Money: Power & Control

power

I don’t think it’s realistic to talk about money without addressing the power it holds. There is a reason why poverty begets violence. Money is about resources, survival and livelihood. Our most primal instincts are awakened when money is at play. Access to money and other resources that only money can provide can determine access to everything else in life such as the quality of education, health care, customer service (Nordstrom v. Walmart), etc. There is a lot of power in money at a societal level and we know it. However, we don’t spend enough time discussing the role money plays at the lowest levels relative to womanhood.

One of the greatest power dynamic that exists is the one between men and women. Given the importance of money in society, it is not surprising that there are constant discussions about how men and women use money, who should pay for what and of course who should manage it. Some people of both genders see women as frivolous spenders. We are split on who should pay. And because of point 1, some people think that the male 1/2 of the household should manage the funds of the married/cohabiting couple.

Personally, I think these are all small minded perceptions of money management. While I married a very fiscally responsible person, there is no one with tighter hold on a purse strings like me. I am also very organized and unlike most people (male or female), spreadsheets excite me. To apply that tired sexist and unfunny joke to me that I’m bad with money like most women is insulting. Plenty of women are good with money. Some of us are great savers because we are disciplined, others went to business school and understand financial markets well, some others are single mothers who know how to make a dollar out of 50 cents.

Sure, I can rant about negative stereotypes on the internet, but how can I complain when I mostly run the finances in my house? The problem is that this is not the reality for many women. Financial bullying is a thing. Many abusers, knowing the power of money or how crippling the lack of it can be, use it as a tool for control. I know of women who hide their purchases in their car for many months so the husband does not catch wind of their extracurricular mall activities. These are the women who are often chastised for going over budget yet are only able to access the bare minimum to keep the household running. They may even be provided less than the minimum but are required to ask their husbands for additional funds if they need anything else.

This is where the “allowance” comes in. Having an allowance in itself does not have to be problematic. The issue usually arises when the person who dictates the allowance is somehow not restricted by any artificial limits on their own discretionary spending. This unequal treatment is often the stepping stone to all other financial abuses that the nonworking or lower earning spouse will eventually experience.

Finally, we can always expect the money bully to make a last ditch effort at retaining his power: limiting your earning potential. Many times, an abusive partner who wants to keep controlling your money may prevent you from working or sabotage your opportunities by jeopardizing your work or even demanding that you reduce your hours.

These are all the reasons why I advocate that women make a serious effort to be financially independent when they enter a relationship. Although people may not always show their ugly side early in on, it helps establish certain expectations and a financially independent woman may even be a turn off to an abusive, controlling, financially bullying man. I understand that financial independence is not realistic for most. Education, child care, mere access to employment are all factors. But, from what I’ve witnessed and the dangerous situations that women have placed themselves in because of lack resources, even a part-time minimum wage job is better than having to ask your abuser for $40 for gas just to be able to leave him.

I have volunteered at a shelter for battered women where, in order to control capacity, the maximum stay  was 2 weeks. Many of the women ended up moving back with their abusers because the alternative to the occasional black eye was homelessness in the harsh New England winter. These are situations that make me grateful, not only for a supportive husband, but for my financial know-how, and my earning potential in case he were to ever become less than the man I expect him to be. For some women, employability and financial stability are a matter of life and death.

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Why I Wanted A Sweetheart Table

I work full-time and so does my husband. We both travel for work regulary, me throughout the state and him all over the country. While we both are dealing with our professional lives, we had to juggle family and wedding planning. To add fuel to the “busy fire” I was in the last semester of an MBA program scheduled to be completed in May, mere weeks before the wedding. Now if you’re at all familiar with Type A personalities, you know that I couldn’t just graduate. I had to graduate with a certain GPA. I mean what’s a B anyway? So you can add “a crap ton of studying, homework, presentations etc.” to my already long list of commitments. Do you know what’s missing from that list? Time with my husband. I guess it’s time to stretch out my days to about 26 or so hours to make my schedule work.
As I anticipated, as the wedding date got closer, we saw each other less, we talked about us less, and we got alone time even less. In the beginning, we ran a lot of wedding errands together. But the busier we got, we had to split up to be more effective/efficient. We would talk on the phone more than we talked face to face. It was frustrating because it seemed as though we got so focused on planning this one-day party that we didn’t work on our relationship as much as we should have.

So the sweetheart table was my way of saying: “This day is not more important than you. I’ve missed you and I want time alone with you. And now that the planning is over, you have my undivided attention just like you deserve.”

Marriage is a Business

“When a man loves a woman…”

Did I get your attention? Good. That’s kind of what I was going for. Now that you’re here, I can get something off my chest that I’ve been carrying around for a few weeks, maybe months.

Nothing makes my ass itch like when I see someone, usually on social media make a comment along the lines of: “marriage is just a pice of paper.” If you’re wondering why someone’s simple opinion (which they are entitled to) would bother me so much, allow me to explain. The issue isn’t their opinion, but the sheer ignorance that their opinion exposes.

Marriage does not define the quality of your relationship. Marriage does not validate your relationship. Marriage =/= together forever. Marriage =/= will never leave me. Marriage does not translate to loyalty or honesty. HOWEVER! If marriage is just a piece of paper, so is your social security card, your paycheck, your health insurance, etc. Yet, I see none of these same people giving up on these things in droves. If you do, please call me because I have a bank account and routing number they can deposit all those unwanted “useless pieces of paper” checks.

As a married woman, my personal relationship with my husband is not dependent on the piece of paper we picked up from city hall for $25 on a warm June afternoon. But you know what doe depend on that piece of paper? Him giving me health insurance, me giving him dental.

Me knowing that, although he can leave, he has a responsibility enforceable by courts all over the world, towards me and any children we might have.

The security and piece of mind that, knowing we are each other’s beneficiaries of death benefits brings. Because if one of us drops dead, the immediate loss of income will not leave the other one homeless.

The $25 “piece of paper” allows us to be each other’s surrogate, which is crucial in a family of 2 working adults. He can legally speak on my behalf and I can do the same for him. That way, if I have a work obligation and can’t be present for something important, his word becomes as good as mine. Not because our relationship is superior to anyone else’s. But because our obligations became as intertwined as our interests.

So is marriage just a piece of paper? Of course. As long as you keep ignoring the financial, social, health, and legal benefits it affords us.

Are You an Enabler?

The older I get, the more I wonder if we really know what love is. Philosophical questions such as “what is love” are entirely too complex for us to tackle in a single blog post, or even in one lifetime. But I think there are some characteristics of love that most, if not all people, can agree with. For instance, we want those we love to prosper and be their best selves. We want them to succeed in all aspects of live. Our definition of success varies based on life experience and personal values, but we also know that no one can succeed if they aren’t doing things the right way.

However, if we want people to succeed, why aren’t we giving them the tools needed to improve their lives? How often have you witnessed someone engage in self-destructive behavior and wondered why none of their loved ones intervened?  Societal changes have fostered an environment that has eroded the sense of personal responsibility. We have been so busy coddling each other over the last century that we have swung the pendulum so far from being supporters into being full blown enablers. Our definition of love now includes accepting and defending pathological behavior that is harmful to everyone, including the perpetrators and the enablers.

The worst example I have of to illustrate this concept is a 60-year old woman I know who works a menial job, and has done so her entire life, who cashed out her 401k early (subjecting her to all kinds of absurd penalties) to pay for an attorney for her son for 1000th time in his life.

We aren’t talking about a mother’s love for a child whose life was unexpectedly ruined by an unfortunate brush with the law. This is a career criminal with a mile-long rap sheet at the state and federal level, who once again, for the umpteenth time since he was 15 was arrested for criminal activity.

Some people reading this might say “mother’s love”. My response to that will be a list of all the ways she has over-extended herself to repeatedly buy his freedom over the years: getting a 2nd job, getting a loan, tapping into the equity of her house, cashing out her 401k.

Her unwillingness to say no to him and demand that he do better has only destroyed his life but hers as well. It all goes back to loving yourself and setting adequate boundaries knowing that you cannot offer what you do not have. And sometimes, divesting from what does not benefit you may require you divest from a relative. Even if it is  your own child. Because there is a point in your child’s life where they become responsible for their actions and their own well-being. You have the right to prevent them from becoming parasites who threaten your very existence. Allowing that is against basic human survival instinct.

This behavior may be fine for someone with deep pockets like the mother of Affluenza Kid, but it doesn’t work so well for low and middle income Average Janes.

This is why, no matter what your definition of love is, you can’t know how to love someone else until you learn to love yourself.

 

Go Dutch

I’ve been talking about money a lot lately. This wasn’t intended to be a money blog but we usually gravitate to what we know. As someone whose goal is to make a comfortable, financially independent life for herself, and who works in the banking industry at a more macro level, money happens to be one of the things I know best. However, an opportunity came my way to talk about relationships after I stumbled across a Facebook post on a newly launched app. Now, it would be just my luck that this also ties into money somehow. However, this is mostly about the social aspects of money and its link to romantic relationships.

The Founders of “Go Dutch” (left to right: Alexandria Willis, Olamide Bamidele and Alysia Sargent). Photo Credit: ChicagoInno

Three black women from Chicago launched an app that matches people who want to go on dates but want to split the bill in half. The idea is that the woman gets to show that she’s self-sufficient & the man will know that she’s not just looking for a free meal. Sound noble right? It depends on whom you ask.

I hope you have some time on your hands because this could get long. However it’s a complex issue that has both gender and racial implications and it would barely scratch the surface and do it justice if I were to only summarize it.

I’ve been on dates where I’ve split the check both ways as well as dates where the man has paid. I never do the check dance. If I reach for my wallet, my credit card is coming out. However, those dates usually meant different things and my purpose was to send a specific message in each situation. Usually a guy who I don’t want to see again for any reason of my choosing, will not be allowed to pay for my half of the dinner. The generally accepted practice in our society is that friends split checks on a fun night out. If you’ve proven yourself to not be worthy of any other type of relationship beyond a friendship, it’s only fair that I pay for my share of the meal. There’s no sense in making you invest in me when I know very well that I have no intention in giving you anymore of my time.

However, when it comes to a man who I think has the potential to be a real life partner, I firmly believe that he should demonstrate both his willingness and his ability to provide for provide for a family. Regardless of the advancements that women have made in the workforce, it does not change the fact that 1) we still do not have true pay equality and 2) women remain the child bearers. Childbearing and childbirth leave women physically and emotionally vulnerable for up to a year. Women can be bed ridden during their pregnancy and may even die in childbirth. Is it really absurd to want a man who is a good provider? How can a man be trusted to provide for a wife who is forced to stay home until she gives birth if he can’t afford a meal? Should she work until her water breaks? What if she dies during childbirth? How will he take care of the child if he can’t pay for movie tickets?

Now, everyone’s definition of a date is different. A woman dating a man making minimum wage shouldn’t expect regular Smith and Wollensky dinners. The nature of the date should reflect the socio-economic profiles as well as the tastes of the involved parties. Where the date happens or how much is spent is not relevant. A man could take you to the neighborhood pizza place and still show you a good time. But if he can’t pay for 2 slices and 2 cans of Coke on his own, he might not be ready to be in a relationship.

Due to this, I am particularly distressed that the founders were black women. It’s an accomplishment to see women, particularly women of color, in the technology sector (even if they didn’t code the app themselves–they might have, but I’m not sure). But at the same time, it is bittersweet. It’s hard to see that black women have once again lowered their standards. We are raised to “give a brother a chance”. Don’t get another brother locked up even if he hit you because there are enough of them in jail. Don’t ask too much of a man because he may still be working on himself. To give a more visible example, I’m sure you’ve seen this picture of the POTUS and the FLOTUS, pushing this idea that Michelle “gave a brother on the come-up a chance” and in return he made her First Lady.

These memes are everywhere and the simple minded folks who like, share and comment “YAAASSS!!!” on these posts completely ignore the fact that the Prez was a Harvard Law student who was already on a path to success when they met. Instead, they want to promote the practice of taking on a damaged man with no goals or plans, and sticking around until he figures it out. A man shouldn’t be a project. If I want a fixer upper, I’ll get myself some real estate. After years of saying: “Who cares if he lives with his mother? So what if he drives your car around and plays video games all day? So what if you have to pay his bills?” why wouldn’t 3 beautiful and accomplished black women think they don’t even deserve for a guy to give them a meal? No other cultural group teaches their women to aim this low. This is a case where being pro-black is more about doing what’s good for the men rather than the community as a whole. This post here talks about how pro-blackness often excludes women.

Paying for a date is more symbolic than anything. If we go out once a week, I’m clearly feeding myself just fine during the other 20 meals I’m going to have when we aren’t together. Evidently, I’m not looking for a handout. I’m looking for a man to demonstrate that he absolutely wants to provide for me even if he doesn’t have to. Does he have to pay for every date until we get married? No, because I’m certainly not going to wear stilettos and little black dresses until then. But there is a courtship phase that we must both prove ourselves. No amount of progressive literature can ever erase the aforementioned biological differences (pregnancy) and our country’s refusal to becoming more family friendly by refusing to pay for maternity leave.

I’ve always maintained that some of the concepts of third-wave feminism have done little to improve the social standing of black women. And I’m being generous with this description. The launch of Go Dutch is a materialization of my assessment. With the out of wedlock birth rate of black children being higher than 70%, we already have generations of black men who don’t marry at the same rate as their non-black counterparts, normalizing the fact that black women have a permanent baby mama status, to the point where this has become a racially coded term. We are now going to normalize the fact that black women can’t even get a meal out of a guy who wants her to entertain him. This is not progress, it is not empowerment. This is damaging.

While I am fully aware of the fact that not every woman wants to be married, it doesn’t change the fact that people who are married live longer healthier lives (source 1 and source 2), and have better economic standing. With SINGLE black women having a median net worth of nearly nothing, why would the average black woman be discouraged from positioning herself in a way that would likely improve her socio-economic standing and life expectancy? It’s bad and worsening as you can see here and here. I am not standing on some morality soap box attempting to regulate people’s sex lives. I am, however, tired of pretending that people raising kids alone are not emotionally, financially and physically stretched to the limit. The seemingly small incidents that we dismiss as outliers can quickly become pervasive social issues that erode our communities from the inside out, and do nothing to improve our lives.

Before I wrote this, I talked to my husband about what was going through my mind and he said: “But if I care about you, it’s not a big deal if I pay for something. I want to buy you a meal.” If you have a man like that in your life, hug him. If you don’t, find one. Because soon enough, you’ll end up with a guy who doesn’t think he should have to do anything for you. Because rather than it being a small gesture of care, paying for a date will soon be considered something that suckers do.

When it comes to the notion of standing by a man who does not demonstrate the characteristics of caring for the woman in his life, my advice to women is as follows:  your loyalty should be to your children and ensuring they have the best possible lives. If dating, marrying and procreating with a man who can and wants to do things for you hurts another man’s ego, that’s fine. You have no duty to cater to any adult male you did not bring into this world. I wish someone would have given that advice to these ladies. Maybe they could have channeled their greatness into doing something that improves the overall quality of black women’s lives, rather than something that will only lowers the standards of what my beautiful sisters should hope to get.

Personal Growth and Relationships

Just last week I was thinking about the friendships I’ve made that are still growing strong and the ones that have fizzled out. I was looking at a few of my wedding pictures, and saw friends I’ve known for over 20 years, and some I’ve met more recently. But just as interesting and as telling were the people who were missing from my big day. Some of the people I met in college and assumed I’d be friends with forever didn’t even know I got married. Others found out after seeing pictures on Facebook. Big events like these force us to look back on our old relationships and contemplate what prompted changes.

It seemed that as I got older I became less patient with people who proved over and over again that they did not respect my time or my friendship. I became much less forgiving of those whose friendships were conditional based on arbitrary standards that were subject to change at their convenience. We are often taught to treat people the way we want to be treated, however that only works when this practice is reciprocal. I believe we need to find a balance between practicing the golden rule and treating people the way they treat us. That often does wonders in helping the less than genuine friends find their way out of your lives.

We should unlearn the concept of giving our love to those who give us none. We must reating ourselves to embrace the concept of quality over quantity with our relationships. We must learn to be selective with our finite resources, particularly our time and energy. We have to be able to distinguish between those who enjoy our company and those who benefit from our presence. As we begin to distinguish constructive feedback form criticism we’ll know who our friends are and who our “frienemies” are.

Life is a journey. Some people will be with us every step of the way. Some are mean to be temporary obstacles to strengthen us or teach us a valuable lesson. Many others are companions for part of the trip and will eventually find their own way. Under no circumstances should we attempt to force something that wasn’t meant to be, lest we want to run the risk of attracting misery to our lives. Is this a cavalier attitude toward friendship? Not at all. True friendships aren’t subject to those rules.