It was the only time I raised my voice at her.
After all, we both had plenty of expendable income. Our bills of necessity amounted to less than a fifth of our combined paychecks! I shook the credit card bill at her and intentionally jacked up my indoor voice. I usually have a stoic approach; I like to absorb a problem cerebrally and try to never appear flustered. But this was no time for stoicism or understanding. I was dealing with an appetite out of control, and I calculated my temper and words to animal training volume and tone. I had to get across what could not be tolerated.
"How? Eight Thousand Dollars! On what? Food? Clothes? Do you have any self-control at all? Don't you see you have nothing to show for this? What are you expecting, some kind of windfall of cash to take it away?" I broke down the simple math: if the bills get bigger and bigger, you probably aren’t living within your means. If you don’t do something about it RIGHT NOW, it is only going to get worse…
In retrospect, we had an ill-conceived dynamic. Eighty - Forty doesn't add up. I had always tried to make allowances so she could enjoy herself to her heart's content, while extending myself paying down the principle on the house and covering all the surprise expenses that homeowners quickly learn to expect. The more she indulged herself, the more reticent and conservative I became. Naturally, my anger that day was aggravated that any sacrifice I made up to this point went to naught.
To her credit, she paid off her debts within the next 3 years.
But I was resentful. I was resentful when she couldn't help out with bills because, after all, she was paying more than the 'minimum payment' on those credit cards (the eight thousand was only one of many). I was resentful because I had already done so much: solely provide the down-payment on a house while tossing her name down as co-owner; buying us a car that she used almost exclusively; I was resentful because it dawned on me that in addition to being the responsible one, I also had to be the one to compensate for her selfishness…because this is what I believed a partnership entailed. I responded by putting every spare penny in the bank, foregoing any venture that might be financially taxing. I put extra hours into my salaried job, hoping this might better my situation somewhere in the future. Certainly, the universe would stand up and recognize my efforts, and something good would happen! What I was saving was a basal protection, a financial barrier against what surprise she might have for me next. A hefty raise became the carrot at the end of the stick: if only I had my own windfall, I could buy a ring. Or sail around the world. Do a big something fun for the both of us.
For her, the distance between whimsy and satisfaction was a brief hop. She had a sense of self-entitlement that I never understood: at a moment's notice, she would see what she wanted and feel she deserved it simply for being her. She's not the only woman I've seen display such caprice, and found it an unattractive trait - but I wrote it off as an occasional necessity, an infrequent letting off of steam. In other women, it was an ugly petulance, but since she was my love it was simply an event and not her character. Simply another obstacle to scratching our way back to zero; I could easily spend another month putting off the things that I want.
And so I worked until I burned out.
I worked days and nights. I had maintained a level of self-sacrifice for years that never resulted in the recognition I hoped would arrive. I felt the squeeze between a partner who consumes for one and a half, and a shrinking job market that stunted my pay and increased my workload. Day in and out, my thoughts were filled with despair.
But I looked at the money I had put aside: This accumulation - partly because I no longer had the time to spend or enjoy it, partly stored as a precaution and reaction against her excessive spending – had reached an appreciative size. Wasn't it supposed to provide a comfort? It could be the down payment on a bigger house, or the beginning of a child's college education…but what mattered at the moment was that it was also saved with an ambiguous eye towards freedom and possibility. What mattered at that moment was that I could afford to perhaps, finally, do something for myself.
I quit my job.
I did it with self-righteous bravado. I felt the world was telling me I had to suffer because I had no options, when really, I had another option. And I exercised it: to not stand for the situation! And I'll confess it did not bother me as much as it should, that my partner would have to be the ‘reliable’ one for awhile. I was so proud of my nest egg, so confident I could land on my feet, that I continued to maintain that 80-40 balance without a foreseeable second income in sight. And I managed this, while throwing money into home projects and going to school, for 3 years. I was going to show a debt-loving world that there was still some reward in paying it forward; show the world those old sensible fables were still valid.
I’m still proud of what I did, even if it turned out somewhat badly.
I eventually went back to work, but with a healthier optimism. It was a bit scarier than I thought it would be - finding a job with equitable pay after being away from the industry for three years. But I scored! (Side note on the IT industry: I could’ve better spent my time away going to cosmetology school and becoming a hair stylist. Sure, I’d be on my feet all day, but the pay would be the same and I’d have nights and weekends open to enjoy). However, I don’t think I completely understood the effect on my partner. I might love morality plays played out in fables, but her world was something entirely different.
She had to explain to her peers why she was working and I wasn’t. How does one explain all I have stated up to now without implicating oneself? If she chose to vilify me, I cannot blame her. It would take a conscientious mind to explain things truthfully…and being as fiscally irresponsible as she was, it’s questionable whether she had that conscientious faculty in the first place. So if she expressed frustration to others over my inverse freedom, especially with the perception of chosen unemployment as such an available taboo, I completely understand.
Also, it was stressful for her: it was stressful from day one of my unemployment, even when I still handled the financial burden. We were one lay-off away from complete exposure, and I’m certain she felt the weight of being the person on the hook for it. It became even uglier in the last three months of my unemployment, when I had to rely on her in reality: the eighty-forty was abandoned for a sixty-forty where she was handling so much more than what she was used to. For those three months, she was carrying the same burden I carried for eleven and a half years (excepting the additional I saved or paid in principal; she wasn’t about to go that far).
We landed on our four feet: we had both provided our drama, now it was time to live happily ever after.
This is all written so long after the fact. I write these things to make them clearer in my head. For the most part, I’m over it…but from time to time, some aspect of our relationship recurs in my head making negative waves. I write about it to get it out, to see what I was missing; to look for that off chance that it will reveal to me some bit of information that I missed. Maybe acknowledging it helps me move on. The act of writing engages the left side of my brain, the dogmatic and objective side. I’m just as prone to shake something out that I did wrong, something about me that I’d like to change. I don’t think anything I’m writing today has cultural value, unless it provides an insight into money and relationships. I’m beginning to see, as I write, that it may have had some value to me.
She developed a tumor. It was benign. I was terrified at the thought of losing her; doctors can reassure you at the probability of successful surgery but the word surgery will trip you up; the word alone will kidnap your thoughts into a multitude of ominous scenarios. But she was okay. I appreciated the people who came to see her in the hospital. I doted over her during her months of bed rest. I thought it must be hard for her, unable to move without assistance…it bothered me more that the days were so short and the light was so little and it made our bedroom into a cave. Hardly a place to recuperate.
When she was able, she started going to the gym. She was very persistent about it. Over \months, a desire to lose the bed rest fat was replaced with a need to become as toned and weightless as can be. A week wouldn’t go by that she didn’t bring home another pair of new designer jeans. But she was healthier; I couldn’t ask for more. Even when all those endorphins kept her from coming home after work: hitting happy hour, going to shows, coming home who knows when.
I knew what her new lifestyle was costing her, and we slowly returned to our old dynamic. I stored for an inevitable winter. She continued to spend. After all, look at what she had been through. When I accidentally opened a bill and saw a balance of nearly five thousand dollars, I just kept silent.
There was no need to be passive-aggressive. I was in fact, already beaten. She was not going to put me in the position of having to raise my voice again.
She left me when I told her I wouldn’t change. I have to stand by that response; though it has taken me this long to figure out exactly what about me I won’t change (what exactly about me needed changing was never made clear in the first place. It had to wait to come out in numerous post-breakup conversations).
She wanted someone who invests in self discovery: really, I should go to therapy. It would be good for me. She wants someone who wants to travel the world. Learn to relax, take a vacation. She wants someone who will go out after work with her every night. She wants someone who will do this, that, and the other every weekend. She wants someone more fun. She wants to try rock-climbing and she expects someone to do it with her. She wants more sex. She doesn’t want someone who shies away from an expensive restaurant. And on and so on.
I remember my initial reaction at the time: she basically listed everything I AM NOT. After twelve years together, this was understandable. After twelve years, faithfulness and unequivocal support don’t carry much currency.
I remember my secondary reaction, when I was alone and away from her: I hated that her new job at work was centered on defining and building requirements, where people like me are supposed to provide technological solutions. It was like her brain got stuck in a rut, and this seemed entirely unfair for me.
We moved forward with the separation.
This is where it gets ugly. How do you decide who gets what? Unspoken and tacit agreements about money and material things suddenly require definition in a spiteful context. Being the abandonee, I didn’t ease the process. I argued from the standpoint of what made sense: I put all this work in the house, I plan to stay here; take the car, she uses it more; I don’t care if she found and brought the cat home, I’m the one who takes care of her; I’m not the one leaving. I’m not the one leaving. Isn’t there a price to pay for being the type of person who just walks away and abandons? I don’t care if you made out with some chick in a bar and it made you feel new, that it opened your eyes to all these possibilities. Do you think you’re the first thirty-something, sexually confused woman who thinks she can build a fresh lesbian life on the back of what her man earned for her? Well, you’re not, and go fuck yourself.
It all came down to the house. I tallied up what I put into it. I busted out percentages. I broke down what we both put into the house, and what we both could get out of it if we sold. I came up with a fair number.
She came back with a complicated road map of 401-k’s, blue book values on cars and a fifty-fifty divvy of what would happen if we sold the house. I found it hilarious, this circuitous route that cut her assets in half, that separated things I felt I had no right to. But she had this legal take for a good reason; the legal take would give her almost twice the fair one, and the legal one would always win. As absurd as its complexity was, she was going to choose the option that gives her the most money. Money in hand was what mattered to her most.
We played a dangerous game with theoreticals. In theory, we were saving this much money by not incorporating lawyers. In theory, this was the value of the house if we sold it the day she left - days after I had torn up the carpet to put in the hardwood floors she wanted. I held my tongue over all the other potentials. How we wouldn’t be arguing over the value of the house if it hadn’t been for the only one of us paying the mortgage since she left. How she was expecting a lawsuit payout from a traffic accident, and she didn’t figure this into her ‘legal’ definition of what she deserves. I just wanted it over.
We met one last time. We thought we had a number we agreed on, but we were apparently thirteen thousand apart. It was the difference between selling and not selling the house: if the house were sold, she wouldn’t have that thirteen thousand because it would be used to pay a hypothetical real estate agent. But I wasn’t selling the house, so she believed she was entitled to that money. Since I did not want to sell the house, I should pay it to her.
I was flabbergasted. This was downright offensive. I was jumping through hoops to get her bought out before the lease on her apartment was up – instead of waiting the two years allowable to me to arrange the sell of the house and then settle with her. And wasn’t she basically threatening me? Wasn’t she telling me that in order to make that check to her a little less hurtful, I had to sell the house?
I was done. I told her I would give five thousand. Through tears, she accepted.
If there IS any cultural value to impart, it is to get a lawyer. I was no longer dealing with my partner; I was dealing with an animal. I could only see my partner, though. Considering that she carried the secret with her – that we were no longer in love – for a much longer time than I had, she had me at an emotional disadvantage. In addition to all her new life requirements, she also felt entitled to be a homeowner herself, and she was going to chisel as much out of me as she could to ensure it. A lawyer would have brought all those theoreticals into play, the aforementioned ‘potentials’ would have been on the table. A lawyer would have told me not to act in haste, to not think about ending it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Because it didn’t end there. I may have gotten her out of my life, but I’m reminded each month that I’m only paying the interest on what I paid out to her. I can’t afford much more. The housing market went in the crapper, and I just made an inflated buyout based on an inflated house value. Doubly screwed.
I keep asking myself, why now? Why so long after the fact?
One reason is positive. I think I’m healed. I think that after dicking around for a year and a half, I’m finally thinking about my own new life. When I think about what I want to do with this new life, I’m angry at how trapped I am. How little I have to offer, because I let myself get taken advantage of. And I know what regret feels like; it is an ugly tarnish on what should be something hopeful and bright.
I think part of it comes from shutting her out entirely. I don’t know how she fares now. I know I never wanted to know how great she is doing. When the fables don’t come true, when evil prevails, when you are thoroughly played…you’re not up for watching a victory jig at your own k.o., you’re just not up for it. But distance from the event has made me wonder. Is she a raging lesbian now, or did she find a nice man-gina? Did I earn her enough money so she got that house of her own? Can I find anything positive in the time we did have together?
That is where it all comes home; that’s the reason I write these things.
How it would end between us? It was always evident. As clichéd as it sounds, it was about the money. We could get along gangbusters, but it could never last. Not a pay-it-forward guy like me, and a pray-the-bank-makes-an-error-and-wipes-out-my-balance girl like her. My only regret is that it took her so long to realize her requirements. Scratch that: her requirements were cognitive bursts, a running list of wants by line item. What I wish is that she took the time, a long time ago, to metacognitavely realize what all those wants require. She shouldn’t have wasted her time on a man who likes the simple things in life, who practices living within one’s means. I wish she could have just walked on by, looking for the big money-maker, instead of taking advantage of a nice, well-intentioned guy like me. There’s nothing wrong with that! I watch the E! Channel…I think it’s even celebrated as a virtue.