When One Person Earns More Than the Other in a Relationship

My fiancée is an RN in the ICU unit of a government hospital in the Southwest. She’s not always happy in her work, but she makes three times what I do, making it far easier for us to travel often, drive a brand new Outback, be grocery snobs, feed our dog the top-shelf stuff, etc. She does genuinely like it (as far as jobs go), but admits that she can’t see herself being an RN for the rest of her life, anticipating how the long days and the stress inherent to being responsible for people’s lives and wellbeing while dealing with their emotionally charged families will wear down on her both physically and emotionally over time.

I sympathize, but can’t empathize.

When I get invited to a concert two hours away on a Thursday night, I work double-time Monday through Wednesday and take Thursday off. When it’s college football season and I feel like working in front of a TV all day, I do that. When our friends want to camp in the Zuni mountains in the middle of the week, I cut my workday at 3 and get back to work the next morning at 11.

If you’re not getting the picture yet, I can basically do whatever the hell I want because of I work as a freelancer; my fiancée, however, cannot. Don’t get me wrong—she has way more freedom with her schedule than most people do. But here’s what our daily work lives break down to: She runs around a hospital all day; I bounce on a yoga ball then play with the dog. She’s sometimes too busy to eat for 13 hours straight; I eat a Clif bar because I walked by the cupboard and realized I felt like eating something. She starts IVs for people with liver failure; I once got a little drunk at 2 p.m. while ghostwriting for a self-help expert. She preserves human lives; I’ve been paid to write erotica.

Things are not even in most respects, and I get that.

A lot of people say they don’t care about money—being happy is the really important thing.

When I majored in creative writing in college, I knew what I was getting myself into: not knowing what I was getting myself into. I had this one thing I liked doing that had some place in academia and (maybe) the career world, this one thing I enjoyed that colleges would let me study. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to be a novelist, an editor, or a future Poet Laureate; writing was just what I was good at. If I figured anything at all about what would come next, I figured it would sort itself out as long as I kept working hard at what I did.

After graduating I did the whole office job thing, then the substitute teaching thing, then half the subbing and half the freelance thing. My sister told me about oDesk, Elance, and fiverr, and as I made a name for myself on those sites I was gradually able to wean myself off of standard employment until summer vacation hit and all I made was whatever I could convince people to pay me to write their blogs and marketing copy. And I loved it.

Again, a lot of people say they don’t care about money. But best case scenario after two years of full-time freelancing: I still make something around what’s considered the poverty line and now qualify for Medicaid. And I’m happy because that’s enough—for me. But when you’re in a relationship, it’s not that simple.

When we moved in together, my fiancée said she wanted things to be equal. I told her equal meant contributing the same proportionate amount to what we earn since I make a third of her income, which seemed fair in theory, and on paper it is.

Before I continue to make myself sound like a jackass, I should note that our relationship dynamic has had benefits for my fiancée as well. Since I can work from anywhere, I was able to pack up and move 2,000 miles across the country to follow her to her job in an interstate town with no thriving industries. Since I set my own schedule, I get to keep up with her erratic schedule and travel with her whenever she/we feel like it (which is often).

My schedule also allows me to essentially be a homemaker—doing the “invisible work” of unpaid housework: I clean, cook, do the dishes, fix shit, run errands, organize our bills, raise our hellion of a puppy, grocery shop, and do all the other stuff most people can’t/don’t want to do after working for 12 hours. For the most part, my fiancée’s responsibilities are to go to work, and then relax when she gets home. This is the least I can do to make up for my meager contributing power.

And it works—again, on paper.

The problem with things that work on paper is that relationships aren’t made of paper. There’s no row in my pro/con spreadsheet for emotional stability, no oval in a Venn diagram for fulfillment, no figure in a cost-benefit analysis for jealousy.

While people like my fiancée squash some of their hobbies and interests with responsible career paths (she really wanted to study art history), I’ve become your run-of-the-mill, freedom-spoiled, creative-idealist twenty-something. I scoff at the nine-to-five lifestyle, turn my nose up at guaranteed salary and health benefits, eschew the responsibility of being stuck working under a dictatorial boss. Even the idea of returning to the definite daily schedule of substitute teaching makes my pulse quicken with anxiety now. And subs don’t even have to go to work if they don’t want to.

The problem I have with traditional employment is twofold: First, as I mentioned, I’ve become spoiled by my freelancer freedom; second, this is the only way I know how to make a living doing the one goddamn thing on this good Earth I’m good enough at to make a business doing.

People get jobs they hate all the time just to pay the bills; and in some situations, that’s all you can do, and that’s understandable. I think this is why lots of people get jobs waiting tables, or bagging groceries, selling used cars, and even teaching: They can do it, it pays money, and it sucks less than other options. Maybe it does or doesn’t incorporate any other aspects of their lives, personalities, or passions, but people need to pay for their cars, cable, internet, student loans, clothes, kids, and dining habits.

But I don’t have a car or kids, I get anxious about having too many clothes, and had scholarships in college. From an expense standpoint, I live like an introverted college student with no tuition. I make household necessities out of old cardboard. I freeze the extra tikka masala from leftover Indian food to use for dinner. I hoard extra napkins from restaurants. My point is, I live a lifestyle my meager income can afford me, so I can work for a better reason than to “pay the bills.”

We spend around a third of our waking life working at our jobs. I don’t think it’s acceptable to spend all that time doing something we hate, doing something we go to bed every night in heart-wrenching trepidation of waking up to do, doing something anyone else in the world could do that has no application to our own lives (have you seenSteve Roggenbuck?).

I can’t settle for allowing 40 hours of my every week to be some black hole of time I don’t want to remember, that I can’t build on over the next week’s 40 hours of work toward something better and more significant. I think this progress, this drafting toward something more is what gives us as humans a necessary sense of purpose; to thwart it with a weekly race for the weekend that starts over again and again Sisyphusianly is to starve some deep, innate emotional need that we end up wasting ourselves away trying to nourish in other ways.

I enjoy what I do every day. I wake up borderline excited to do it. For me, writing for a living is akin to being a professional athlete or musician: I get paid to play and improve. Like every other freelance writer out there, I’ve got my own stuff locked away in the back of my mind I work on at night, and freelancing allows me to iron out the technical aspects of writing, and allows me to keep my mind sharp and my creativity flowing. Plus, my schedule frees me to spend as much time on my own writing as I want, which I know from my days tweaking line-breaks during half-hour lunch breaks is a rarity in the traditional job world.

But to say all this to my fiancée would be to denigrate what she does. The days she comes home in tears after engaging with real, troubled, hurting people, all I have to say for my day is I may or may not have helped someone sell some high-quality German shoe horns. And when she allows that inevitable and understandable resentment to boil to the surface of our relationship, who am I to say it’s irrational? What good will it do to reassure her that even though I was at home in my sweatpants drinking coffee all day, I took out the trash, installed a lock for our bathroom door, and started building a fruit basket to hold our bananas?

We’ve had lots of talks about my future—more than about our future, maybe. I can sense and understand the disappointment when she asks me about what I’ll do after studying creative writing in grad school (if I get in) and I say I don’t know, that there’s too much competition for professorships to expect a job in academia. I’m paid to thrive on subtext, so I can read between the lines when she asks me how long I can picture myself freelancing. She doesn’t say that I don’t make enough, but it’s hard not to wonder when she mentions how her bills are going to take up an entire paycheck this month and I say I’ll be lucky to deposit a few hundred into my savings.

As long as I’m not allowing myself to settle, to sacrifice what makes me happy to meet her in the middle, to understand what it is to be unhappy sometimes for the sake of a greater happiness, there will always be this distance between us, one we’re still figuring out and navigating together, at least.

 

 

Bryce is a freelance writer based in New Mexico. When the mood strikes him, he blogs about modern advertising atadvert ventures.

Photo: Johan Larrson

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73 Comments / Post A Comment

OllyOlly (#669)

I had asked for more ‘why freelancing,” and this actually was a great glimpse! Guessing it was more happenstance, but thanks Billfold.

LDW (#4,492)

This dynamic doesn’t seem sustainable in the long run. I’m all for not wanting to be an office drone merely for the sake of financial equity in a relationship, but at a certain point the author’s love of freedom is going to run smack into what’s best for the relationship. The burden of being the primary breadwinner by working at a very demanding job can really wear on a person.

troubleminx (#6,140)

@LDW Yeah, to put it less kindly, this guy kind of sounds like he has his head up his ass. Also, the word “Sisyphusianly” is awful.

@fo (#839)

@troubleminx: “Also, the word “Sisyphusianly” is awful.”

That NON-word is awful. It’s a mistaken neologism–the adjective version exists and is not “Sisyphusian” (W.T.F.????) it is Sisyphean. So, if one must be lazy and write a sentence that use Sisyphean in an adverb form, it would be Sisypheanly, not “Sisyphusian” (again, W.T.F.????).

WriteBikeBobbi (#3,938)

Sheesh, people – this is an honest article, cut the man some slack. I don’t believe he has his head up his ass. Perhaps that’s because I’m also a writer with a partner in the medical field who brings home a very nice paycheck while I bring home embarrassingly little, between writing and the occasional teaching gig. I have taken numerous jobs I’ve hated, for the paycheck, and held 3-4 jobs at once while my partner was pursuing his medical education and couldn’t work at all. Now the balance is different. As the author stated at the end, they’re figuring out how to navigate the situation. Everyone handles it differently.

LDW (#4,492)

@WriteBikeBobbi I think the main worry is that the author expresses very little willingness to do what you did and take on the burden of doing something hates to give his partner a break. Yes they are figuring it out, but at the moment the dynamic comes across as problematic.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@LDW Exactly. Though I’d go one step farther and say that the beginning was more about the “figuring it out,” then the piece quickly devolved into justifying why some square office job isn’t good enough/ physical poverty > intellectual poverty. I mean, I understand following your dreams and making it work however possible, but this particular piece came off a little bit defensive to me.

Has anyone read “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”? This piece is a little Nathaniel P.

longjanes (#6,124)

@Heather Funk@facebook Yes, spot on, re: Nathaniel P.

The Mole (#2,633)

I’m in the reverse of this situation – making low to mid six figures in an industry I enjoy (and with growth potential) in NYC while supporting my freelancer wife in the media world. The key to success with this, and not driving yourself (or your partner) nuts is to be fully invested in the two of you as a team. If there is any real selfishness, it would be too easy for bitterness to creep in and from there, the slippery slope downhill.
It by no means is possible for everyone to manage but it absolutely is possible with open communication and trust in one another.

WriteBikeBobbi (#3,938)

@The Mole I agree wholeheartedly. Our situation works because we approach it as a team; and any time I’ve felt bad about my earning potential vs. my partner’s, he always reminds me that it’s a team approach and we’re not in competition. It would be different if you / he didn’t enjoy your jobs, I suppose — we’re grateful that my partner does. If there comes a point when he does not, we will address it and figure it out.

@The Mole I can imagine it being awfully difficult to invest in “the team” though when one team member thinks you’re a chump for working so much, yet takes full advantage of the lifestyle benefits it provides them.

stinapag (#2,144)

@The Mole That’s how we approach it too. My husband is in the music industry, and our life is pretty similar to that described above. He’s also in school. We have to look at is as a team approach or else we’re going to be snapping at each other.

Last week, my husband was turned down for a full time, benefits type job, and we were relieved. Sure, the money and stability would have been nice. But he would have had to give up school and it would have derailed his music career quite substantially. And it wasn’t the type of job that would lead to something else, something better. He has a regular gig that’s been on hiatus for a few months as the club relocates, but it’s something that he can build on and it also allows for school. If we were just looking at the here and now, it would have made sense, but we approach it looking at the future and laying out plans.

la peagoise (#6,003)

It’s interesting– when I was an underemployed English-major type, I could date anyone, regardless of how much they made. My longest relationship was with a a guy in the music industry, who did front of house for a country artist and was a barback on the side.

Now that I’ve gone back to school for engineering (and I make more money as a co-op with a year and a half of engineering classes than I ever did as a full-time secretary), I’m much pickier about who I date. I have a hard time respecting artsy freelancing types. I could never date a guy in the music industry again.

And I don’t know if it’s because I had that life and *chose* to give it up for something better (to me) or if it’s something juice boxier or if it’s a social construct (not wanting to out-earn a potential mate) but it’s definitely a thing.

Really enjoyed this.

sp8ce (#6,312)

@la peagoise I think people are overlooking that fact that women prefer to date men who earn as much or more than they do. As un-pc as it may be its still a fact.

MollyAuden (#6,292)

Also agree with the Mole. But what struck me most about the article was that the author doesn’t seem to think his partner appreciates his taking care of the house and the dog, or his building a lock or a fruit basket.

Do those things really carry no value to his partner?

We know that monetary input is only one of many contributions that matter in a relationship. Whenever I feel bad for contributing less money to our joint account than my partner does, or for having much less monetary potential than he does, he gets mad and tells me how I’ve enriched his life since we met, how much he appreciates the things I’ve taught him, and the ways I inspire him and keep him grounded. Those things cannot be expressed in monetary terms, and if your partner appreciates them and sees them as vital, then income inequality becomes no object.

It’s only when there’s a perceived disruption to this balance, e.g. where the monetary inequality takes on a huge importance that other contributions cannot compensate for – that you’re in trouble. Maybe you’ll want to have kids one day and one income won’t be enough. Maybe the non-monetary contributions of one partner begin to lose value in the other’s eyes. But if this does happen, then I doubt it would be because of the income disparity per se. It would probably have to do with deeper emotional crevices in the relationship.

sp8ce (#6,312)

@MollyAuden If they did have kids, someone being home would have more value. Im single with my own place and I have no probelme taking care of the things around the house so I see very little value in someone else being there to do that chores I already do, especially when the messes theyre cleaning up while Im at work are likely their own.

therealjaygatsby (#4,053)

I think the issue here is that, as the author mentions, he has disdain for the life his fiance is living:

“I scoff at the nine-to-five lifestyle, turn my nose up at guaranteed salary and health benefits, eschew the responsibility of being stuck working under a dictatorial boss.”

That means you’re scoffing at her decisions, turn up your nose at her choice to give up art history to become a RN. No wonder her resentment boils over from time to time. (Also, she doesn’t resent you because of what you do all day. It’s that you don’t appreciate what she does all day.)

By the way, emotional stability is always a pro! Both yours and hers, so talk to her about it.

Finally, please recognize that there is no such thing as a “run-of-the-mill” freelancer. Not all freelancers are created equal. Some may be “freedom-spoiled” like yourself, but others are terrified of the very same freedom you describe, because of the inherent uncertainty in that freedom.

Your lifestyle is different, but it is not better.

fennel (#2,494)

@therealjaygatsby

If she is an RN in an ICU, her hours are probably a little crazy and definitely not 9-5. And it’s definitely not an office job! So I didn’t read him as scoffing at her per se (thought the tone & attitude are problematic, I agree).

What I didn’t get was why it is so fulfilling to write ad copy and ghostwrite self-help books — that doesn’t sound better than regular temping or being a secretary or whatever.

Please consult Mitchell and Webb: http://youtu.be/Z-zRPDvTJTo

Also: Peggy and Abe

questingbeast (#2,409)

@Lily Hudson@facebook Personally I was hoping this piece would have more discussion of this important freelancing issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGg1567fzTY

longjanes (#6,124)

I think what was most telling was his mention that they have had many more discussions about ‘his’ future more than ‘theirs’. I am in a relationship where my partner far out-earns me, and likely always will, and I can say with certainty that most of our discussions of the future have a strong team mentality to them. The sub-text of ‘when do you think you’ll start earning more money?’ just isn’t there, and I don’t think it needs to be so long as both people are driven to help each other? Perhaps her sub-text questions about the future are really her asking ‘do you even care about OUR well-being as a couple? Or will you always be putting yourself first?’ For me, the other partner in this anecdote doesn’t read as ‘greedy sub-texter’ but as someone who is yearning for a partner to make decisions with her, to include her in the plans? When she’s broken down from many years of emotionally and physically draining work, will he be able to support her the way she does him? That’s the sub-text I gleaned, anyways.

Lianne (#4,240)

@longjanes Yes! I agree! I also really felt like the author believes that his lifestyle and his fiancée’s lifestyle are separate, so I can see her worrying about the future and how they might merge into a team. My partner is probably going to make a lot less money that me in the long run but we have taken turns bearing the bulk of expenses in times when it has been harder for the other. We also change our lifestyle TOGETHER depending on what we are making/how employed we are. It’s not that one of us will necessarily pay for everything, but we are a team and if one of us is financially stressed, we take it on as a team and maybe make it easier by changing how much we are spending together. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like these two have a financial plan for the future where they work together to achieve their goals. Maybe that works for them, but it would be hard for me to have a partner who wanted to live a totally different kind of lifestyle from mine, and not collaborate.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

What’s tricky here for me is how the writer’s disdain for traditional employment intersects with the fact that his fiancée’s traditional employment underwrites his freelance life, since each of them puts in proportionally to what they earn. He’s happy because he has enough, but would he have enough if she weren’t in the picture?

I also think it’s interesting how the writer characterizes different kinds of expenses. The fun stuff (new car, traveling, fancy groceries and dog food) is for “us,” although presumably they’re only possible because of her income. But then he refers to his meager lifestyle as his, singularly. Then there are “her bills” and “his savings.” It’s all compartmentalized in a funny way.

I did enjoy reading this piece, though. It’s always SO INTERESTING to read about how other couples do money.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@beastlyburden I think the characterization and compartmentalization of these expenses is especially interesting in light of the tone shift over the course of the essay from “WE travel” to “She/We travel,” “WE drive a brand new Outback/ feed the dog top-shelf dog food” to “I freeze my tikka masala/ hoard restaurant napkins.”

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@Heather Funk@facebook Yeah, totally! I know we don’t know the full story, but the armchair psychologist in me can’t help but feel that the grammar is kinda telling.

milena (#3,288)

@beastlyburden ” He’s happy because he has enough, but would he have enough if she weren’t in the picture?”

Ding ding ding! He says he doesn’t have a car — is this because *she* has a car and they both benefit from using it? Yes! Also, when he says “she wonders how her bills are going to take up an entire paycheck” — they’re *his* bills too! He’s definitely living far beyond what his paycheck can afford him, and if she’s cool with it, great. But he’s trying really hard to avoid stating the reality of the situation.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@beastlyburden His disdain for 9-5 work is so severe and outsize that it’s funny to me. Dude, for sure, your theoretical tyrant bosses and coworkers are glad you stay at home and work alone.

LDW (#4,492)

@beastlyburden There is also a false binary in the thinking here. Work is either grinding and awful or it’s fulfilling but underpaid. Either the author really believes that, or he uses it to justify not thinking outside the box. In any case, it smacks of immaturity to me. Grownups brainstorm solutions that come the closest to being good for both people rather than shrug and go back to building fruit baskets.

@fo (#839)

@LDW ” Either the author really believes that, or he uses it to justify not thinking outside the box.”

Third alternative: He uses it to justify slacking off ‘for his art’. He can’t possibly contribute more to the household fisc becasue then he’d be a sellout.

I say this as someone who makes a *lot* less than his wife, but also has the soul-sucking “9to5″.

@milena @fo Yup. I am lucky that I finally make about the same as my husband after a period of freelancing and contracting… I was also hoarding restaurant napkins and freezing food and selling stuff on eBay to try to balance out my lower pay, but now that I make more I’m even more aware that it’s not enough to keep up the rent at our place or pay my student loans.

A Nonny Mouse (#6,293)

I’m getting kind of bored with the whole “I make less money and have more free time and do the dishes more why does s/he resent me waah!!?!” narrative. My fiancé makes about 2x what I do, but I work as much or more (guess what, 13 hour days in a “practically chosen” health/science field are not always super well compensated!) and I would be willing to bet that’s a more common setup than we see in the media.

On our part, we split expenses about 50/50 (he has some weird hangups about money/savings after a bad period of freelancing before we met, although I hope to bring him around to the percentage method if I don’t get a higher-paying position soon). Do I sometimes get mad when he’s like “oh I feel like buying *expensive unnecessary toy* for myself, I had a hard month at work, I deserve it” and I’m like “this candle I got was probably too expensive ):” or when I usually end up doing more of the housework because I’m the woman in the relationship? Sure! but I don’t turn it into some giant existential crisis about the value of life and our relative work.

garli (#4,150)

@A Nonny Mouse There’s also just the fact that even when you both work too much AND make comparable $$ some one still has to do the dishes and walk the dog or whatever chores are in your life.

We all have our own details re: who makes more and how many hours worked but it doesn’t even really matter. I fully believe that no (two person partnered) relationship can/should work if both people involved don’t feel like their life is easier/better because of their partner. Chores, money, emotional support, whatever makes up the calculations in the alchemy of your happiness – it doesn’t matter. If one of you feels like they’re not getting a good deal, maybe they aren’t.

A Nonny Mouse (#6,293)

@garli “if both people involved don’t feel like their life is easier/better because of their partner” Exactly. These sorts of articles seem to be asking “is my life easier/better *THAN* my partner’s?” which is absolutely the wrong question.

nell (#4,295)

@garli Exactly! I tend to think that the sort of tit-for-tat thing if “I make less money so I do more chores” and vice versa is a recipe for resentment/score-keeping by both parties. I guess it’s a bit different with one partner working from home, but still..

Lianne (#4,240)

@nell YES!!! My partner has chronic pain and it would be completely insane if we split every bit of contribution down 50/50. Being in my current relationship has really taught me that it’s not about how much you do vs how much they do. It is exactly what you said.. does this person and the things they do make my life better! Do I feel like I am in a partnership where we enrich each other’s lives? What makes that happen is about how things are done and with what intention, not whether everything is split equally.

faceifer (#3,162)

I was excited to read this article because I was expecting something completely different from it. My boyfriend and I, though the gap in our incomes is not nearly threefold, are in very different financial places. He dropped out of college to chase his dream career, makes more than I do, has no student loans, and recently purchased a house. I attended a prestigious/expensive university, went through my life savings and into credit card debt after losing my job a few years back, and have about 7 years to go on my student loans.

Our salaries are close enough that we split rent and bills 50/50 once he moved into my apartment, even when I was still paying off credit cards, and even though my loans eat a significant part of my take-home pay each month. Now that he is a homeowner and technically my landlord, money has taken on a whole new dynamic in our relationship. Trying to reconcile this new imbalance in our relationship has been hard on both of us for different reasons.

Anyway, I was expecting to read either something I could empathize with (as the less financially successful one trying to contribute to a more even ground), or something that could help me relate better to my boyfriend’s position of having the upper hand when it comes to money. This was neither of those things. Just couldn’t identify with his attitude that he’d rather live with her discomfort than sacrifice any of his own happiness to bring them more stability as a couple. Felt more like “When one person rides on another person’s earnings under the guise of a relationship”…

potatopotato (#5,255)

@faceifer: Your situation is interesting to me because I moved into my boyfriend’s apartment, but now I’m looking at buying a house (that we both live in, but it’ll be in just my name), and yet he makes more than I do. So I won’t have an upper hand with money so much as, the house will be mine and not his, so I’ll have *that* upper hand. It’s what we’re pretty sure we want to do, but I expect it’ll make money weirder for both of us.

milena (#3,288)

Obviously there’s more to this relationship than this piece lets on… but this is dripping with privilege/IDGAF to me.

If you’re in a relationship where someone far out-earns the other person, it really needs to feel like a partnership. He might be going through all the motions of a team player by taking care of the home, but she might feel like long term he has no game plan, and that’s what’s breaking this. I also think that choosing to go down this path indefinitely without any show of big ambition can stunt his growth as an adult in her eyes. Choosing to go to grad school and likely put himself into debt that his partner would likely help paying down, all while acknowledging that there are no jobs on the other side? So then what is the point of it? Another costly decision just to follow your passion?

I could accept significantly out-earning my partner for now, but it just raises soooo many long-term concerns. “Is he making any moves toward us being “equals”? Am I always going to be bankrolling his career choice? What would happen if I was suddenly out of a job? Is he only with me because I support him financially?” Not light thoughts!

It’s a lot of pressure to bear to be the primary breadwinner, and maybe taking care of the home doesn’t totally make up for it. Maybe you do need to get out and try to find another job. It’s highly unlikely that freelancing is the only way to make money at the “only” thing you’re good at. Nobody is good at literally only 1 thing. It’s just that you’re not trying at anything.

(Ugh so rough, but big boy pants on if you write on the Internet, right?)

faceifer (#3,162)

@milena You’d think there has to be more to the relationship…but he never mentions it. He only ever talks about her in terms of the money she brings home, and as a potential burden to his lifestyle because she might actually flat out say she wants him to plan for the future someday. That’s another thing that really bothered me about this piece. He makes it out to be more like a parent-child relationship than a romantic partnership. I have to wonder what makes the relationship so special to her beyond his housecleaning skills. I can appreciate that he concludes “we’re working on it”, but reading about HOW they’re working on it would’ve been a lot more interesting to me.

garli (#4,150)

@faceifer Well in all fairness he’s writing about his relationship for the billfold, which tends to make you view things in terms of money.

milena (#3,288)

@faceifer When I see relationships that appear soooooo dysfunctional, my only thought is, “he/she must be REALLY good in bed.”

But at this point, maybe a gigolo and a housemaid 1x/week is more cost effective?

Heather F G (#6,074)

@garli True, and a thought I had myself, but then again, there’s enough inner monologue from the author going here that there’s surely room for a sentence or two of backstory re: their relationship beyond how his partner earns her money and how she spends it. It doesn’t seem that deliberate or tailored here, except in a haphazard way. I could see how one could focus on details like the travel and the dog when writing for a money blog because of how telling it is about the couple’s financial situation, but not in light of all the emotional backtracking that goes on later in this particular essay.

faceifer (#3,162)

@garli True. But where this particular article was about money in the context of a relationship, I would’ve liked more of that context and how they work through the issue, rather than simply stating it’s an issue they tiptoe around.

@milena Hahaha also true.

garli (#4,150)

@faceifer @Heather Funk@facebook I know, I agree with both of you really I just feel bad for the author

Heather F G (#6,074)

@garli Me too! I’m kind of interested in seeing a follow-up piece, either from his girlfriend or him in light of the near-universal cold reception this piece got.

I mean, sometimes when I have an issue I’m working out, I will type up a long expository thing trying to sort it out, and often it’s jumbled and convoluted and backpedaling and shifting in perspective too, but even if it’s in my email’s Drafts folder I definitely never hit send.

lalaland (#437)

@Heather Funk@facebook Agreed, when I write something that is my opinion meant for an audience, whether it is on Twitter, Billfold forum or an email to a friend, I re-read and make sure I don’t sound like a jackass.

Not because you can please everyone, and nor is that my goal, but if nothing else, catching flaws in your own arguments makes it easier for you to sway other people to your views. Also, you don’t sound like a jackass, which is nice. :)

That said, I wonder what the author meant to sound like with this piece.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@lalaland Contemplative, sensitive, and deep, I’m sure, but there’s definitely a difference between assuming a contemplative tone and the actual act of contemplating… It’s a nuance that’s a little harder for the more narcissistic among us to grasp, I think.

nell (#4,295)

Sorry but the disdainful scare quotes around “pay the bills” was where I stopped caring about this. Interesting story but the disdain for work, and for people who *do* work to pay the bills and support their partners/families (hi!) left a bad taste in my mouth. Even if you’re not doing something altruistic like nursing, there’s something honest (and soul saving) about going off to work with the knowledge that there are people other than yourself who count on you.

notpollyanna (#2,841)

@nell The Toast recently covered a few articles about this dichotmoy of “do what you love” vs. “get them bills paid” in terms of employment. This article reminds me of it. How aware is the author of his privilege? Does he care?

http://the-toast.net/2014/03/31/read-bunch-unicorns/

the_kate (#6,298)

@notpollyanna I also thought of the Toast posting (toasting?). There is something very off-putting about the way he first describes the luxuries his fiancee’s salary allows them, derides *normal* jobs, then back tracks to explain how frugal he is. Regardless of the number of restaurant napkins the author saves, it seems that he benefits greatly from the income his fiancee brings in. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing what you love for a living or with contributing unequally to shared expenses (as long as everyone is in agreement in the situation). I do take issue with biting the hand that feeds you.

I was looking forward to reading an article that would describe the challenges of living on disparate incomes (a situation I am acutely familiar with) and offer some suggestions or personal anecdotes on dealing with such challenges. Instead, it felt like the author was taking pains to justify his career choice and lifestyle.

fleetweek (#5,503)

@nell I was looking forward to the same! I hope they have an article like that soon because I think it would really interesting.

faceifer (#3,162)

@the_kate @fleetweek Ditto!!

mcf (#5,031)

The author’s derision for people who work a job to make ends meet is so gross. What a delusional creep.

Also: “What good will it do to reassure her that even though I was at home in my sweatpants drinking coffee all day, I took out the trash, installed a lock for our bathroom door, and started building a fruit basket to hold our bananas?”

My eyes are rolling so, so hard.

EM (#1,012)

@TaffetaDarling Co-sign on the eyeroll. I have no idea how long it takes to “start building” a fruit basket, but taking out the trash and putting a lock on a door is like 15 minutes of your day.

viewfinder (#5,201)

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”

- Kahlil Gibran, (1883-1931) from The Prophet – “On Work”

To the OP’s credit, he recognizes that there is no work that he can do with love. So he prefers to sit at the gate…

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

FWIW, this is not my experience either as a freelancer or as a person in a relationship. But everyone is different, no two people are not on fire.

notpollyanna (#2,841)

I don’t think I would be on board with the author’s attitude toward money and the income inequality in his relationship based on this article. But this is only a glimpse. He seems to simultaneously scoff at conventional employment while acknowledging that doing so is rude to his partner. I’m moving in with my boyfriend soon, so we’ve started having the money-talks. He makes more than me and I think we are both open and laid-back enough about it that it won’t be a problem.

It doesn’t ultimately matter what I think about the author’s attitude toward shared finances with his partner who earns much more than he does; what matters is how she feels about it. If she really is okay with it, then it is okay.

Human Centipaul (#3,559)

Fascinating piece. I cannot empathize with the author’s curiously parasitic contentment, but I liked reading it.

Of course, now what I really want is to read her perspective.

shannowhamo (#845)

@Human Centipaul It just sounds like maybe she wants to be with someone who is more ambitious, all money aside. She’s not saying, it doesn’t seem “make more money!” but rather “be more ambitious and less obnoxious about not having a 9-5!”

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Human Centipaul “curiously parasitic contentment” A+

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@Human Centipaul Yeah, I was just wondering what her reaction would be if she read this. I mean, his name’s on it.

noodle (#6,296)

I’m not only offended by the writer’s attitude, but by his representation of all freelancers as one, incredibly entitled, lazy lot. Any good freelancer considers “freelancing” his business, and we work hard (Dare I say from 9-5?) to earn a good living . . . the same scoffed-upon kind that lets you be a food snob and buy that top-shelf dog food.

The truth is: if you’re getting paid a pittance to write a few hours of ODesk-assigned erotica per week, while your fiancée works hard to finance your life, you’re not freelancing, you’re freeloading.

NoReally (#45)

Next Month on the Billfold:

I am engaged to a person who works at home on his own schedule, but doesn’t make very much money. Not nearly as much as I do. I work really hard at a tough job, and we have a pretty nice lifestyle, but now that we’re getting married, and I’m thinking about children. Kid expenses would kibosh a lot of our nice extras like takeout and longer vacations, and it’s pretty much impossible for me to take any time off work, since I’m the one with the steady paying gig. Unfortunately I’m also the one with the uterus and breasts.

My partner is one of those people who thinks he’s got the system beat. He’s a writer. Spends a lot of time puttering around the house, doing that writerly procrastination thing. It’s great that he gets things done around the house, but it’s not like if he had to go to the office the garbage would never go out again. He doesn’t even try to assert that he does more than 50%.

When I talk about his trying to earn more money, he points out that we don’t really need as much as we have. He’s big on the virtue of frugality. But I’d infinitely prefer that he compromise his high ideals and earn more than 25% of the household budget.

Oh well. I haven’t married him yet.

theballgirl (#1,546)

This was.. interesting. I don’t begrudge anyone who bares their financial souls via the Billfold, but I can understand the criticism.

My husband makes 5x more than me. I work part time and care for our child the rest of the time. And I do almost all of the housework. Even though we’ve been in this situation for nearly a year, we’re still navigating the emotional challenges of both financial and child/house care inequity. It is VERY difficult to be honest, but through buttloads of communication, we’re figuring it out. If the authors fiance wants to have children someday AND stay home for a bit, well, I shudder at the thought of those conversations.

dotcommie (#662)

I do not understand how the one who writes erotica and copy for content farms has the moral high ground over the RN?? signed, a person with a moderately paying but fulfilling office job

startover (#6,306)

I’m not sure what the author thinks people with 9-5 jobs who are appropriately-compensated do all day, but there is plenty of work out there that requires creativity and there are even plenty of jobs that consist of writing most of the time. Having a full-time job doesn’t mean that you are simply wasting 40 hours a week and longing for the weekend. Ideally, you are building your skills and your career, while making enough money to support yourself and enjoy some treats. Writing marketing copy on a freelance basis doesn’t sound all that creatively fulfilling to me.

@fo (#839)

@startover “Writing marketing copy on a freelance basis doesn’t sound all that creatively fulfilling to me.”

He elides his real creative outlet–creatively explaining WTF he was doing all week, and making it sound productive.

I, too, would prefer to be employed about 1/4 time, while having household income greater than I thought necessary to live comfortably. I wouldn’t really want to rely on someone who wasn’t 1,000,000% on-board with that allocation of effort/work, however.

guenna77 (#856)

it sounds entitled because it is. it’s incredibly entitled to believe that you should never have to do any work that you don’t enjoy.

If he was being, for real, a full-time homemaker (as in, ALL the cleaning, ALL the laundry, ALL the cooking, shopping and repairs) then that would be a fair contribution to the household. but that level of investment takes more time than he indicates he spends on housework. i think that’s the key here. he doesn’t seem to have any kind of investment in life, other than to not do things he doesn’t like.

“I can’t settle for allowing 40 hours of my every week to be some black hole of time I don’t want to remember, that I can’t build on over the next week’s 40 hours of work toward something better and more significant.”

“We’ve had lots of talks about my future—more than about our future, maybe. I can sense and understand the disappointment when she asks me about what I’ll do after studying creative writing in grad school (if I get in) and I say I don’t know, that there’s too much competition for professorships to expect a job in academia.”

– if you are passionate about freelancing, why not do more freelancing work? no one ever said you had to limit yourself to 40 hours of paid work per week. and not knowing what you want to do with your creative writing degree makes it kind of pointless to have spent money you don’t have to get one- just an ego indulgence. jsut like it’s an ego indulgence to believe that your work is somehow more significant than other people’s because you limit yourself to things you like. i guarantee that the guy who picks up your trash is doing something WAY more significant than you with his 40 hours.

“As long as I’m not allowing myself to settle, to sacrifice what makes me happy to meet her in the middle, to understand what it is to be unhappy sometimes for the sake of a greater happiness, there will always be this distance between us, one we’re still figuring out and navigating together, at least.”

– if you are not and are never going to be willing to meet her in the middle then you aren’t navigating this ‘together’. a proportionate split of expenses is fair if one person would like to make more money but can’t. but it’s not really so fair when one person could make more money, but chooses not to because they just don’t feel like it. you don’t have an investment in a shared life; you should not be getting married.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@guenna77 So true.

I’ve been hanging around this article a lot the past couple of days because it hits so close to home–I work two jobs and am away from the house over 50 hours a week, and, as an academic in a transitory phase between dissertation and entering the workforce, my fiance works a great deal less than me and makes less, too.

BUT: he was working on his dissertation, the work he DOES do is not work he’d necessarily love to be doing, but he does want to contribute as much as he can toward the bills, he does not want this dynamic to go on forever and is always reminding me that this is all so he can provide for a family one day, and he spends much of his free time applying for jobs, networking, or doing unpaid work that is still good for his CV. He does much more of the housework than I do, including 75% of the laundry and cleaning, only leaving the cooking for me because I like it, raising the puppy–ACTUALLY raising her, walking her and training her and taking her to the dog park so she is well socialized even when he’d rather be at home working on a new project– and he has stepped in before and been the breadwinner, so I know he can and will. When I was laid off from the first job I got out of college, he covered all the rent and the bulk of our other expenses as I struggled to stay on top of debt when I thought a part time job would let me “free up” time to get together things for grad school, etc. and actually ended up looking a lot more like the writer above than my “househusband” ever did.

So I guess what I’m saying (and I don’t want to come off as a narcissist also! I know I’m going on and on about my own experience) is that I know what it feels like to have the relationship dynamic this guy thinks he has, but I don’t think he does have it because of the tone-deaf way he tries to justify this experience. If it worked, you wouldn’t need to justify it, you would just say that it worked.

I can tell you that the ideal of guy’s picture of a good working life is possible. But there are general components that this piece seems to show that the dynamic is lacking–actual communication, being solution-oriented over being justification-oriented, an understanding of the temporary nature of such an unsustainable dynamic… the signs of true INVESTMENT, like you said, as opposed to coasting through life on a tidal wave of “freedom.” To be honest, I get upset when I have to go stay with my parents so that someone will be home with the dog while I’m at work while my BF travels overseas to a conference where he was recognized, or when he stays out late with a potential connection, or when he has to travel several weekends in a row and we don’t get to go on a date. But in the long run these are all signs of ambition I know I should be thankful for.

Not to say I have the perfect relationship or fiance. I just can’t imagine how it would feel to be in the writer’s fiancee’s place, when it’s been hard enough in my own situation where a lot of times it seems like I’M the slacker looking for an excuse.

Eric18 (#4,486)

Sounds like she is the one settling, for you. And going to grad school for creative writing? I would think long and hard and weigh the costs of it before doing that. In many cases, what you get out of programs like that is not worth it.

idrathernot (#5,853)

People take jobs like teaching because they “CAN do it and it pays the bills.” What the actual fuck, way to denigrate an entire profession in which many people not only care about and are motivated by their work, but also continually research and hone their craft – just as you do as a writer – in order to be effective at what they do. Just because you have worked as a substitute teacher doesn’t mean everyone in the field of education is taking this kind of job because they can’t get anything better. Honestly such glaring ignorance/judgment detracts from your credibility.

mbl (#5,203)

As he said, it’s all good in theory but the reality appears to be different. It’s all well and good to disdain 9-5 work when you’re being subsidized by someone else.
Those questions that his fiancee is asking him about grad school and whether he has any desire to earn more are indications that she’s not comfortable with the current set up. She’s inadvertently creating this situation that I suspect in her mind is imbalanced. The longer she enables the author to pursue his dream of being a writer or whatever he’s hoping to do and most importantly not having to truly earn a living, the greater her resentment will become. It gets old after awhile.
She can clean and cook and shop and pay bills without him. People do it all the time. I think he’s in a for a rude awakening. If she dumps him, those jobs workin for the man are going to be looking a lot different.

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