only!) 43 per cent were divorced.* Maybe her guy is completely exempt from and unaffected by dominant social habits and mores. Maybe he really will believe it’s our money, and that the work she does in the house and garden, with the children and all those quotidian tasks that make his career possible is just as valuable as the work he does that brings in the money that pays the bills and buys all the things.
I haven’t seen a man—or woman, for that matter—for whom that holds true come end-game. But they could exist. They could be evolving.
But… “maybe” is not good enough for my Flora. Nor are those odds. I want her, whether she loves one partner forever or walks any other path, free. Loving and staying because she wants to. Not because she feels she has to. Staying and being in the relationship without giving up her power—her economic clout—because we live in a world in which money matters. And who makes the money matters.
Now you’re really angry with me, because… well. Because. I understand. Be angry. It’s fine. I deserve it. Your agony and fear terrify me, even though they don’t play out in the path I walk… because my Flora, my Flora, suppose my Flora walks your path? Suppose she chases a fairy tale… and wakes up in a cage?
I want her free. Independent. Making choices out of love, commitment, reflection, and yeah, reason, sure, reason. But, not fear. Never fear.
* “Marital Status & Living Arrangements: Most People Make Only One Trip Down the Aisle, But First Marriages Shorter, Census Bureau Reports.” Census.gov. Retrieved 2012-03-27. via Wikipedia
**Radical Homemakers is the title of a rather fascinating book by Shannon Hayes … which is worth reading regardless of whether you hated every word I’ve written above or nodded furiously at each paragraph.
Yeah, made me anxious. (I’m so sure we’re good, and I’m safe, and yet, aren’t we all sure? And we’re not all good, and safe.) Thanks, despite the sleep I might lose tonight.
When I started working again there was definitely an evening out of the dynamic in our relationship. I give you that. But no one is ever “free.” Not really.
“I stay because I want to, not because I need to, not because I’m afraid.” How much more free can one wish to be?
“suppose my Flora walks your path? Suppose she chases a fairy tale… and wakes up in a cage? ” irked me…
Not so much.
I am a stay at home because of medical issues. Having to give up financial freedom, all that I had worked for, to rely on someone else to provide it all was scary. It still is, but we make “our fairy tale” work.
I get that you’re saying that in this day and age, you need a back up plan but who the fuck says that when they’re getting married? “Just in case you’re a dick I better work” …
If you’re even thinking that…in the back of your mind that you better be contributing financially because you never know…then that is not a trusting relationship in the first place.
And to put it into perspective the whore that our good friend was married to, took over 60 grand when she split.
And the bitch had a job as a psychologist.
I get asked all of the time why I work. If daycare costs so much why dont I stay home. I always ask if they would ask husband the same question. Never mind that I LOVE my job and I think itakes me a better wife but I am not strong enough to be dependent on someone else. It isnt even the question of what if we split. It is more what if something horrible happens and I am alone?
Absolutely. I didn’t want to dilute the core thrust, but that’s a key point as well, absolutely. Financial independence. It’s a thing.
Voice of doom and gloom chiming in…but I completely agree (for another reason too). My mom was 36 when she was suddenly widowed. Back then, there was a small life insurance policy and that was it. We were 9 and 13. Thank goodness my mom had gone back to work just a couple of years earlier (after a decade of being at home…and then retraining). All this to say, that even if you are deeply in love, you never know what may come. Tell Flora to make sure she establishes her own credit history too. A dear friend once confided in me that EVERYTHING was in her husband’s name so I told her the above story.
Credit history–good point. Tx for making it. And how many women of our parents generation got thoroughly hosed come dissolution of marriage–or death–because, as in your friend’s case–everything was in the other’s name?
Yes! The friend I mentioned above had never even had a Visa card in her own name! No student loans, nothing! I was honestly shocked when she told me…hard to believe that it is even possible these days.
I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if my mom had not been working or if she would have been unable to borrow when she needed to. I think it would be even worse these days.
I walked away from a 12 year career. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. Your post is spot on.
I trust my Husband and we have a great marriage but I know how things can happen. And I would certainly have to scramble to get myself financially independent. . .but I decided I was willing to chance it.
Maybe what men and women need to consider is changing HOW we work?
If I could contribute financially AND have the flexibility to care for my kids, I would. It’s just not possible in my former career (I was a compliance officer at a full services brokerage firm).
Maybe by the time Flora is ready to make career v family decisions the how, where, when, what of work will have changed offering her better options than we have at the present?
I HOPE! 🙂
Great post! Xo
This is a whole other issue–and yet so intertwined with this one–the appalling incapacity of our current dominant economic-market model to come to terms with the fact that women (people) have babies. My “real” self writes about this extensively; if you’re interested, Deni, this is perhaps my most eloquent piece of writing on this: The CEO Has a Uterus–no wait, the problem is taht he doesn’t, but half his workforce does: http://calgarybusinesswriter.com/2014/03/03/the-ceo-has-a-uterus-no-wait-he-doesnt-challenging-the-status-quo-in-the-canadian-workplace/
I completely understand why you needed to write this for you daughter (and maybe other women in your life?). This was a perfect blend of writing from the heart and brain and it engaged all of me, or at least the important parts, heart and brain.
Engaged, enraged. 😉 The sideline I didn’t go into: who makes the money affects the power dynamics in a relationship even when you’re together-ever-after… I have an idea for a group think piece we could do around this, actually… My beloved muse. xoxo
I think this angers people because on some level they understand that it’s true, and they’re vulnerable and frightened. We hate what we fear. But as we used to say back in the 70s, “every married woman is just one husband away from welfare.” I still think that’s true. Great post.
Thank you. It’s a huge issue, and unresolved issue… how many decades later? In many ways, today’s SAHMs are even more vulnerable than their predecessors in the pre-serial-monogamy/transient-partnership era… but that’s also another story…
It scares me that we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the 3rd wave of feminism in the 70s & 80s. So sad.
Yes. Thank you for writing this.
I’ve got one of those dudes who really DOES understand that the work I do at home with the kids empowers his ability to go out and do the money making blah blah blah that he has to go and do every stankin’ day. But that doesn’t make me any less anxious about it. It doesn’t make it any less of a gamble. Because he is not the final say on whether or not he keeps his really nice, well paying job. That could change any time. And we need to have a better plan for our combined futures than just banking on his retirement package, which, let’s be honest, is charming at best.
We’re dealing with some stuff that means we really need someone home full time right now, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not also trying to figure out other options for when we’re past that. I want my kids to grow up and I want to keep having a life outside of them. Wait, no. I NEED a life outside of them. Egads, do I ever need that.
Anyway, this is just me giving you a thumbs up on this post. I may not agree with everything you said, but we definitely have come to the same conclusions.
It’s uber-complicated, right? So many layers of concern…
Yup. When we met, I made slightly more than my husband did, and all was fine. When my son was born, I quit my job but got a big bonus, and all was fine. Almost five years later, I work part-time only, making about 1/5 of what I used to make. It’s fine, here, because I choose to stay and I love him, but I so get what you’re saying. Were I to consider leaving, finances would most definitely be a consideration and that’s so just icky. I’m glad you wrote this, brilliant friend.
This resonates with me so much right now. With all of the things that are happening in our lives and the fact that my husband is the breadwinner but not exactly good with our money. Me the one who gave up working full time to spend more time with my children. Pardon my french I am SO FUCKING THERE my friend.
I totally get this. It’s why I continue to work as much as I can around the girls and my husband’s schedule. Yes, he is the “main” breadwinner, but it is equal in that if he (or I) walk away tomorrow neither of us are staying because we have to. We WANT to and that is what we are showing the girls. I don’t want Abby to be a stay at home either. For just the reason you pointed out.
Awesome, brave post. I’m glad you hit publish.
As a father to three daughters, I hate that this has to be written. I wish there was a evolution where the man’s money was truly considered the family’s money. It makes no matter that that is how I’ve always felt. But, if she chooses to bank on the fairy tale, I will not blame her.
I will, however, be here on the periphery, whether it’s for small help or the greatest. She might find a prince, and that prince might become a king. Or he might turn into a frog. Dad will always be here though.
I have that I still have to write this. 2014. 21st century. And still, this.
I hate that boys can’t be responsible. In whatever century.
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