(Disclaimer: I’m going to write about women and their money in this blog even though I know it goes both ways. I don’t think it’s OK for anyone to take advantage of another person financially. What is happening with women and their money is new and disturbing and needs to be highlighted. I’ll do another blog later for you guys out there.)
In the past few years I have been hearing disturbing stories about how money plays out in some relationships. It seems to be rising to epidemic proportions. To wit:
Women are getting involved with men who:
- Don’t work or are underemployed
- Are depressed, anxious and underfunctioning
- Don’t have sex with them
- Don’t like their friends and family so they get cut off from their support network and get isolated
- Put them down, criticize and abuse them
- Take their money and lie about money, putting them in debt or forcing them into bankruptcy and foreclosure
- Borrow money or talk them into investing in things or businesses, often with little hope of success and no legal or moral responsibility to repay the loan
- Manipulate them into doing things they would not ordinarily do by threatening to stop loving them or by saying you don’t love them if you don’t do as they ask
So I thought I would weigh in with some advice and commentary on this alarming trend.
Stop! Don’t be that girl. You can Date Smarter and learn how bad dating habits can lead to bad relationships. Learn now or you may learn a heartbreakingly costly lesson later.
Here are a few of the most common scenarios of where smart women can get caught up in in bad relationships:
(If you have a unique scenario that doesn’t quite fit in with the examples above, by all means please comment and share! I’d love to hear your story!)
Scenario #1: “The ConMan or Player”
Man and woman meet, get close and the man starts telling the woman there is a crisis in his life and he needs money right away or he won’t be able to avert some disaster. Even a wise woman can be conned. He has shown her he has a job and reliable friends, maybe he’s even shown her fancy cars or taken her to look at million dollar properties he’s considering buying. So she figures he’s legit and will be able to pay her back, just as he says he will. Sometimes he will even pay her back the first time or two to gain her trust but over time the payback isn’t in full or never comes. If she complains or voices concern he gets upset that she doesn’t trust or support him. She gives in to the bad deal to avoid relational conflict.
When the money’s gone, often times so is the guy.
Scenario #2: “The Lost Soul or Victim”
Man and woman meet and are in a relationship, maybe married, maybe not. He may have a job, initially, and lose it or quit to do something else. He may decide to go back to school. She’s working at a career she loves and is making good money and feels good about supporting him while he finds his niche.
Time goes on and he keeps changing jobs or majors, things happen and he drops out or takes a break from school. She feels sorry for him and he tells her he feels badly about not being able to provide better for her. Maybe they have a few kids. She might feel trapped and resentful but she loves him and wants him to be happy. He may be doing a lot of the housework and childcare or she may still be doing all of that because he can’t seem to cope, or isn’t good at it or he’s busy trying to make his plans work.
He may take money out of joint accounts or retirement without discussing it and she ends up not having money to pay the bills.
He may even take out business loans using their home or other assets as collateral without telling her. Yes, this can happen! Check your credit reports! Time goes on and nothing changes. She’s overwhelmed, resentful and feeling hopeless and trapped.
Scenario #3: “The Self-Centered Man”
Man and woman meet and fall in love. Maybe they get married and have kids, maybe not. He makes good money but he’s rigid, doesn’t like to share. He insists on keeping money separate and has strong, learned opinions on what he should pay for and what he shouldn’t have to pay for. She’s new to this so she goes along, assuming that he knows better or that it will change as their relationship evolves. Time goes by. Somehow she has ended up paying for anything that is for her and the children. Any of the family trips and fun activities come out of her money. He hides his money and what he is doing from her. He buys himself toys and goes on trips without her and the kids. He says he deserves it because he works so hard. She is feeling overwhelmed and scared and resentful and is living with a man who doesn’t know how to share and connect, or worse, simply does not care.
What is going on with women these days that they are willing to do these things? I think we are raised with a different and confusing attitude about earning money, having money, having a career, being communal and what our role is in a relationship vis a vis money.
I remember, once, having a conversation with my brother. I asked him if he had ever thought he might not have to work and he said no. I was in my 20’s and starting to realize I was not necessarily going to find some rich guy to take care of me. I was in grad school and starting out on my career. I wasn’t even sure I wanted that kind of a relationship. I was conflicted: did I want to go the traditional route or did I want to be “a modern, liberated and independent woman?”
Does being independent and liberated mean we have to support everyone else too? Why do women tolerate men who are not independent and responsible?
Women still are being raised to believe they have that choice, even though it is rare for a woman or a family to have the luxury of her being able to afford to stay home. We learn to see our money and careers as secondary, in a sense. Our models showed us that mens incomes were primary and we are also socialized to be more communal or relationally focused. We grow up learning to share. We are never taught what to do when others are not sharing equally with us. We are supposed to be nice girls and do the right thing (which is to share and not ask for too much for ourselves).
We do not start off with a clear idea of what we want our relationships to be like financially. We don’t have our standards set ahead of time.
It is not in our realm of thinking that a man would not contribute or want to contribute or support us. We don’t hear about these stories and assume the best of the men we love. We are not prepared. We are gullible and naive.
For those of you who are caught up in these or similar relationships, here are some ways to try to change your situation:
1. Re-open “Fairness” Communications. Have a clear conversation with your partner about what you are thinking and feeling. Tell them what you want and what needs to change for you to be happy and stay in the relationship. It’s always good to start off believing that they want things to get better and want the best for you. Talking openly and honestly is the respectful way to communicate and strive for resolution.
* If you are contributing all or most of the money and/or are doing all or most of the work in the house and family, sit down and list it all out and attribute a value for the work. The value will include how much time it takes, how much physical energy and how much responsibility it is. Then look at who is doing what and see if it’s even or fair. If not, sit down and talk to your partner/family and divide the list up fairly. And then, only do what’s on your list!
* If your partner is not working or is underachieving you can tell them what you expect from them and by what date. If they are not able to find work, discuss how money will be handled and what other responsibilities they can take on in exchange for contributing financially.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries:
* Be responsible with and in control of your money even if they aren’t or don’t like it when you are making the decisions. That might mean taking full control of it and telling them you will not support their activities or things they want to invest in.
* Separate your finances and open bank accounts in your name only that your partner doesn’t have access to. This can be a huge relief and a first step in making your life more manageable. If you do not make enough money you might have to make hard decisions like bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce and moving on alone.
3. Seek Professional Support.
* Take emotion out of decision-making.
* Talk to a financial advisor and ask their advice about your particular situation.
* If married or in a common law arrangement, talk to a lawyer about specific statutes pertaining to your situation. Find out the facts about your rights are and what you could expect if divorce or separation becomes an option. Even if you are not ready for that decision it is good to have the information at the ready. Sometimes we keep ourselves scared or paralyzed about things we think could or might happen when the actual facts aren’t half as bad as we imagine. Most lawyers will do a free consultation and lay out options to give you a general idea of what to expect before you’d have to pay out a retainer.
* Get professional therapy. A therapist will give you the objective, unvarnished truth about the work you have to do to build or rebuild your confidence and self esteem and so you can set health boundaries which can help prevent you from repeating bad patterns.
4. Seek Emotional Support.
* Go to Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings and get support for setting boundaries and ideas of how to set them and take care of yourself. Learn how living the 12 Steps can benefit your mental health and relationships. Don’t believe him when he tells you that setting boundaries means you don’t love him.
* Develop a network close friends who understand your situation that you can rely on to talk to openly…and listen to them!
Obviously, the best thing to do is to not get caught up in these bad patterns from the beginning. For those of you who are out there looking for Mr Right, you have to keep your eyes wide open and think clearly about the people you meet. Arm yourself with knowledge and awareness of your vulnerabilities and which red flags you must avoid that will allow you to get so attached in the first place. When the red flags start waving, it’s better to head for the exit sooner, rather than, later.
So how do you know these things before you get too attached to someone?
First, think of every interaction with someone in a dating situation as a “test”. Establish healthy criteria for and clear expectations of what you want. Then you must make sure you start out from the beginning, setting the boundaries and giving the messages you want to give. If you pay for the men at the beginning the message you give is that you have plenty of money and don’t mind giving it away. Establish from the outset that you are not and will not become a pushover, healthy potential partners will respect you for it and “players” will be discouraged and head for greener pastures and easier “marks”.
The nice guys I have talked to say they like to be able to pay for women when they go out, that it makes them feel like a Gentleman. Like opening doors and other common courtesies, that is how they were raised. Offer to pay for yourself and if they offer to pay for you, graciously accept the offer with a “Thank you”. Expect them to pay for themselves, at least. If they “forget” their wallets or their card doesn’t go through, it just might be best to not go out with them again.
Yes, we all make mistakes but this is a major red flag early on in a relationship. Even if they pay you back quickly, I’d say beware!
Second, avoid talk about your income or what you spend it on at first. If you are generous and support the less fortunate under normal circumstances, wonderful. As the relationship grows, he will come to learn that naturally. This kind of talk is inappropriate on the first few dates and should be a big red flag. It could be a test to see how much you have and how easily you can be parted from it.
Don’t buy them lavish gifts in the first year. There are a lot of thoughtful things you can do that don’t cost money, cards and notes, for example. You love to travel and want to see how it would be to go somewhere together for the weekend or longer? Then let it be his idea or bring up the idea without offering to pay. Let him offer to pay for himself or for the trip and you can always chip in. If it doesn’t happen, maybe it’s not meant to be. You may have fallen head over heels, but beware that they may interpret your generosity as trying to buy their love and attention and, if they perceive you are the least bit insecure, they may see you as an easy mark. I am a person who loves to find things I think people I care for will love so I get how much of this might be your personality…but resist the temptation!
Don’t let your fears of being alone and dying an old maid make you settle for relationships that won’t make you happy in the long run. You have a rewarding career that pays well and have some assets, so remember you are “a good catch”. There are men out looking for women to take care of them. They prey upon women they view as vulnerable, lonely, and desperate enough to compromise their values. They will test you out to see if you are kind and generous and understanding, consciously or subconsciously. Would it be so bad in the beginning of a relationship to let them think you’re not?
Finally, don’t sell yourself short! Set your expectations and don’t settle for being treated badly! It really is better to be alone than to spend years feeling scared and intimidated and not good enough, to end up financially strapped with a crappy credit score and no options of where to go in life. There are wonderfully nice and healthy and responsible men out there. Don’t give up until you find one.