The Financial Confessions: “What It Feels Like When Your Boyfriend Can Afford A House, And You Can’t”
My boyfriend and I are buying a house. Wait, let me rephrase that: my boyfriend is buying a house.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over a year. Though we don’t officially live together — that is, I’m still paying rent for a room in a house where I rarely sleep — we’re ready to move into the next phase of our relationship: cohabitation. My boyfriend works as a software engineer, bringing in a six-figure salary, and I’m an editor for a small Christian publishing house, bringing in, well, let’s just say not as much as he does. I’ve never defined myself in terms of my paycheck, because I feel lucky to have the job that I do. I love my work; I had dreamed of being an editor, and now I am one! That’s enough of a coup without worrying about how much I’m bringing home every two weeks. Or so I thought, that is, until my boyfriend declared that 2016 would be the year that he buys a house.
Homeownership signals adulthood in ways that not even marriage and childbirth can. Ever since I was a naïve college student, I dreamed of the time when I would buy a house with my significant other. I never considered the possibility of buying a house as a single woman — not because I didn’t want to, but because I assumed that I couldn’t afford to on my editor’s salary. My situation wasn’t so different from that of my single friends — men and women alike, and in our late 20s and early 30s, very few of us had made the great leap into homeownership — at least not without the help from parents or grandparents for the down payment.
After my boyfriend made his bold claim, I realized that he was in a financial position to buy a house on his own, while I was not. I began to judge the financial choices I had made up to that point. And let’s be honest, I began to judge myself. My boyfriend eagerly included me in the house hunt, and we spent months agonizing over our city’s spiking real estate prices. But looking at the amount of money the lender approved him for only made me wonder what I would qualify for with my own salary.
After months of searching, my boyfriend finally found a house — a new build in a development near a local university. Looking at the plans, he called it “our house” and daydreamed about our future there. Even though I was elated at the possibility of finally living together in a place large enough to hold all our stuff, I couldn’t shake a sense of uneasiness. Even as I told friends and family that we had found a place, I quickly added that the house would be in my boyfriend’s name — and his name only. Yes, I helped pick out the hardwood and granite; I agonized over grout color and whether it would look good with the tile we chose. But I never for one second forgot that it wouldn’t be my house. My name wouldn’t be on the mortgage, at least not until we get married. And though I’ll be doing my share of helping with the mortgage and utilities, I don’t want others to grant me adult points, so to speak, for accomplishing something I can’t take credit for, because it’s something I can’t accomplish on my own at this stage in life.
I wrestled with this uneasiness for weeks. Was I upset that my boyfriend makes more than I do? No. He’s a hard worker, he loves his job, and he just happens to be in a profession that pays well. I couldn’t fault him for that. He isn’t the type of person to remind me of our financial disparity, and instead, I seemed to be the one always bringing it up. So what was the problem?
While sitting across the table from a good friend, I finally voiced my feelings that I had hidden behind salaries and mortgages. If my boyfriend could bring a large salary and a house to our relationship and all I could bring was myself, was that enough? Was I enough? All my doubts and uneasiness led back to my own insecurities and to my own struggles with self-worth.
With this realization under my belt, I was able to come to terms with where I stand in my relationship. Though I’m not currently able to offer large, tangible representations of my love for my boyfriend, I can offer my empathy, my humor, and my good taste in television shows. As my mother gently reminded me, if my boyfriend and I want to be together “for richer or for poorer,” that means that he may not always be the one with the high-paying job. Both of our job situations could change, and I could be bringing in more money in the future. Who knows? But finally telling myself that I’m enough is what will help me make it through all the difficult and wonderful times to come.
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