It is because I lust for it so that it eludes me.
Or so I surmise.
And I do mean lust. I can feel the desire for it physically. It only makes the object of my lust more embarrassing. After all, financial security is not sexy. No. It is not supposed to be lusted after. Are my Midwestern roots showing? You notice I did not say wealth (too complicated). I said financial security. That means a home that I own. Savings for the future. A sizeable emergency fund.
My younger self is laughing at me. “Oh, how staid we have become,” she is saying. “And it is all your fault.”
Apologies to those who know my story but for the newbies: I was a career woman. Earned a masters degree. Got married. Had babies. Stayed home for a bit with said babies. Along the way, my husband and I plotted a solid financial future. More him than me. He was the financial brain. We worked toward it—that part was equal. And then, like a bad made-for-TV movie, the drama appeared. He was an options trader when the housing crisis hit. And, while sparing you the gory details, he took more than a few wrong turns in life unbeknownst to me. Turned our lives upside down, financially and emotionally.
I divorced him. Took multiple jobs to keep the house, keep the kids in their private school, to dig myself out from the hole I found myself in. I vaguely remembered, in another life, us talking about our plans for the kids’ college funds. It seemed forever ago.
And now here we are. Here I am. I’m tired, frankly.
Here’s what I didn’t know, what legions of married women out there don’t seem to know: The rules change—all bets are off—when the demise of a marriage hits. At least for women of a certain age.
We are encouraged to work, shamed for working, looked down upon if we don’t work, while married. It’s a no-win. But the minute divorce is upon us, the stage direction becomes crystal clear. We are told to play the female in need of rescue. Don’t work too much. Don’t work too hard. You won’t get alimony. You’ll have to pay him child support.
Guess what? Bad advice. Unless your soon to be ex-husband is a saintly, stand-up guy. What you end up figuring out in the end is the only one you can truly count on is you. And so you better “man” up, better find something deep within yourself, so your kids have the stability you crave. And yes, I see the irony in “manning” up. I think women like me are changing the gender of that term.
What I told the people who gave me said bad advice, the people who told me I should wait to see “what I could get from him” was this: “I’ll bet on me.”
And I did. Thank God.
I paid dearly for it though. My three jobs were just covering the bills and a life meant for two full-time incomes when I would receive one of several letters from his attorney threatening punitive alimony. It meant I would have to pay him, not the other way around. I paid for it again when he took me to court so he would not have to pay any child support.
Funny how when a man is purposely underemployed, the courts will punish a woman for stepping up to the plate to support her kids. My friends and family were shocked. “You’re kidding, right?” they’d exclaim. “You’re working your ass off so your kids don’t lose everything. Surely the courts see that.” But I wasn’t kidding.
And so, for the past six years or so, it has continued. I work a lot. I no longer give a damn about who shames me or who admires me. As a wise friend said, “The haters gonna’ hate. You’re an alpha, honey. Women will hate you for being more competent, more interesting, than their gym-rat and book-club lives will allow. The men will hate you for trying to equal the playing field, for working as hard as they do to pay the mortgage. You’ve become competition now, not eye candy. The good news is, when the fire burns down just about everything and everyone, you will know those left standing with you after it are true friends. The ones who see you for who you are. The ones who can admire what you’ve done.”
Oh, I hold those words close. On nights when the freelance pace slows and I count how many months I can hold on before we’d have to move. In the wee hours of the morning when I wonder if I’ll ever have the time, energy and inclination to wake up next to someone again. And more importantly, to be able to trust that someone not to flip out and turn our lives upside down. I know that sounds irrational. But when it happens once, it’s hard to ever go back to the innocence of thinking it can’t happen. It certainly can.
I dream of an imaginary eccentric aunt I’ve never met suddenly leaving me her fortune. Or at least a tidy windfall. Do I sound greedy? Obsessed? I hope not. I just want a little flippin’ relaxation in my life. A little breathing room. I am forgetting what that felt like.
As a “civilized” society, we don’t talk about money much. In years gone by, as my mother’s daughter, I wouldn’t have. But I blog about what is front and center. And this elephant in the room has been front and center for so long. Perhaps the lesson from the Universe is to befriend the insecurity of it all. Don’t tell me to close my eyes, put my arms up and giggle as the roller coaster rolls down another hill. It’s my turn to exit the loop.
In the end, I will continue to bet on me. Which was really the thing I should have done from Day One. It’s something I hope young women—and not so young women—do more wisely than I did. And I hope our court systems, while catching up with the times in terms of women having to pull their fair share of financial responsibility in divorce settlement, also catch on to the flip side of that equation. We should not be punished for working our asses off when it counts. When the chips are down, I’ll trust a mother to figure it out for her entire family. Every time. And most of the time, she’ll do it as I did. Quietly. But maybe it’s about time the female breadwinners spoke up for change. And about time that those who support us raised their voices in unison.
If it takes a village, why are we doing it alone?