The fall semester of my penultimate year of college, I was browsing my OKCupid matches when a cute musician’s response to the site’s “most private thing I’m willing to admit” caught my eye: ” My cat was 100 percent deaf, and I spoke to him again. ”I composed a message that is sure to win the day:“ My cat was 0% English speaking, and I was still talking to him. been Spanish at heart. Do you understand? He speaks Catalan.
Somehow my pun won a “LOL” and we met for dinner the following week. He came up with an essay I had sent him on my groping in New Age spirituality, sympathetic comments written in pencil in the margins. He admitted that he had also tried his hand at fringe practices. I already felt closer to him than liberal atheist friends with whom I wouldn’t dare discuss past lives or auras.
The next day he sent a follow-up text message starting with “Heylo! Including ? It’s ‘hey’ and ‘hello’ and I knew I wasn’t alone in my bad puns either. And the next day he called me, much to my surprise – most of the college kids I exchanged numbers with didn’t even text me – and invited me to the animated film. Hugo. We lingered in his Volkswagen Jetta discussing multiple universes and astral travel and missed the first screening. When we finally took our seats in the freezing theater, he draped his jacket over me.
While I had three jobs, he would take breaks to teach me his favorite card game from my childhood, Magic the Gathering, and take me to book fairs, where he filled unlimited $ 5 bags with fantastic novels for himself and feminist theory books for me.
One afternoon in June, when he was driving me home after a weekend with his parents, he admitted to me that he had been running out of money since he had stopped working as a waiter. Earlier that year he had quit to devote more time to recording music, woodworking and teaching drums. Gasoline was expensive, and since he had the car, he drove me quite a bit. He asked me to compensate him $ 20 a month, about half of what he spent.
I was cheap, rarely tipping bartenders, so the thought of paying for chauffeur services on my own date made me uncomfortable. However, I was confident that the guy who used his tips to book a weekend with me in a guesthouse would not take advantage of me once he lost that small change. And as an active 22-year-old feminist, I’ve been careful not to foster the cultural expectation that men support women.
But after weeks of lending him a few bucks here and there at coffee shops and gas stations, I started to wish my monthly $ 20 was a fee to keep him from asking me for money. Since I wasn’t the type to give generously of money, I kept a strict eye on how much he owed me.
One night at a game store he suggested that we share a $ 4 pack of Magic cards. When I pointed out that by paying the entire purchase he would cover two of the $ 11 he owed me for meals, he said he also owed his parents money for the meal. food and gasoline and that he was indebted to a friend for carpentry supplies, so he would appreciate it if I could let go of my hard-earned $ 11 this time around. I did, but not without a fight – and something he said during that fight left a mark on me.
“You’ve never struggled with money. You don’t understand,” he said.
I hated to admit he was right. I grew up in an upper middle class family on Long Island. I was an Ivy League graduate with no student loan. My father reminded me of this often, warning me not to let my background make me careless with money; he often doubted my ability to support myself. My desperate attempt to keep every dollar I earned was an effort to prove my father wrong. But in reality, I was more than supporting myself with three jobs, and losing $ 11 wouldn’t put me back. After making a big deal out of it, I felt the same as when I mumbled “I’m broke” to beggars with $ 20 bills in my wallet.
My friends confirmed my lingering suspicions that I was acting stingy, or worse, anti-feminist. One told me that she and her husband had never hesitated to help each other. Another said she and her traveling companions all refueled on trips.
Torn between feeling selfish and resenting my partner for feeling selfish, I asked my dad over the phone if I was a princess. He got into a tirade about how a “real man” would pay for his own gas. His words had the opposite effect he had wanted. I do not have want to my boyfriend to fit the mold of a “real man”. I wanted him to remain sensitive and willing to ask for help, and I wanted our relationship to be financially equal.
However, as his monetary problems worsened, I wondered if the pressure he was putting on me to distribute dollars was his own form of inequality. He was still acquiring new Magic cards and participating in tournaments, which cost $ 20 each, but my monthly $ 20 was still not enough for him to visit when he had promised. After he withdrew from his plans due to technical difficulties in purchasing Magic Cards “as an investment” on eBay and needed the night to “calm down”, I felt I didn’t was not a priority.
During this time, I was offered a job that could be done from Boston or New York, and we both assumed I would go to Boston to stay close to him. But as I began to doubt our long-term potential, I wondered if he should even be a factor. My impending move has become another source of tension. I wasn’t the only one who felt put on the back burner.
After he objected to covering his own glass of wine at my birthday party, I finally expressed the concerns that had built up over the summer. He collapsed crying, promised he would never ask me for cash again, put Ellis Paul’s “Take All the Sky You Need” and told me he didn’t want me. prevent from “flying as high as possible”. Looking back, I don’t know what this song had to do with our argument, but somehow it ended with crying in her arms, hoping to relive our days. $ 5 book fairs and our late nights huddled in front of cards on my bedroom floor.
I moved to New York in September, visited him once, and called him the following week.
“I miss you,” I said. “When can you come?”
This weekend he was building a shoe rack for his parents. The next day, Nine Inch Nails arrived in town. Gasoline was getting more and more expensive and public transport was “over-stimulating”. I would never be his priority.
“We need to break up,” I said into the receiver, and choked back tears as I left to buy some furniture.
When I confessed to my friends that financial conflicts destroyed my relationship, I felt like a failed feminist. But as I heard other women recount similar experiences of men borrowing money from them and living with them without rent, I saw that it was more empowering to come out of a dire situation than to stay. .
Meanwhile, I was trying to convince my roommate that excluding Wi-Fi from the Starbucks downstairs exempted me from paying half the internet bill. I’ve always been more like my ex than I wanted to admit, except I had no excuses. He was struggling, and I wouldn’t have wrestled even if I had handed out over $ 20 a month.
Even if he wasn’t the right one, if the best match for me is short of change, he won’t need to ask for help twice.
Heartbreak kept me from seeing my ex for a year and a half after the breakup, but eventually we found ourselves friends over sushi. Since my meal was three dollars more than hers, I offered to cover the tip in addition to half of the bill.
“It’s good if we share it,” he said.
“No, I insist.”
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