Marriage and Money: A Fairy Tale
Maybe I seemed rich to the first two women who became my wives. Perhaps my downtown condo, and simple lifestyle appeared to be something other than it was. I had/have potential, yes, but the real world has a way of changing the game on you, frequently and with indiscriminate outcomes. Maybe the fairy tale went something like this:
- Marry a fine gentleman of money.
- Have children in a nice house in a top school district.
- Stay home and work on parenting and yoga.
- Hire weekly housekeeper and part-time nanny.
- Live happily ever after.
Something always changes. And when the plans were reset in both marriages, the “stay and home and live the life” part didn’t work out as planned. I had hopes. I had means, during various periods in my life. I still have promise and opportunity. To hone in on the mother of my children, there was never any resistance to working. In fact, for much of the early stages of our relationship she made more money than me. (Yay!) And we had a coordinated idea of how we would finance the children and give her the “stay at home” life, as much as possible. We both agreed, we would like one of us (Mom) to meet the bus when the kids began going to school. And when they were infants, well, of course she would stay at home with them. That’s how we imagined it.
For the most part, the birthing and getting to school-aged progeny worked. There were some tumbles, mainly 9-11, but we soldiered through, as a family. And reached the “meet them at the bus” stage without too much damage to our credit scores. But the dream (examples set by so many lucky wives in our upscale neighborhood) was not fully realised.
She did have to return to part-time work. We still maintained the nanny and housekeeper, but mid-day yoga classes would have to wait. (Bummer.) And I was bummed. I thought that the dream I saw paraded in the HEB and at our kid’s schools, the cars, the house, the fit-happy-zen wife, was supposed to be within my earnings. I needed to earn a bit more.
So I travelled the big corporate route, to seek relief, for my suffering and the suffering of my family. But even that wasn’t fulfilling the dream. Sure 20-hrs a week beats 50+ with a 2-hour daily commute, but it wasn’t a competition, it was a cooperation. Still, the dream was suffering. I was suffering. I think the wife was suffering. My suffering had to do with my childhood and my father’s extraordinary success. And through many gross legal stories, 15 years after his death, my inheritance was null and void. But I grew up in the most famous house in our town. While things were never very happy there, the outside world must’ve thought we were living the high life.
Aspire as I might, I won’t likely achieve the financial riches my father accomplished by the time he was 40. The fact that he died of a 4th heart attack and cancer at the age of 55 is also not lost on me. But my dad had problems. Mistakes I learned from. Fears I’ve recoiled from. And a devastating divorce I have striven not to repeat.
Back to me and the ex-y. So, things change. The big corporate job (which had be getting grayer and fatter by the week) went through a major contraction in anticipation of the 2009-2010 financial collapse.
While I saw this as a golden moment to redefine our lifestyles and priorities, my then wife, was panicked. And the road ahead WAS hard. But I imagined that together we would survive and ultimately thrive again. Of course, the economy was hard for everyone, not just us. And the job market was fragmented and getting more ageist by the year. What had been an asset (we’re hiring you for some of your wisdom) became a badge of failure.
I was heading towards 50 and interviewing with 30 year olds. My gray hair had to go. And on the financial front, things didn’t work out as planned there either. The ex-y was fired just days after the big corporate layoff was announced. The good news: my fat corporate job provided for 6-months at full-pay, with benefits, and 70% of my annual bonus. The bad news: with the ex-y out of work that windfall would be eaten away in three months.
Okay, so the work was set out for us. And it was hard. COBRA payments for child insurance are very high. Occasionally we were paying almost as much for our mortgage. And the job hunt was challenging. At one point, nearing a crisis, I sold most of my music equipment to make a couple of mortgage payments. (It was bit like O’Henry’s story, but I wouldn’t know that until later.) Dark times.
And then another fat corporate job came through, for me. This time with even more promise and excitement than before. The ex-y went through some kind of mid-life work reassessment and fished around for multiple job ideas, considered going back to school to learn coding. I shipped off to San Francisco on my first day on the job, to meet the creative team I would be joining. The relief didn’t really come soon enough.
The ex-y was fighting with me on the phone, during my second day in San Francisco. She was demanding to know when the insurance would kickin, when I would get my first full check, and why I had put the room on my credit card. Sure, she was feeling the heat. And sure, she had been paying the bills over the previous six months, while looking for herself and satisfying work. (That’s what we all want, isn’t it, “satisfying work?”) B
ut the proof came out later, something I was unaware of, being focused on breadwinning and not the daily bread. When we pulled the information together for the last year of our joint tax return she actually had a negative contribution to the family budget. WHAT? While I was hammering away and being hammered from both the job and the wife, she was actually losing money?
Tough times, yes, but perhaps her encouragement of my career had just a twinge of self-motivation behind it. See, if I would just get that big corporate job again, we could return to normal, “meet the bus after school” part-time livin. Except that’s not what happened.
The Off Parent
An earlier run at the Stay At Home Mom story
Note: After an early morning chat with my talky therapist, I’ve come up with a catch phrase to frame the renewed attitude of detachment from my ex-y and her future struggles. “Oh, I’m sorry that didn’t work out for you.” It’s more compassion than I ever got from her while I was struggling, and certainly more than I got yesterday. I guess I have to consider the worst outcome and at least have that in mind. I suppose she could have me thrown in jail for not giving her the money I don’t have. I’m already skating above bankruptcy and just trying to keep a roof over my head and the heads of my children. But I suppose she might do it.
< back to The Hard Stuff pages
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
And a wonderful song about it all from Blur, Country House.