For those of you who might think that PIC and I are rushing into things (we we just celebrated out one year anniversary this past weekend), fear not: pending final approval, we’re getting married under the care of Trenton Friends Meeting. This means (amongst other things) that we’re going through the Quaker version of pre-marital counseling, also known as a “clearness committee.”
(It also means that we’re going to have a totally fabulous, totally feminist wedding, and that all of our guests will be signing our marriage certificate, and that we’re writing our own vows, but more on all of that another time.)
A clearness committee is essentially a group of people (usually Quakers, but in our case we have a total of 6 people including 2 non-Quakers) who ask you a bunch of questions to help you discern whether or not you are “clear” about something—in our case, if we are truly ready to get married.
I also had a clearness committee when I decided to become Quaker 5 years ago. It was a bit nerve wracking but not nearly as nerve wracking as a clearness committee for marriage. It’s a lot easier to un-become Quaker, after all, than it is to un-become married to someone.
Anyway, our first meeting took place a few weeks ago at the home of our committee convener in NJ. Committee members aren’t allowed to offer advice or give suggestions, just to ask questions, and you don’t even have to answer the questions if you don’t want to, but PIC and I were still ridiculously nervous.
After the first hour, however, it became clear to us that there weren’t any major deal breakers between us: no skeletons in the closet, no outstanding debts, nothing we hadn’t already sussed out in terms of values, goals, lifestyle choices, kids, the religious upbringing of said kids, etc. There was one thing, though, that we hadn’t talked about: money.
Actually, that’s not quite true.
We have talked about money.
We just haven’t decided what to do about it yet.
A few months after PIC moved in, we opened a joint account for groceries and utilities. We also use that account for things like going out to eat or grabbing happy hour drinks (although occasionally one of us still “treats” the other person). Because I make a lot less than PIC and also consume a lot less (he eats more, has tendency to leave the lights on throughout the house, and is obsessed with air conditioning) we contribute to this account at a 40/60 rate, meaning I dump in $400 every month or so to his $600.
In addition, because I own the house and put about $20,000 into renovations (not to mention the down payment and all of my oh-so-lovely-sweat-equity) PIC also cuts me a rent check each month, which I then put towards the mortgage.
We had initially discussed splitting the mortgage payment in half but once I added up everything I had already spent, I realized this wasn’t actually fair to me. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair to him to keep paying every month without building equity, so we agreed to revisit the issue if/when we got married .
Well, now now that time has come, which means we need to have the next round of conversations about the house, who owns it, and how we’re going to split finances in the long run.
I very stupidly initiated this conversation in St. Maarten a few weeks after we got engaged. We had just returned from a booze cruise, and let me tell you: talking about finances after a steady diet of rum punch and Dorritos is not a good idea.
Also? A bit of background: PIC’s parents both worked outside of the home in rather traditional 9-5ish jobs. They have, as far as I know, separate bank accounts and always have. (At least PIC is under this impression; he may or may not be mistaken.)
My mother, by contrast, became a stay at home mom when my brother and I were born and neither of my parents has ever worked a traditional 9-5 job. They now have various business and various businesses accounts but they have, as far as I know, always shared everything.
When you try to bridge the gap between these two vastly different versions of what is “normal,” you need to be sober. And you need to be focused. Or else you’re going to find yourself in tears at a restaurant in the middle of an island feeling guilty for having order a shrimp pot pie that you’re never going to eat, wondering why the hell the man you’ve agreed to marry is mentioning the word “pre-nup.” (He was trying to make me feel better, but still: it’s not the sort of word you want to hear.)
Suffice it to say, we didn’t know what to tell our clearness committee when the money question came up.
And it’s not just because PIC is used to a different way of splitting finances than I am, it’s also because I like having a fall back plan. I liked knowing that I had enough money in my Barclay’s account tide me over for 3 months in London if I ever had to start over, and even when I had to drain that account to buy my house, I felt better knowing that it was going towards another security of sorts.
Because I don’t have a traditional, pension-earning job, I’ve always viewed my house as an investment in my future. But if I sign that future over to someone else, what happens if we split up? Would I have to buy PIC out in order to keep my own house?
I guess you’re not supposed to worry about these kinds of things when you’re getting married but I can’t help it: I’ve always worried about these sorts of things so not worrying just because I’m engaged would be out of character. Not worrying, in fact, would worry me.
But this doesn’t solve the problem. If we keep our separate accounts, and we keep the house in my name, we can both spend money on whatever we want without needing the other person’s approval but I’ll never have as much disposable income to spend. I know I’ll also eventually come to resent him for spending as much as he does on concert tickets and workout paraphernalia, especially once we have kids. Plus, I’ll continue to feel somehow less-than when he buys me expensive gifts (I got him something sweet and heartfelt but ultimately inexpensive for our anniversary; when he started hinting about getting me a new laptop, I felt like a failure at life and convinced him to go to Ten Thousand Villages and get me a pair of fair trade earrings instead.)
Lastly, this would put me in a position of having to ask the father of my children for money for things like new skis when their feet start to grow, or Little League registration fees, or dance lessons, or whatever. PIC has always been super generous (I wouldn’t have a new iPhone if it weren’t for him, or an iPad, and I certainly wouldn’t be eating as many non-pasta, non-tuna fish meals as I currently am) and I know he wouldn’t begrudge me/our children these things but still: it would put me in an awkward position.
On the flip side, we could go all in. I could add his name to the house. We could combine our accounts. We could talk about our personal needs and wants and financial goals and how much we’re comfortable spending on going out to dinner each month and somehow come to an agreement on all of this. We could agree on a set sum of money that each of us can spend on “fun” things without needing the other person’s approval, and we could adjust this sum when needed. We could have a realistic conversation about housework and cooking and who is doing what, instead of the half-assed “I-cook-you-do-dishes” agreement that’s ruled our lives thus far and we could figure out what is fair in terms of resource allocation, both time and money.
This will, of course, require a lot of flexibility (and creative thinking) on his part. And it will require me to get over my fear of not having a backup plan, to embrace the fact that my marriage will now be it… which is kind of scary. But also kind of good.
Suggestions in this case are much appreciated. Everything seems so much more complicated when you wait until your thirties to get married and you both own stuff…