How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate
By Jacquette M. Timmons
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2010 Jacquette M. Timmons
All rights reserved.
Other People's Stories
"We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers."
— CARL SAGAN
Searching to Find the One
There are 63 million single, never-married people in the United States, half of whom are women. Why are there so many single women in the most industrialized country in the world, in the twenty-first century? Is this an unintended by-product of the civil rights and women's movements of the 1960s and 1970s? Is it because women today don't face the same economic pressures to marry as did the young women of our mothers' generation? Is it because, as some have said, a woman's career has replaced marriage as her number one goal? Is it because reproductive rights enable a woman to control when she gives birth and by extension enable her to delay marriage? Or is it because, even in a culture that places an emphasis on family, being a single woman no longer carries the social stigma it once did?
I'll leave it to the social psychologists to provide us with insight as to why the number of single, never-married women has doubled since 1977, when the number was approximately 16.5 million, or better yet, why the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics include teenage boys and girls as young as sixteen years of age in the count. Nevertheless, the numbers can't hide the upward trend, a trajectory I find quite interesting when you take into account that more people are single today, either by choice or by default, even though the opportunities to date across races, cultures, and socioeconomic classes is greater and more socially acceptable.
Not only are there more single women today than in our mothers' generation, but also many are staying single well into their thirties and forties. This presents several challenges on the financial front. How do single women with fully developed financial identities and styles navigate the equally familiar and unfamiliar terrain called dating, especially if their ultimate aim is to merge their lives and finances (in some form) with partners?
Inspired by an article she recently read, Glenise has been steadily working on her list of one hundred things that she wants in a mate. You may have created such a list yourself, especially if you have ever read a self-help book espousing the benefits of writing down your goals, dreams, and desires. Such lists, in my opinion, are a great way of gathering information, first about yourself (what is important to you) and then about the other person (what attributes you are hoping the person you're dating or hoping to date will embody). Glenise is hoping — like many single women, including myself, who've put such lists together — that it will help her do a better job of separating the chaff from the wheat.
A month into this exercise, she is almost halfway done, and at the top of her list of what she's looking for in a partner, at numbers one and two, respectively, are self-aware and self-made. "Believe it or not," she says, "self-made for me does not mean financial although it does tie into that. [What] it really means is [someone who has had] some sense of struggle and not a life where everything was handed to [them] because I don't understand that." Given her life story, this isn't surprising.
Glenise's parents met in the early 1960s when her father was a student at Howard University. When she was six, the family relocated to Nigeria, his home country. Her father accepted a position with the Nigerian government, and they lived on Victoria Island in a tony housing complex built specifically for civil servants. By African standards Glenise's family was middle class; they lived in an affluent neighborhood, had servants, and took family vacations. Additionally, Glenise was sent to boarding school for five years. Yet she is quick to point out that, even with all these comforts of wealth, "money didn't feel abundant." As examples, she tells me about never having extra money while at boarding school and having to wear her uniforms until they almost fell apart.
She graduated from boarding school at fifteen, in June of 1986, and was scheduled to attend college in the coming fall. But this plan was thwarted when her parents (unexpectedly to her) separated. Soon after, Glenise, her younger sister, and her mother moved back to the United States. That move shifted their financial situation to the opposite end of the economic spectrum: poverty. They went from living a middle-class lifestyle to being on welfare and calling Section 8 public housing home. The welfare was temporary, but her mother still lives in the projects.
It is common knowledge that when a woman, especially one with children, separates or divorces, her standard of living is likely to drop significantly. Does it decrease by 73 percent as Dr. Lenore J. Weitzman claimed in her research? Her study influenced the law and the thinking of presidents, judges, commentators, and other sociologists. Or is it a much lower number? According to Dr. Richard R. Peterson, a sociologist who reevaluated Dr. Weitzman's findings, the number is closer to 27 percent. For some, these are merely statistics; but for others, like Glenise, plummeting down the economic ladder was a reality she, her sister, and their mother lived.
Instead of going to college in September of 1986, Glenise started twelfth grade at a public high school in Baltimore, and in March of the following year, she started her first job. The plan was to get an American high school diploma, work to save money for college, and apply to American colleges. Little did she know this was the beginning of an eleven-year journey during which she'd work a bit, go to school a bit, and sometimes do both simultaneously. In that time, she was accepted into four colleges — her father's alma mater, Howard University; Florida A&M University (FAMU); Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT); and Smith College — deferred admission to two (Howard and FIT), attended two (FAMU and Smith), and graduated from one (Smith). By the time she entered Smith as a full-time, nontraditional student, she was twenty-four. By the time she finished, she was twenty-seven with a degree in African American studies, a lot of credit card and student loan debt, a more developed personal philosophy, and a naive understanding of the relationship between money and matters of the heart.
Back then, she was a self-described feminist. To her that translated into being a modern, independent woman who didn't subscribe to any traditional scripts about dating (she dates men and women) or any set rules about money in relationships. Today, Glenise is thirty-seven, single, almost debt-free, savvy about investing, and owns her apartment in New York City. And she has shifted her views slightly about how she wants the intersection of love and money to play out in her life. Gone are the days of no set rules, thanks in large part to age, wisdom, and a profound fear of being "old and broke."
Perhaps because of her own story, she has a history of connecting with people around their narratives (how they got to where they are). She finds this extremely attractive and ties into the self-made quality she's seeking. Though she cares about money, it is never the first thing she thinks about. In fact, more often than not, she's dated people who have earned less money than she does. We both laugh at the irony of this because she does nonprofit work and, as she says, "[I] should not be the one making the most money in any situation!"
She tells me of one date with a woman who only ordered an appetizer. Glenise kept wondering throughout their dinner, "Are you not hungry, or is that all you can afford?" But she didn't press the issue because she didn't want to offend her date, nor was she in a position to pay for both of them. She recounts another experience when she dismissed the fact that the guy she was dating made less than she did. Her rationale was "I'm a feminist, so that doesn't matter." In both cases, money was an issue not fully spoken about or addressed.
Possibly, the matter of who makes more or who has more disposable income wouldn't be too much of a concern if other things were in place. But what has typically accompanied these scenarios for Glenise is that the other person is also not financially stable. So on top of not matching her earnings, the other person's financial standing posed a potential risk to his or her well-being as well as hers. That's a rather unsettling notion forsomeone as industrious and self-determined as she is. She has worked very hard to create in her adult life what she didn't always have growing up: financial security, stability, and abundance.
Glenise remains interested in a person's narrative, but she's not willing to get involved with a person who doesn't have savings and a retirement plan, health insurance, manageable debt, disposable resources, and a generous spirit. In other words, she's looking for someone with similar financial priorities, aspirations, and habits. Her shift in perspective has been under way for several years, and her new thinking about money and dating and love is definitely much more mature than it was ten years ago. Actually, it goes hand-in-hand with getting older, growing wiser, and allowing money to take its rightful place in her romantic relationships.
I wanted the real-life case studies in this book to reflect a broad cross- section of women and their experiences. Likewise, I was committed to including profiles that represented all marital statuses (single, married, same-sex partnered, divorced, and widowed). To source interview candidates, I cast a wide net with just two requirements: each woman had to be college-educated and born in the 1960s or 1970s. Everything else, such as race, ethnicity, country of origin, family's socioeconomic background, and geographic location was purposely left open. In response to my query for interview prospects, more women responded than I could have ever imagined or in fact needed, and they were just as diverse as I wanted them to be, with one exception.
All the women who identified as single, never-married were black! This includes not just the women whose profiles are included in the book, but also those with whom I spoke and whose stories are not in these pages. This was perplexing to me, and initially I considered it a fluke and set out to get more prospects in hopes of rounding out this section. Then I learned that black women represent a significant portion of the approximately thirty million single, never-married women in America.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, using data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau, reported that 81 percent of white women and 77 percent of Hispanic and Asian women will marry by age thirty, but only 52 percent of black women will marry by that age. I didn't have to look too far for confirmation of these statistics. I'm forty-three and single, and I know a number of black women, personally and professionally, who are also single and older than thirty.
Marriage is a definite goal for many women, including me. Yet there is a distinct possibility that we may remain unmarried. In May 1999, Barbara Butrica, Lee Cohen, and Howard Iams, at the First Annual Joint Conference for the Retirement Research Consortium, presented a finding I found startling. In their presentation, "Introduction and Findings from the Model of Income in the Near Term (MINT) Project," they revealed that 18.6 percent of black, single, never-married women who were born between 1946 and 1964 (baby boomers) are projected to be unmarried at age sixty-two compared to 5.1 percent of the same population of women who were born between 1926 and 1930 (Depression era). If we assume the same growth pattern, the number of black Generation X and Millennial women who have never married by age sixty-two could potentially rise to 55.8 percent.
Numbers have a way of personalizing cold, hard facts and revealing possible truths that many of us may not be ready to digest. I don't share this information to be a doomsayer. But these statistics should remind single, never-married women in general, and single, never-married black women in particular, to avoid playing the waiting game. In other words, don't defer financial decisions, both small and large, in anticipation of marriage, because there is a strong possibility you may not marry. (Actually, it is unwise to defer financial decisions in general. You run the risk of missing out on the benefit that comes with time being on your side.) And furthermore, if you are looking to marry Prince Charming, he may never show up.
Women make financial decisions every day, ranging from the simple to the complex. So being financially self-reliant and self-dependent is not new for many women, especially black women. What is new, however, are the perceived societal expectations of college-educated, professional women born in the 1960s and '70s. "Earlier generations of college-educated women picked either work or family, work after family, or family after work; those [like us] who graduated [undergrad and grad school] in the 1980s and 1990s are the first to be expected to do both at the same time," writes E. J. Graff in the essay "The Opt-Out Myth." As such, our generation is probably the first for whom, given our credentials, the expectation is that we shouldn't need or want Prince Charming to show up.
Who is Prince Charming, beyond the fictional character who saves the damsel in distress in all the fairy tales? For the purposes of this book, I define him as someone who has positive and ever-increasing earning power and potential, is financially responsible and able to take care of you, and someone upon whom you can and do financially rely and depend.
Sabrina, an entertainment attorney in private practice, is financially savvy, self-reliant, and self-dependent. During our interview she admitted for the first time, "I'm looking for someone who I feel is my Prince Charming." It wasn't necessarily a newfound awareness for her, but it was the first time she gave herself permission to say it aloud. "I'm a little bit more traditional ... so, I'd lean towards saying I'd want him to [earn] more than me, take care of our family, and be financially responsible," she says.
At thirty-eight, she's lost a bit of the naivete she once had about a relationship being able to survive on love alone and money not making a difference. She is looking to break a pattern of dating men who were phenomenal people but "who were very free-flowing, a little too free-flowing [for her taste] with money." One guy was an artist who literally had no money. They ended up spending most of their time together at home instead of going out. Another was an attorney with a salary on par with hers but whose carefree spending raised a red flag. In an interesting twist of fate, with him she'd have preferred if they ate in once in a while. Whether they earned a little or a lot, ironically, most of the men she's dated, including her long-term relationships, were men who were the exact opposite of her father in terms of financial prowess.
Sabrina's parents divorced when she was eight. After the divorce, her father won full custodial rights of Sabrina and her younger siblings. (Fathers winning custody and becoming the primary caregivers for their children due to divorce may not be unusual in 2009, but it was atypical in the 1970s.) This would be the first of many precedents set by her father, a police officer who quickly rose through the ranks and is now the chief of housing police in the large metropolitan city where Sabrina grew up and currently lives.
Many other precedents would follow, including the lifestyle he provided for his family, which eventually expanded to include a longtime girlfriend and another child. What Sabrina remembers is a sense of being taken care of; she says, "We weren't rich, but we lived pretty well." Her father took care of everything, and though he made each of his children get part-time jobs in high school, it wasn't because he couldn't afford to give them an allowance. He simply wanted them to develop a strong work ethic.
Sabrina describes her father as a strict disciplinarian, a financial caregiver, and someone who is "meticulous with money." None of this, however, translated into him teaching her about what she should do with money or how. An example she shares is the credit card trouble she got into during college. "When I went to college, I remember distinctly [being] one of those kids who opened a credit card and went crazy racking up a lot of debt. My father swooped in and paid it off and then chastised me." Even today, her father will help any of his children if they ask him for financial help but only after he asks them, "What are you going to do with the money? What do you need it for, and why can't you work for it?" In the end, he always gives them the money they need.
While she has always had the comfort and security of knowing she could rely on her father if necessary, Sabrina set out to learn about money on her own. As a result, she can now include herself in the group of financially savvy women: she invests in the stock market, owns her apartment, owns a business, is now a disciplined saver, and uses credit card debt strategically. And she does something else that isn't directly tied to money management but is crucial to one's financial health nonetheless: she surrounds herself with friends who have similar financial habits. Clearly, she's not playing the waiting game. If she gets married (and I hope she does), she'll be coming to the proverbial table with financial assets and healthy habits. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Financial Intimacy by Jacquette M. Timmons. Copyright © 2010 Jacquette M. Timmons. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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