By Dena Landon
One of the most liberating moments after my divorce came when I logged into my checking account on payday, saw the direct deposit and realized, This is all mine. No more arguments over whether or not we should put extra money towards my ex’s school loans or our son’s education fund. No more worries that someone else was going to overdraw the checking account and incur overdraft fees.
When I was with my ex-husband I was the responsible one who managed the finances. I was the one who had to point out that we didn’t have the money for that eight hundred dollar camera he wanted for his birthday. When he spent sixty dollars on a World of Warcraft expansion – the grocery money – and overdrew our checking account, he yelled at me for being so tight with money and not keeping enough in the account. Never mind that I was working two jobs to put him through grad school, keeping us out of credit card debt in the process, and anticipating the day when unemployment ended.
My ex also always wanted the best. If he needed new underwear it was Calvin Klein from a big department store. When all my underwear had holes and didn’t quite accommodate my postpartum hips I warned him that I might need to spend sixty to eighty bucks at Macy’s. He frowned. “Can’t you just buy the ninety-nine cent stuff at Target?” If we bought something new for me, somehow it always ended up as his. When my computer broke and we bought a new laptop he made the case that he used his more for school, I didn’t need one as fast, and I didn’t really care, so why not just take his hand-me-down and let him have the new one? After our son’s birth we traded in my car for a newer model with more safety features. One week later he started arguing that I should take his old car and he should have the new one.
There’s a not-so-subtle message sent when one person in the relationship always deserves the best and the other can make do with 99 cent underwear from Target.
There’s a not-so-subtle message sent when one person in the relationship always deserves the best and the other can make do with 99 cent underwear from Target. His wants and needs were more important than mine. He ranked higher. And since he’d pout and whine and wear me down, and I often just didn’t care enough about things to put up a fight, he’d get what he wanted. About three months after our marriage he was laid off. For four months, daily, he’d mention wanting a new gaming system. In his mind, he deserved it after being laid off and dealing with depression. He wanted to use money from savings but since he hadn’t found a job yet I thought that was a terrible idea – what if we needed that money to pay the mortgage?
“It’s only four hundred dollars, Dena. God, you’re so cheap,” he’d exclaim, flipping the switch to cold and withdrawn and stomping out of the living room. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore so I pulled the money from savings and brought him home a surprise. The switch flipped back to loving and sweet, my wife is the best, here, honey, let me rub your shoulders. Now I have the wisdom and maturity to recognize the emotional manipulation he often engaged in. At the time I just knew I felt vaguely sick and angry when I looked at the white box sitting under our television set.
This is a familiar story for so many women, trained by society and culture to put our needs second, to sacrifice and keep the peace. And while sitcoms may present the flighty wife blowing the rent check on a leather jacket in real life I’ve found that it’s the women in a relationship holding together the finances. And, you know what? It’s exhausting. Carrying that weight and always being the responsible one, refraining from any splurges on yourself because you’re still paying off your ex’s last birthday present. Post-divorce the realization that your money is your own is a liberating feeling, but continuing to carry the financial responsibilities for your family may not feel as great.
If you emerge from divorce in a worse financial state than when you were married, which is, unfortunately, common, the temptation may be to buckle down, to work extra hours or scrounge for extra cash to improve your bank account balance. But a life lived solely for the purpose of paying off bills is one devoid of joy and color.
While sitcoms may present the flighty wife blowing the rent check on a leather jacket in real life I’ve found that it’s the women in a relationship holding together the finances.
In the past two years I’ve gone on trips to Iceland, New York, and Seattle. I could have put that money towards my legal bills. On one trip to New York I went to a pop-up shop at Nanette Lepore and tried on a gorgeous, seven hundred dollar brocade jacket. I didn’t need it. I had a boring, black jacket hanging in my closet back home. But it made me feel like a Queen. It’s the most money I’ve ever spent on an article of clothing in my life and I have not once regretted buying it.
There’s no doubt that, had I made different choices, I could have made more of a dent in my legal bills. For me, the balance is that I’ve been both enjoying myself and living colorfully and still paying them down. As long as I’m making progress on the bills I can enjoy other aspects of my life. Finding that balance is an individual process, one each woman will have to find for herself. I’d urge you to experiment and try to find that balance. You don’t have to be responsible all of the time. Sometimes you can put that extra cash you made from selling something online towards a massage and facial package. No matter what your ex may have told you, either subtly or outright, you’re worth it.
About the author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.