Seeking Security

a family outingIn talking to a friend last night, I realized a few things about my personal and professional trajectory the past decade…

It was about a decade ago that John and I first had significant marriage problems.  At that point we’d been married for 7 years and as John was climbing the corporate ladder, he seemed increasingly frustrated with having married so young.  We had two small children at home and John was the breadwinner while I was a stay-at-home-Mom.  I was literally tied to our home given that John took our only car to work everyday and we didn’t live near anywhere that I could walk to to catch a bus or shop.  My entire world revolved around supporting him and caring for the kids.  So when things got a bit rocky with John, I was completely dependent and vulnerable.  I’d never had any jobs that paid much more than minimum wage.  I had a science degree but no lab experience to turn that degree into a marketable skill.  I had no savings of my own, no retirement money, nothing.

It was just about then that some things started to change in our family.   We had to buy a second car so I could drive the kids to school, which gave me a huge increase in autonomy.  I started taking classes at a local community college.  I began to think seriously about applying to graduate school.

While I can’t say for sure that my aims for advanced education were motivated by the fear that John and I would eventually split up, I think I can say that I knew I needed more security “just in case.”  I opened a Roth IRA and began depositing money into it each month.  I stopped thinking so much like Martha Stewart and took on Laurel Ulrich as my role model instead–thinking that even if it took me twice as long as anyone else to finish my graduate degree, at least I would have it eventually.  I began thinking far more pragmatically about money and my future.  Once I was in graduate school I began applying (perhaps rather ruthlessly) for as much funding as possible.  I wanted to ensure that I didn’t end up finishing my PhD with a significant amount of debt, knowing that that would only increase my dependence rather than decrease it.morning light, in my office

So maybe it’s no surprise that when I initially revealed to a friend that John was leaving me, one of the first things I said was how glad I was that I had a job!  It’s so empowering to know that I won’t be financially dependent on John for child support, health insurance, or alimony. For the first time ever, my income is larger than John’s.  I still feel quite vulnerable in today’s economy–and I know it won’t be easy to support the kids on my salary.  But I think I knew, perhaps even subconsciously, that I never wanted to be in that same awkward and dependent position again as I was when I first feared that we would split up.  It’s undoubtedly what’s kept me so aggressively focused on my educational and professional goals these past few years. 

A friend mentioned to me that when we feel powerless over the romantic aspect of our lives, we often try to take control of the financial part–because that’s one thing we can do when the rest is out of control.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  And I’m so glad that I did this so I’m not left in a financially vulnerable position now.

9 thoughts on “Seeking Security

  1. Chandelle

    I think I’m currently in the position that you were in ten years ago. I’ve just barely experienced some autonomy, since it’s easier for us to share a car now; before that I was, as you say, tied to the house. And in the past year I’ve realized how vulnerable I am, personally — if Jeremy ever leaves me or dies, I will have very few marketable skills. But as a couple we’ve also had to face the precarious position of being dependent on an income that isn’t helping us prepare for the future (as we’re barely above the poverty line) and which could evaporate at any moment (if the school breaks down).

    I have the same thought — even if takes another four years, or longer, for me to finish nursing school, I’ll have the skills and security to carry us through a serious crisis, to find a job if we have to move, and to survive if our relationship doesn’t.

    I can’t imagine how the bottom must fall out of the world of a woman who doesn’t have such security, who is dependent both in a marriage and out of it. More and more I believe no woman should put herself, or her children, in such a position — we need to plan for the hard times, including things we don’t really believe will happen to us, like divorce or death.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. FoxyJ

    About eight years ago my husband’s sister suddenly lost her husband in an accident. They had only been married four years and their daughter had just turned one. Thankfully they had minimized debt, bought life insurance, and had a bit of savings. She was able to stay in their home and she was able to work part-time while getting a master’s that made her employable (with such a young child part-time work was really the optimal option). My husband and I had just married when this happened and that was a big eye-opener to me of what could easily happen in a marriage. Since then we’ve gone through periods where I’ve been more vulnerable than him–it is hard to balance parenting, employment, and education. A few years ago we separated for a few months and it was scary because my resume was very sparse. After we decided to stay married I tried going to graduate school, but for a lot of reasons it just wasn’t the best choice at the time. For a while it felt like my decision to go back to school for more security was actually hurting my marriage. Right now I work as an adjunct and am generally happy in my job. I want to go back for another degree, but I’ve decided to do an MLS and to wait a few more years until my kids are older. Hopefully it’s a good choice. Anyways, now I’m rambling, but I think you made wise choices. It’s hard because the future really is unknown, but being vulnerable is a bad place to be.

  3. xJane

    I agree that it’s extremely important to be able to take care of oneself and I’m so glad that you are in a position to do so. When DH and I first started living together, he didn’t have a job but I did; later, we both had jobs; now, I’m in school and feel very vulnerable as I’m essentially living off him (and loans) and the fact that I don’t have a steady income is frightening to me.

  4. Corktree

    I think this is what made the 10 years post divorce WORSE for my mother rather than better. She was still so vulnerable financially and tied to my father for child support that she never got enough of. This made her more and more bitter toward him and it ate away at her. I’m glad you are in a much better position than that, and I hope it allows you to focus on the other aspects of moving on.

  5. Lena

    Jana…I read your blogs here and there and have always enjoyed your writing. What I admire most about good writers are their expressiveness…but you are equally open about your feelings-amazing! After reading this I felt a strong need to respond and agree: every woman should have financial security whether she is in a relationship or not. I learned this early in college before I started working, before I met my son’s father, before everything – my mom always said to always make sure you have your own savings separate from your boyfriend/husband. I never forget that lesson and am so glad I always kept some money separate that was/is my own.

    I’m glad you are secure, strong and have tons of support!!!

    Keep writing 😉

  6. deb

    I’m sorry Jana. I know how hard this is. I was single when I had my first child and I knew the father was not going to be able to pull it together to support us. I signed up for nursing when my son was only two weeks old and I’ve never regretted. All women need to be able to support themselves financially, although that’s only part of the equation. I stayed married for so long because my youngest daughter is handicapped and I couldn’t have cared for her on my own.

    Take care and sending a hug.

  7. gs

    I know this has nothing to do with the topic of the post, but the brightly sunlit photo is very stiking! Well done.

  8. anonymous for this

    Reading this post is invigorating and terrifying. I stay at home with two small children, I have a bachelors in something I don’t want to pursue anymore, and things are getting rocky with my husband. He is depressed and I have health problems that have rendered me overweight and tired. Similar to your marriage, my husband’s frustration stems from having married young, marrying at all, having children, and now being responsible for all of us, all in the name of Mormonism which he no longer believes in and resents for making him choose against his better judgment in pretty major ways. He knows that had he not grown up Mormon he would have not had children and possibly not gotten married. The resentment will have to be resolved for me to want to stay in this marriage. But being depressed takes precedence, so for now he is trying medication and hoping for a more rosy outlook and ability to overcome that resentment I described.

    My security is completely tied to whether or not I have his income. My younger child is almost 2, but requires extra care now and in the years to come due to health issues. If I didn’t love them so much I would fantasize about running off by myself to be alone and escape the possibility of being a single mom with young children. I feel sick to my stomach thinking about what I am going to do. It seems like only a matter of time before I get divorced. I have a bit of hope thinking that maybe he will feel differently when his brain chemistry is balanced, and that we can give therapy a thorough run. I alternate between wanting to cry and feeling steaming mad about the situation I find myself in. I have more drive than ever to get back to school as soon as possible though. Silver lining, I guess.

  9. stacer

    Haven’t been over to your blog or John’s in so long that I hadn’t realized until today that you guys were going through this. My sympathies–I haven’t been through it as an adult, but I have as a kid, and I know how rough it can be from that perspective.

    I especially resonate with your comment that if you can’t control your romantic life, you focus on your financial/career life. I’m single and probably will be my whole life. I can’t control whether a guy wants to go out with me, let alone marry me. I’m quite dedicated to being Mormon myself, but no matter how much I’d love to be orthodox, being single puts me outside the orthodox quite neatly. So I’ve gotten my master’s, focused on improving myself in my career, gotten out of debt. It’s something I can control, and it’s something that makes me happy. For the most part–still has its share of stress, too. Not the same as splitting after a long life together, obviously. But just wanted to say it resonated.

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