“Always have some running away money.”
This was the slice of optimistic advice I got from my Aunt right before I got married. A mother of four, she’d been married for two decades to a guy she caught making out with her babysitter. In her car. While she was out working to support the family. She left him so fast there were tire marks on his penis.
“Always have some running away money,” she said bluntly while simultaneously exhaling her Virginia Slims 100.
We were at my bridal shower. All the other wives were spewing super original tips about never going to bed angry, having weekly date nights, and–wait for it–the importance of communication.
Then, in a sparse yet profound five words, this Dalai Lama of divorce cut through all the feminist clutter to reveal how far we wives had yet to come.
Outside of Hollywood, few of us go into a marriage thinking this is the person we’re going to one day divorce. Or worse, fake our own death and run away from. As little girls, we drink the Kool-Aid and buy the marriage myth. Two hearts that beat as one, sharing a life together, forever and ever. Bleck!
Oh, we share all right. In addition to our hopes and dreams, we share our toilet, our period chocolate, and perhaps most jarring of all, our bank account.
That’s right single ladies. Enjoy your financial freedom while you have it. Spend half your paycheck on that sweet downtown apartment if you want to. Blow the other half on a pair of Sigerson Morrison boots because you absolutely have to. Do it now, while no one is looking over your shoulder at your full head of highlights, raising an eyebrow at your new handbag or asking questions about your Nordstrom bill.
The minute you walk down the aisle, what’s his is yours, what’s your is his, and you can kiss those days of fiscal irresponsibility buh-bye faster than he may kiss the bride.
My old coworker Corrine is a young, hip, artsy type who was used to living the ‘Sex and The City’ lifestlye, footloose and financially free. Weekend trips to Miami, Barneys Sample Sales, a well-worn Anthro card and unlimited amounts of Thai takeout. Then not long ago she got taken off the market by a sweet, doting, rather traditional Italian man (and aren’t they all?). Several months after her holy credit card castration, (aka matrimony), she called me in a total panic.
Her best friend, a new mom, had reached out to her, desperately in NEED of a girl’s trip to Paris. (Which her baby daddy had not only blessed, but actually, miraculously suggested). Would Corrine go with her?
Now, the pre-married Corrine would go in a heartbeat, no questions asked and no one to answer to. Even though she’d just been to Paris six months ago. And she’d just spent a girls-weekend in South Beach for her bachelorette party. But the flip side to having someone to grow old with is having someone to explain things to. Corrine hadn’t even had time to change her name yet, yet she knew, deep down, that probably this choice was no longer hers alone to make. Especially since they’d sort of talked––he talked, she listened–about saving up money for a house.
She was calling me, her slightly older, much-longer married work friend, for a gut check. Did I think she needed to clear the Paris trip with her husband before saying yes? Is that what wives do??
Oh how I longed to say no. Tell her to do as she pleased. “Go buy you some Marc Jacobs now while you can, girl!” The independent feminist my Mama raised wanted to wave my charred bra in the air and rant:
“Girl, you need to set a precedent NOW, while this marriage is young. You are a working woman earning a decent paycheck, and you can spend it how you want, when you want, on what you want, without having to ask your man for permission like he’s your second daddy. Who wears the pants? Honey, you do! And the thong. And the push-up bra too!”
Instead, I waved my white flag and mumbled “Yeah. You’d better run it by him or he’ll be pissed.”
God, I felt like a cavewoman. Though slightly hotter.
How on earth did this happen? Since when did our spending decisions have to go in front of a review board?
Not all decisions, of course. Only the ones with dollar signs in front of them. My guy could really care less what type of toothpaste I buy or how I go about getting his whites their whitest. He’s just thrilled that domestic stuff is now off his radar. For all he knows, little dwarves could come in during the day and take care of all the domestic doings. But god forbid I want to shell out a few sheckels for a cleaning lady or raid the checking account for a trip to the spa, and suddenly he has an opinion.
And that, ladies, is both the blessing and curse of picking a life partner. You always have someone who will give you an opinion.
Even when you don’t really want one.
That’s because most of these opinions will be prefaced with the most heinous question any husband can ask: “HOW MUCH?” And damn, how your answer shapes his opinion.
I could dye my hair blue and say “Hon, whaddya think?”
HIM: How much?
ME: A hundred bucks.
HIM: I think you got raped. You look like a Smurf.
But if I say it was free because the stylist was in training, suddenly, I’m hotter than Katy Perry. Or, at the very least, look interesting.
What I went on to explain to Corrine was that if you’ve gone through all that effort to take a partner, you have to participate in the partnership. You’re a team now, and it can’t just be all about you. The biggest dealbreaker in marriages is the divide over spending, and it’s only through communication and compromise that the union can thrive.
Though having a little slush fund of your own can’t hurt either. Whether you use it to run away or fund that spa day is entirely up to you. But unlike most wives back in the days before Betty Friedan put her foot down, at least you’ll have options.
Michelle Novella Sassa is author of the novel Copygirl, hailed as “Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada.” Michelle began her career as an advertising copywriter in NYC, penning memorable work for international brands like Coca-Cola, Reebok, New York Road Runners and the Ad Council. She chronicles her ironic life as a modern woman, wife and mom at thefemininemystake.com