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By Di Keller
When I was a teenager, I promised my feminist self I would always be self-supporting and in an egalitarian relationship. It never occurred to me I would be in one that was dramatically financially inequitable. Or that I would marry a man who wanted a stay-at-home wife.
I always split checks with dates and shared expenses in relationships. It felt reasonable. Fair.
I was twenty-eight and working my ass off building a career in human resources. I was proud of making payments on my student loans every month and working towards buying a new car. Then along came this man I met on a dating site. He drove a very nice car and, unlike me, clearly could afford toothpaste and shampoo at the end of the month without putting it on his Visa card.
From our first date, he insisted on paying for everything. Our third date was to see Prince perform live (I know, right?) at The Forum. When I commented on the amazing seats, he said they were his season seats for the Lakers and Kings.
I turned down going to Denver with him for a Raiders/Broncos game when we’d been dating a few weeks. I told him I was really uncomfortable with him paying for flights and the hotel. He said, “You need to think about whether you can handle being in a relationship with me. Some people can’t handle the money. I have tickets for all these events, and I want someone—you—to go with me.”
I turned down the weekend but went all in on our relationship. Looking back, this is when I began squashing my inner Gloria Steinem. I hated not having money to pay for even one extravagant date. I wanted to feel I was contributing to our relationship with more than cooking breakfast (with groceries he bought) on Sunday mornings.
Love isn’t logical. I fell in love and started dreaming about his thick, curly eyelashes on our future kids. My biological clock’s ticking was so loud it drowned out my discomfort with giving up my career. We got married and I got pregnant right away.
While married, the only issue we had with money was that my husband controlled all of it. Each month, I told him what I needed for my charge card bills, groceries, etc. He never gave me any limits or complained about the amounts. But I didn’t realize how bad it would feel to have to ask for money each month. I felt small and like I wasn’t an equal in our relationship.
I was grateful to be home with our kids when they were young. Once they were older, I wanted to go back to school. My husband wasn’t in favor of it and told me, since I’d be in class at night, he’d have to take other people to the many events he had tickets for. I didn’t give that much thought until several days later when I saw a list on his desk of eleven women he could take to games. Not a single man on the list.
I didn’t go to grad school until many years later.
I don’t think my husband ever understood I wanted and needed the stimulation of a career. I think he felt he was paying me to be his wife, not to make what he considered an insignificant amount of money outside our home. I loved him and our kids and loved caring for them. But I had let go of what I needed.
One Saturday morning, between the oatmeal and toast, he told me he wanted a divorce. No prelude.
I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to break up our family.
I shouldn’t have been blindsided. When we met, he was clear he wanted a relationship with someone who would always be his plus one. I wanted a relationship that could lead to marriage and kids. Once we were serious, he was in control of when that would happen.
I made a boatload of mistakes in the divorce. I didn’t let my lawyer ask for anywhere near what he said I legally was entitled to. I focused on what the kids needed and trying to keep the peace with my husband. I should have hired a financial planner before agreeing to a settlement.
I still feel the settlement was generous. I thought my plan to get my doctorate in clinical psychology and become a therapist would see me through old age. What I didn’t plan for was the immune system disease that kept me from being able to complete the hours I needed to sit for the licensing exam.
I didn’t purposely choose my ex because he had money any more than I purposely chose someone without it when I met my partner a few years after the divorce. She was between TV gigs when we met and was honest that there were cobwebs in her coffers. Together, we’re fixing how we handle money.
In my marriage, I learned I hated not having control over money. I never want my partner to feel that way. We’re transparent about money and budget for everything together.
I’m grateful my partner makes me more myself. My inner feminist is back.
Di Keller is a writer living in southern California. She lives with her partner and two very helpful cats.