Cue this song. I’m going to talk about women and money. Money is a hard thing for women to talk about. Maybe it’s because we’re so good at the emotional stuff, or because women make 20% less than men. And although I’ve always worked, I haven’t had high-earning positions or been married to a high-earning partner, so I’ve been the odd woman out, financially, in certain circles. Security and financial responsibility are important to me in a relationship. They’re also things I think about whether or not I’m in a relationship. My relationship with money, like anyone’s, runs deep. There’s a story I’ve told myself about money since I was a child. The story goes that it’s important to have two incomes. That even though both of my parents were responsible with money and made their own money, because my mom was a teacher, I’ve always felt the importance of a dual-income household. That’s not about gold-digging. That’s simple math. Of course, two incomes are better than one. This formula, and movies of the 1980s, told me what I thought I knew about women and money.
One of those movies, a mini-series actually, is Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. There’s a scene where Anne is talking to the principal of Kingsport College, Katherine Brooke, about why she’s so nasty, “all prickles and stings,” as Anne says. Katherine tears up remembering a painting she saw as child. The painting was an island with a string of palm trees and a stream running through it. She said, “I always wanted to go to that place. To see the Taj Mahal. I could never afford to do it on a teacher’s salary.” That scene stuck with me: The idea that if you want to go to exotic places and are a single woman of a certain profession, such as a teaching, you won’t be able to live your dream. I was a teacher for eight years. And even though I’ve since moved to copywriting, I don’t make exponentially more than I did teaching. So in my mind the concept still applies. If I want to live a full, exotic, travel-filled life, I can’t do it alone. I need a partner. I’ve always wanted a partner for all the other reasons people want partners, but the financial necessity has never left my mind. That is a hard thing to acknowledge, but it’s true.
As I got smarter and more selective in my dating choices, I was drawn more to responsible people I could count on and build a future with. Not entirely a bad thing. Financial responsibility and general “have-your-shit-togetherness” should be important. But somewhere along the way I got a little muddled. I got tired. I tried to do my best in my last relationship, but, like any committed relationship, there was so much at stake. So very much. So when I left this relationship and moved into an apartment that cost hundreds of dollars more per month because I was living alone, in addition to all the emotions one experiences after a break-up, I was very worried about money.
But then a strange thing happened. Even though my rent increased, I didn’t have any less money. On one hand, it’s more simple math. The insurance money I got from my totaled car made a difference. And without a car I no longer had to pay for gas, repairs, and monthly car insurance. And without a partner who valued weekend trips and going out once or more per week—even though he was both fair and generous in how we shared the cost—I saved money. I thought that it was all some sort of karmic gift. That each night when I returned to my apartment after bicycling home and sat in the small space filled with books, candles, and flickers of what I wanted my life to look like, the universe was providing. Some way, somehow, the money was still coming. Last night I ran home from work and stopped at the bank to get money for an 18-day trip in Southeast Asia. I ran the rest of the way home with four hundred dollars in cash zipped into my running pants. That is not a woman of scarcity. That is a woman of abundance.
And yet, still, at my worst, I am Katherine. An old schoolmarm, penned in by my own crazy thinking that by virtue of being single, I will never have enough. And sometimes, refusing to be loved, I am “all prickles and stings.” But unlike Katherine, I never lived in “boarding houses that stank in the summer and froze in the winter.” I also left teaching. And I’ve been to places just like those in the painting she described: the beaches of Bali, Thailand, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Katherine dreamed of going to the Taj Mahal. I’ve been there—and I paid for it.
At my best, I am Anne. I left teaching to become a writer. I am creative, fanciful, and whimsical. I write stories about the things I know. I appreciate and dreamily move through nature. I embrace, dramatically, all emotions. And when people really get me, they get that getting me means acknowledging and sitting with these emotions, just as Marilla and Diana sat with Anne. I am a romantic idealist. And each day that I reflect on the most serious relationship I’ve ever had, I nudge closer to knowing that what I want from a relationship is less about the safety and security of simply having a partner or achieving what society has fed us so that we will be attracted to a man who can provide, but to someone I simply love. My favorite memories of my last relationship—hiking and sitting on the couch in his old apartment talking about our future—cost nothing.
Each day I move closer to wanting to be with someone to whom I could say, as Anne says to Gilbert when he tells her he won’t finish medical school for another three years and even then there won’t be diamond sunbursts and marble halls… “I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”