Feeling Squirmy-A Shift in My Financial Independence

Art by Oyl Miller / Oylmiller.com

Don't ever depend on anyone for money. Specifically, a love interest aka a husband. Mom taught me that at a young age. I was raised to work hard and always fend for myself financially. The song Miss Independent was my jam. Ne-Yo should have collaborated with me for the video. I could see it vividly — a dance number in a chic suit, taking calls on a sleek retro phone, while swinging around a briefcase, and kicking up my heels on a fancy desk. But in the version I’d star in, the desk I’d be dancing around on would be covered in credit card bills if we were really being authentic! Making it rain white envelopes in a sassy outfit sounds attractive doesn’t it? But hey, I was the one paying those bills-wasn’t I? At least THAT part actually is attractive. I’ve been responsible for a long, long time and making my own money has always been an important part of who I am.

Are there things about you that are hard wired and likely impossible to change? Yes, I think so. It made me wonder just how much a part of me is tied to being financially independent. For men, it’s been tied to how they define their worth over many decades. For women, we couldn’t even open a bank account in our own name until 1975, so it’s doubtful our worth was tied to our own hard-earned money until maybe the 80’s. Perhaps over time we’ve grown to feel in a similar fashion to men. Or perhaps it’s our experiences related to money and stress that linger on. Particularly because these occurrences were most prevalent during the most impressionable years.

I’ve worked since I was 15. There was no summering, vacationing, or two weeks long sleepaway camp. Sure, summertime was a time relax and have great fun, but it was also a time to make some cash. As a teen, I was not just going to “party” and “lay around” and “do whatever I wanted”. Mom used to call me Miss 18 year-old when we’d have spats where I’d talk back or want something that sounded ridiculously out of the question. If I wanted spending money, I had better go out and earn it myself. That was her rule and she was stickin’ to it.

I never really saved any of my earnings until I was about 23. I thought the idea of saving for retirement made good sense. Many of you reading this know how this age-old story goes. You graduate college with a student loan to pay back, credit card debt, and a car payment. You get your own place and try to make it all work on a small salary. Ramen noodles are suddenly back on the menu-just when you thought your days of crappy college eating were over. But you still manage to go out, have fun, and make ends meet. I don’t know how…you just do. A lot of us did. And I think it’s a good thing! Be proud.

Nowadays, it’s more common for kids to graduate college and move back home for a year or ten, but that was not in the cards for this gal. So off I went to be an independent woman with my noodle dinners and cheap beer. Being from the midwest, it was not uncommon for someone to get married immediately after college and start having babies at the age of 22 or 23. But those thoughts never really crossed my mind. Once I moved to the east coast, I felt a sense of belonging in this very career driven part of the world. Sure, I had to work harder for friendships, as that’s how the east coasters roll, but I did seem to mesh well with the working really hard thing. It just clicked for me.

During my college years, I’d sometimes try and picture myself as a mom or a wife, and frankly, I just could not conjure that image up. We had a running joke -my mom and I- where I’d talk about my future husband and she’d say “Well, who’d marry ya?” We’d crack ourselves up over it. There was truth in that! I was a high energy, couldn’t-sit-down-if-I-tried, scatterbrained gal whose room would certainly send any potential suitor out the door faster than you could say pig-pen. I acknowledge and appreciate that everyone’s aspirations are different for various reasons. But keeping a clean house, playing mom, and daydreaming about being a doting wife were not mine during my early twenties.

Today, I’m a 39 year old married mom of two. Honestly, it feels like I’ve had three separate lives. I can’t imagine what it feels like for folks that live to be in their 80’s or 90’s. It must feel like they could write a plethora of books all seemingly about someone different; yet it was truly them during unique phases of life. I never imagined that last year I would leave my job without another lined up. It was beyond thrilling and quite scary; but very necessary. It was the right decision. In making this decision, I gave up my financial independence…just like that.

Yes, I’m married, so some people may think or say- well then you’re fine! Stop the stressing. Lean on your spouse while you can. But because I have a partner in all of this doesn’t mean that going from contributing financially to suddenly not doesn’t have a strange effect on you. Not only does it impact the pocketbook, it impacts the psyche a bit. I have never been solely dependant on another human being;at least not since I was 21 and living under my mom’s roof. Basically, my whole adult life I have been making my own money and handling my stuff. It’s scary shit when you are suddenly leaning heavily on someone else-even if it’s your spouse. Based on who I’ve come to be -this is how it feels.

It’s no surprise an identity crisis paid this lass a visit!

I began to go through a shift, a shift that I only see now ( we don’t notice ourselves going through something typically while it’s happening). It felt a bit uncomfortable to be perfectly blunt. The best analogy to describe it is like having a farm that you use to run your farm to table restaurant. Your farm stops growing tomatoes and the tomatoes are a must-have vegetable as they are in just about every recipe on your menu. You have to ask another farmer for the tomatoes in order for your restaurant to survive. Your restaurant and livelihood are solely dependent on this farmer’s tomatoes. There is a piece of the control that’s been relinquished, a deep trust that must take place between you and that other farmer, and a mutual understanding now that you have come to rely on them in this way.

Financial independence is what has always made me feel I had equal decision making power. I began to feel like I didn’t have a right to make monetary decisions as they related to our family. This was not what my husband was saying to me, it was how I was feeling by not being able to contribute in the way I once did. I’m hard wired to not depend on ANYONE. It’s what makes me ME. My husband reminds me that it is OK because he insists we are a TEAM.

The bottom line is I am contributing in plenty of other ways, and the financial piece is just one of the moving parts in a very large machine. While that may be hard for me to see, I know that it is rational and true.

Those of us that have faced hardship young and fended for ourselves for a large chunk of life do not go easily into the sunset of becoming dependent on another. Self reliance and independence runs in our veins. When you suddenly don’t make your own money or make significantly less than you once did- you feel naked and afraid.

We’ll see where this journey goes. Until then, I’ve learned yet another piece of what makes me who I am and what clearly makes me squirm in discomfort. It’s opened my eyes and mind to what being a family means-even if this part of being a family feels very foreign to me. Not all contributions to your family have to be financial. I’ll keep saying that to myself and clicking my heels three times until I make myself believe it.

At the same time, it’s never too late to appreciate something about yourself that was wholly necessary during a different time in your life. We can be proud of certain life skills we have acquired, but I suppose we don’t have to be in survival mode all the time.