Let me say up front that this story doesn’t end well, and my relationship failed because I couldn’t see the (now) clear warning signs that the man I loved was a financial train wreck. Nowadays, I’m much smarter and more discerning when it comes to figuring out whether or not the guy I’m dating is responsible with money. However, for me, it was a lesson I learned the hard way.
About a year and a half ago, I met a guy named Brandon* out at an open mic night in New York City. He was a guitarist, and one of several acts which played before the featured band of the night. To be completely honest, his voice sounded just OK, but it wasn’t his ~musical stylings~ that grabbed my attention. He was the furthest thing from the buttoned-up, cookie-cutter dudes I was used to at the accounting firm I worked at over in New Jersey. I had been working there since I graduated college five years ago, and I had slowly made my way up through the ranks to the respectable salary I always hoped for. Work was stressful as hell most of the time, but I knew the hard work would pay off in the end. My job, and the money I made there, made me feel secure, independent, and lucky to have a good chunk of money in my savings account.
The Brandon I met that night at the bar near a friend’s apartment reminded me of all the guys I dated (and lOvEd) in high school and college — the kind of guy who had a slight rebellious streak. I always dated guys who had a kind of “fuck it” attitude toward authority (but who weren’t truly Bad Guys) because it made me feel like I could tame them into living along a more straight and narrow path. (Ridiculously childish sounding, I know, but that’s what my therapist has explained to me since this all transpired.)
Brandon and I clicked right away. He caught my eye during the show and bought me a drink, and we got to talking. He explained that he was in between jobs but wasn’t worrying too much about it because it was giving him a chance to work on his music. It was something he always wanted to pursue with more vigor. Looking back on that very first conversation, I can see the warning signs that should have been a red flag, but weren’t. Long story short, we started dating shortly thereafter and began spending more and more time together. I slept over at his apartment in the city, which he split with a friend, and things were going great. He brought out a carefree side of me I hadn’t experienced before. He had a much more free spirit in the sense that he didn’t concern himself with things that were beyond his control and preferred to just ~live~. Unfortunately, I would later find out that money was one of those things he considered to be above his concern. He figured things would simply work out.
Fast-forward a year later, and we were living together at his place in the city. His roommate had left, and I took his spot. I still had my job out in New Jersey, and I was doing the reverse commute because I wasn’t having any luck with job applications in NYC. At this point, I was covering all of the rent, which didn’t strike me as unfair because Brandon was picking up the tab for nearly everything else: food, bills, cable, etc. I later found out that he was, in fact, borrowing money to cover all these expenses (and lying about it), which infuriated me. It was a particularly rough patch we got through. Over the next six months, there were little financial habits that registered with me, but I failed to add them all up to the bigger picture of how bad he actually was.
Eventually, he finally got a job offer at a video and sound editing company out in Seattle. We went back and forth for a long time as to whether or not I would join him. We fought because there was a part of me who thought he wasn’t committed to me and was financially irresponsible — I wanted proof that he was serious. He produced a small diamond ring a week later and vowed to “make life an adventure, together.” Yes, a part of me is dying inside as I type this, but back then it really did feel romantic and spontaneous. It felt good to let go and give myself permission to live more freely. I had spent a long time living by the book and feeling tense and stressed at work. I thought Brandon was the zest I needed in life to keep myself “fun.”
We spent a lot of money moving to Seattle, and by “we,” I mean me. He promised he would top up our shared savings account, which we opened when we got engaged, once he got his first couple paychecks from his new job. However, that promise never materialized. Once we got to Seattle, it all went downhill pretty quickly. His new job wasn’t what he thought it would be — Brandon didn’t click with his coworkers or the vibe of the new city. Meanwhile, my career took a serious detour because I was working several odd jobs, while I spent time applying to accounting firms. Everything back in NYC had happened so fast, and our move was ill-organized and ill-timed. We thought we would figure it out together, but he was selfish, difficult to communicate with, and childish. It became clearer to me that his free spirit and crappy attitude toward authority resulted from his inability to handle the demands of adulthood.
I felt like the Brandon I knew when we first met was the best version of himself, and throughout our relationship, he deteriorated into even more of a financial and emotional mess. Subconsciously, I think he knew I was there to clean up the mess and still believed he didn’t have to be accountable to anyone or anything. It was like he was having a mid-life crisis at a cool age of 29, and it was frightening. He was incapable of getting his shit back together and made bad decisions left, right, and center. There was a lot of unnecessary spending, drinking, and arguing.
I knew my relationship with my fiancé was finally over in the middle of the toast on New Years Eve of last year. Brandon and I had been back in NYC for about two weeks, and a few mutual friends of ours stood scattered around in our shithole of an apartment. It was a sublet we recently moved into as we planned our next move. There were cans of cheap beer scattered about because it was all we could afford to offer guests. Brandon was nowhere to be found, and the only inclination I had of his whereabouts was when a few of his friends sniggered and said he and two friends stumbled off to a nearby strip club to blow off steam. We had had a terrible fight that morning over credit card purchases he made with the joint card that we absolutely could not justify, especially after our expensive move back to the East Coast. As I looked around at what life had become since I met Brandon, I realized just how far away it was from anything I would ever have imagined for myself. A few years ago, when I made plans for my life as I approached 30, I was in a healthier place overall. Now, I was exhausted, broke, and tired of trying to make my partner see my point of view. I realized that I was searching for someone to provide zest and spontaneity to my life, but I mistook his rebellious streak for excitement. It was an all-out rejection of responsibility. I knew if I wanted to start off the new year on my own terms, Brandon had to go. He was like a weight dragging me down — not building me up.
When Brandon finally arrived home the next AM, I told him it was over. I sold my engagement ring to pay off lingering credit card debt that had accrued during our two-month stint in Seattle. I also used it to put down the first month’s rent in an apartment of my own. In some ways, I’ve come full circle from where I started when I first met Brandon. We went through a lot of shit together, and his destructive habits forced me to become wiser and stronger. Going through what I did taught me to be more self-sufficient, and confident in my ability to withstand change. I learned that life has to be a balance of letting go and controlling what you can, but doing it in a way that affords you the most potential for life moving forward, not restricting it by making damaging choices.
Below are some links that will help you identify whether or not your partner/spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is financially abusive.
- I’ll Take Care Of The Bills: The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse
- Financial Abuse: 6 Signs And What You Can Do About It
- How To Tell If Your Spouse Is A Money Bully
*Names have been changed for this article
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