The Financial Confessions: “I’m 30, Divorced, And Back At My Parents’ House”

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I’m writing this from the comfort and luxury of my new twin mattress, which was one of the few upgrades I treated myself to when moving back into my childhood bedroom, which is now a guest room. I like a particular brand of mattress that is expensive, but has proven to be the only thing that doesn’t leave me with a terrible back after a restless night’s sleep.

Somehow, having that fancy mattress that felt just like a smaller version of one in my old apartment is a huge comfort, and makes me feel less like I am what I am, which is a 30-year-old divorcée who is living at home with her parents. It sounds sad to say, because I am this person, but I’m not. It’s part of my sanity-maintenance to tell myself that this was the result of things out of my control. If you had met me a year ago, you never would have believed this would happen to me, and I’m definitely not the type of person to take advantage of her parents, or be lazy about paying her own rent. I’m ashamed to be where I am, and trying to get out of it as quickly as possible.

But first, some background:

By day, I work in administration at a very prestigious university in my beloved Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs here, went to the Northeast for college, came back for grad school and eventually took a job in the city pretty much right after my Master’s, at the school I work at to this day. It was at this job that I met my ex. He was visiting the school to give a presentation to professors on a kind of software that his firm developed for classroom use, and I was tasked with organizing his accommodations. (At the time, I was doing a lot of BS work, such as booking hotels for important speakers and getting yelled at when something was inevitably wrong.)

We fell in love quickly, and it was an absolutely intoxicating relationship. He was brilliant, tall, funny, handsome, wealthy, passionate about his work, and just older enough than me to feel “wise.” I found so much comfort in him, and looked up to him in a way that seems, now, unhealthy. But we were engaged by my 26th birthday, and married by my 27th. Because I earned drastically less than him, it seemed obvious that I would move into his apartment, which was more than large enough for two people, and had a perfect location. It was something I never could have afforded on my own, but he owned it, so I didn’t pay really anything. I took over some household bills to feel more like I was “pulling my weight,” but looking back, that probably didn’t amount to even a third of what I would have had to pay in rent.

As far as our other finances, he had a lot of accounts separate from me, and when it came to his properties and investments (including the apartment I lived in), my name wasn’t on anything. I had my piddly savings account, and the rest of my money I just sort of spent however I wanted, because I didn’t worry about ever having to pay for my own life. I looked at most of my money, outside of my few bills and a tiny bit of savings, as being “to live with,” so we went on lots of trips, ate great food, bought beautiful clothes, and I swiped, swiped, swiped my card without worrying about it.

As I neared 30, though, I started to feel a kind of prickle on the back of my net about not having any kind of nest egg for myself. I said to my ex, at one point, that if he died I would be totally fucked, and that that was really scary. He told me that he would start writing me into things, and would set up an account for me, but that didn’t materialize. It was one of those things that I could tell stressed him out, so I didn’t bring it up. But as other elements of our relationship started to deteriorate — fights over everything from “do we want kids” to “you like to watch dumb TV shows that give me a headache” — I worried that I might never see that money.

I hadn’t signed a prenup (it hadn’t even dawned on 26-year-old me), so I did something that I never thought I would have done: I consulted a lawyer. I asked about my rights, and what I should expect in terms of financial and legal setup so that, at the very least, assets like the apartment would transfer to me. When I told the lawyer the full extent of our financial situation, and how much more like a child I was in the relationship than an equal partner, he balked. He couldn’t believe how I was letting myself live, how unprotected I was, and how much control my husband had over our every decision.

The conversation empowered me to go talk to my ex, equal to equal, and try to change some things.

Suffice it to say, the conversation went horribly, and by the end of that night he was sleeping in a hotel somewhere I didn’t know, and I was sobbing while cradling a bottle of wine on our living room couch. He accused me of tons of things, but the overall jist was that I was a child who was perfectly happy to live off his dollar when things were going well, but that now that I sensed things might not work out, I was looking for the cash grab. This wasn’t true (at least in part because the reason things were terrible was largely because of these money imbalances), but it made me feel like shit nonetheless. I had lived off him for a long time, whether or not it was outright. And even though I did pay for some things, I realized that having that little bit of money that I contributed made me feel less dependent, like I wasn’t one of “those” housewives who just mooched, instead of having her own work and life.

(I know that this is a stupid and sexist point of view, but it’s one of the delusions I used to make myself feel less terrible about our otherwise-not-great setup.)

So, to make a very long and sad story short, we divorced. In order to make things go speedily and painlessly, he offered me a settlement in the form of a lump sum. I took it, and in the only truly positive financial decision I’ve ever made for myself, I used it to pay off the balance on my student loans. That meant that, aside from the chump change I had in my savings account, I was pretty much broke — and back to living with my sub-$50k salary, which meant I had some serious preparation to do if I wanted to live on my own. (I feel too old and chewed up to have roommates, honestly.)

So I moved in with my parents about 10 months ago, and here we are today. I am going to be 31 soon, which is going to be a bleak birthday in the context of all that’s happened in the past few years. But at least I’m free, building my financial future on my own terms, and at least I got out of that relationship relatively painlessly. Yes, I’m divorced, which is not something you want to put on a dating profile. But I also didn’t bring children into that mix, and I didn’t do anything that is truly irreversible. My ex and I are civil to one another, and I don’t feel like I have a ghost somewhere in Chicago who I could run into any minute and be destroyed by. I got out alright, and I know that.

So as I curl up in my childhood, twin-sized bed, in a room still full of guest soaps and doilies because my parents don’t expect me to stay long enough to transition it away from “guest room,” and I don’t either, I have a word of advice: Protect yourself. Protect yourself, because even in a situation where someone isn’t mean or abusive or out to get you, they will still prioritize their interests over your own. They will still take care of themselves first. That’s just human nature, and you can’t find yourself in a situation where you are utterly dependent on the whims of another person, and totally without options. Sometimes totally banal situations can result in you getting fucked, and “friendly separations” can result in you back at your parents’ house.

If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Even if all goes well, something could happen to your partner, and you’d be in the same situation. So always make sure you’ve got your own back, and are planning for your own future, because you could end up like me if you don’t. And I’m not even the worst of it, by far.

Image via Unsplash

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  • buckwheat

    I think the lawyer did you wrong if he advised you to talk to your husband about it so soon, particularly when things were going poorly. He should have advised you to prepare yourself for a possible divorce by saving up your salary for a few months before you had the talk. Also, this is such an odd story because you say you felt bad for living off him but you had a job and apparently didn’t save any of that money for yourself. If anything, I’m surprised you didn’t live more “off of him” and put yourself in a better position.

  • meep

    this should be required reading for all those women who post pieces like “i won’t date a guy unless he makes 6 figures” “my financial plan is marrying rich” “my boyfriend pays for everything and i’m okay with that.”

    even in my own life, i’ve seen this play out so many times and in the end, it’s always the low-contributing spouse that gets screwed out. a major financial inequity in your relationship will absolutely put you at risk if things don’t pan out because at the end of the day, your SO is going to put his interests first, and if that means keeping all his assets and keeping you out in the cold, that’s what he’ll do.

    • Agree about it being required reading. I read the piece on The Billfold yesterday about the importance of a “Fuck Off Fund” & while the author framed it as more of a way to prevent abuse & be able to walk away, it’s equally important in situations where there’s a power imbalance in terms of earnings. As the author says, everything was fine while things were good, but when things went south the money stuff became a huge deal.

      (Billfold article if anyone missed it: https://thebillfold.com/a-story-of-a-fuck-off-fund-648401263659#.dmifdsyv0)

      • Kendall

        The FOF article was amaaaazing. Was also thinking about that while reading this piece!

      • meep

        this is a great piece.

      • Summer

        Thanks for posting this! I’d never read the FoF article before and it was great. I commented a few days ago on another piece here in regards to savings always being structured as “be sure to have x amount of months of living expenses!” and how that can be a little discouraging when the bottom line is that having SOMETHING set aside is always better than nothing, and the FoF is a great example. Even if you only have a grand or two squirreled away for yourself, it’s something. The fancy hotel room sipping room service champagne may not be a wise use of the limited funds, but it’s cool to know that you technically COULD do that if you really wanted to.

        • Absolutely, and I never really know how those x months of expenses are supposed to be structured… Like, do I have 6 months of expenses sitting in a checking or savings account in cash? Nooooope. But do I have investment accounts I could tap into in an emergency? Definitely. Some would come with a penalty (like a retirement account) but to keep that much cash around is absurd when it could be making me more money. Having easy access to a smaller amount of money though, maybe one month’s salary, to get away in a second (the fancy hotel is tempting!) or cover a security deposit if I needed to move is another important goal to have.

  • Is it normal to keep separate bank accounts through out a marriage and have specific bills each person pays? Should that have been a red flag? I understand if two wealthy people who meet later in life who each have children, property, businesses or investments want to keep their finances separate, but even then I would think they’d a joint bank account for everyday things. If he did take care of her, then shouldn’t she have had a lot more saved up? it sounds like there were lots of issues about money from the start rather than just falling into a pattern where one person took care of the finances after a while.

    • It would have been a red flag for me. My husband and I make every decision together and we combined our money when we chose to move in together. If he had said no, it would have been a huge red flag. Now, I manage our accounts and make sure both of us are well taken care. In my opinion, the more financially sound one should be managing the money, but both parties have to be involved and know what’s going on.

      However, our relationship isn’t toxic. This sounds like it was a naive and controlling relationship from the very beginning.

  • alyjarrett

    This makes me so frustrated, because it seems like they are quite a few people, like this woman’s ex, who don’t trust their spouses with their finances. Why get married in the first place then? I agree that everyone should have a “Fuck Off Fund” for if things go south, and it’s healthy to have small separate accounts for things like surprise gifts, but hiding a ton of money? Not putting your name on assets? What a tool. The author is better off without him. It’s so important to discuss finances with a partner, because if he/she believes in “YOUR money vs. MY money” rather than “OUR money,” that’s a giant red flag.

    • meep

      i mean i see this two ways– like honestly, if both partners are financially independent and make the same amount of money, i can see why combining assets may not be a priority– our tax system penalizes couples who are both high earners, so in some cases it actually makes sense not to combine. but in cases like these where the wife clearly makes little-to-no money of her own, refusing to put her name on anything is a Huge Red Flag ™ that women should run from asap. it’s also why you need a pre-nup, looked over by a lawyer, no matter what sort of money you’re bringing into the relationship. shit happens and people make mean choices and it’s way better if that’s where you find yourself to have some sort of financial security to move forward with.

      • I mean I kinda understand why he might not put her name on the deed for a house he has the mortgage on or is wholly responsible for paying. I wouldn’t do that either just like I wouldn’t ask a spouse to put their name on my student loans. But I second you re the prenup

  • Michelle

    This is the best financial confession piece I have read so far, kudos to you for taking control of your life!

  • Wow, such great advice here for every one. You just never know what’s going to happen.

  • Winterlight

    I’m going to pass on something I saw recently that was written by a divorce lawyer over on Captain Awkward:

    I actually have a form letter that I have to send out to a client every few months or so with the gist of “Your ex is no longer your partner. S/he had a legal and ethical duty to watch our for your best interests before. That duty is now totally gone and clearly they are trying to screw you or at least just get the best deal for themselves. Stop trusting them with your emotions and money because it will eff you up financially and legally.”

  • Andrea Sease

    i dont get why you thought your name should be on things. did you buy them together? why was he supposed to set up an account with your name on it? you earned money and spent it all. he earned money and invested.

    • KB

      Um, can we talk about the “swiping” of credit cards for lavish trips, lifestyle, etc when you still had tons of student loan debt? Maybe that behavior contributed a little to why he wasn’t quick to share finances with you??

  • Sarah

    Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. I’m in a similar situation except i have no money, no car and no job. Pray for me. 😢💔

  • I’m so sorry this happened to you and it’s crazy that unequal incomes can cause such rife in a marriage. I can relate to what the husband might be feeling because I earn 95% of the money in my marriage and yeah, occasionally I do feel resentment. I stay up late googling ways to make more money and take high-paying jobs I don’t like whereas my husband sleeps like a baby because 1) he is not as interested in learning about money and 2) he knows that I will take care of it. At the same time, I love him with all of my heart and understand that we are different people and are motivated by different things. He is a much nicer, more loving person that I am, he takes care of myself, our apartment, our dog. It balances out. It seems like your husband couldn’t see the bigger picture in this situation.

  • KB

    Um, can we talk about the “swiping” of credit cards for lavish trips, lifestyle, etc when you still had tons of student loan debt? Maybe that behavior contributed a little to why he wasn’t quick to share finances with you?

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