Sunday, July 22, 2007

money troubles

Fuck me, it's already started. Today C. and I had our fourth fight about money in three days. It's mostly my fault and it's utterly predictable and I still can't seem to help myself. I'm such a raging cunt.

Thing is, I've been poor before. Back in college I used to dig through the sofa cushions for enough change to buy food and if I couldn't find it I'd steal something. I particularly liked stealing from the convenience stores on campus. I'd take the good shit, too -- killer sandwiches, organic juice, candy bars, danishes, coffee, flan -- and just stroll out the door with it. No one ever stopped me. I was invisible. Stealing gave me an angry kind of high, all puffed up on my own boldness and invincability, the stupidity and complacence of everybody else in the world, especially the other kids my age shopping and working at those stores, soft and groomed like over-bred dogs. I was so tough in my own mind in the those days. Little old Army of One.

Stealing made me feel poorer, and being poor made me feel weirdly privileged. Like it was OK for me to take advantage of other people, because they had it better than I did. Like if I was smart enough to take things, that was proof that I deserved to have them more than other people did. Bad, bad mojo. My karma is probably still in the red from the things I did in this phase of my life.

I also had a boyfriend/room-mate at this time who was fourteen years older than me and worked at the post office. He made twice the money I did as a graveyard-shift short order cook, but somehow he was always broke anyway. He rarely gave me a full month's rent, and sometimes he would wake me up in the morning to ask me for five dollars, ten dollars, like a fucking child, like I could just roll over in bed and pull the money out of my ass. I had actually started to hate him by the time we broke up. Sleeping with someone you hate is a rotten karmic practice also.

That was years ago. Still.

I knew this stuff would come up for me if I agreed to be the breadwinner while C. was in school, and it has. For the most part I've dealt with it OK. C. is a wonderful person and a supportive boyfriend, not a free-loader or a jackass or a deadbeat. And I'm not a dumb 19-year-old desperate enough for love and acceptance to buy it at inflationary rates. I'm much too clever and enlightened to let myself be so taken advantage of ever again, no way, never. This is what I tell myself. Meanwhile I look at all the other people tell themselves they'll never again make the mistakes they are at that exact moment engaged in making. And I think, holy crap.

I mean, we're not broke, C. and I. We just have to be careful. The day-job presently pays me an entry-level professional salary that would have seemed exorbinate to me back in my fry cook days, and if it's less than I was making a few months ago, well boo hoo. Most people can't make a grand in a weekend every time they feel like it. As long as I keep the mental abacus constantly running a tally of what we have and what we need and what we've spent, and don't get careless or indulgent, we're OK.

But the result of all this internal calculus is that we'll be at the grocery store and C. will ask me if we can get olives, and instead of just thinking it over and saying yes or no, I'll start to hyperventilate and wonder if he even really loves me. I freak out over ridiculous shit, and C. can't understand why, and thinks I'm a crazy woman, or maybe just a bitter cow being mean for the hell of it. But listen:

When I was small, I saw one of our barn cats taken down by a litter of her half-grown kittens. They were big enough to hunt, but they didn't feel like it and she still had milk in her tits, so they pinned her to the ground and sucked her dry. They did it every day, every time she walked across the yard, till she was skinny and her hair fell out. One day she disappeared. Probably she crawled under the barn and died, but I'd like to think she just said fuckit to the whole program and lit out on her own, and maybe she's retired in a condo somewhere in Florida.

I don't even know, man. I don't even know.


Brad K. said...


Terror is formidable. Change is painful.

And being broke is not about money, it is about helplessness. Money buys the ability to make reasonable, responsible choices. Losing that is a little like death, even if you believe the period of poverty to be short, or if you know when the poverty will end.

When you start feeling tense, anxious - scared - stop, take a calming breath (to help keep the adrenaline peak as low as possible), and start with "I am scared." Continue with "I am sorry." OK, I know that one will confuse any male, but still. After a few such conversations, any guy will get the message - just shut up and listen.

If C. is asking about olives, there are a couple of possibilities. One is that he has no self control. Which seems doubtful. Another possibility is that you are making all the decisions -- and not getting his buy-in. If you are going to take him to the store, you might want to go over the list with him at home, first. Explain why you put each item on the list. Listen to his comments, consider his inputs, and make some compromises. Explain how you are planning means, what purpose groceries have to fill over the course of a week or however often you usually shop. And maybe ask why he wants olives, and put your heads together, he might have a good idea.

Offering to pay for C.'s school is a gift from you. It shows respect for him. On the other hand, living poor must be done voluntarily. He needs to understand the strategies, the boundaries, the compromises. What would be sad, is if he hated the restrictions of living poor so much he couldn't appreciate the gift. Remember Ben Franklin and 'gratitude, an uncomfortable garment'.

Best of luck,

Brad K.
Ponca City, OK

lilla said...

i hate it when money makes you the ugliest version of yourself. and your fully aware whats happening but yo just cant seem to control yourself. i hope c. doesnt take things too personal because its never nice to be reliant on somebody either.

Grace said...

"It's never nice to be reliant on somebody either."

I have to keep reminding myself of this. I haven't been dependent on anybody since I left home, so I guess I always assume that having somebody pay for everything for you is a sweet life. But now that I think about it, I hated asking my parents for money. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that's why I left home in the first place.

Pamela said...

I don't know either, kiddo. I had a scary moment last night when I was with a perfectly nice person who was doing a perfectly normal thing, but suddenly in my mind I saw other people who'd done terrible things to me, and I totally snapped at him. Very disturbing. I apologized, kind of mortified. He was cool about it.

Funny thing is, he very well may be like the bad people I was thinking of. It's too early to tell. But I can't go around randomly punishing people who didn't do anything to me just because other people have. That's not who I want to be. That's my choice. (And, unfortunately, I'm not a mind reader.) So I'll have to pay the price sometimes. That's all there is to it.

But as a friend of mine said, if you take ten flying leaps, and even nine of them fail, it's still worth it for that one time when things finally go right.

As for being dependent on someone, yeah, it's more physically draining to be the provider, but more mentally draining to be provided for.* That's why dependence is generally not a good idea. Sometimes it's sensible or even unavoidable, though, in the service of greater independence in the future.

Hang on, you'll totally be fine.

*(I was going to say, "Being the guest is a lot more draining than being the host." And this is usually the case for me, because I tend to walk on eggshells when I'm in someone else's space. But at the moment I'm hosting an extremely grumpy, noisy, bitchy Frenchman who never knocks. Bleah.)

Susan said...

Oh hell, that's why I started stripping. Well, I intended to waitress, but you know, I was going out to get a job.

Money fights are the worst. Almost all of us have issues about money that are wrapped up with how we feel about affection and control and self-worth. Ick.

Grace said...

Thanks, peeps. Yeah, I think most people have issues with money. C., however, has none. When he has, he spends and when he doesn't, he doesn't, and other than that he doesn't give it any thought.

Sometimes it is hard for an inveterate worrier to make a peaceful home with a non-worrier. I keep thinking that if he just *understood* the situation, he would be freaking out too. When the truth is, he's just a dude who doesn't freak out much. Which is really a cool thing, when I'm in the frame of mind to appreciate it.

Laura® said...

Okay, I'm a bit new to your blog, so maybe I'm not fully in the know here to be expressing this opinion but my question is this: why can't C. get a part-time job? I mean, if you're paying his tuition, that'd be really the right thing to do. It doesn't have to be something mentally taxing; lots of students have part-time jobs at places like video stores and libraries where there's plenty of time to read textbooks, y'know? I've done it, and most of the people I went to school with have, too. So it's not like you'd be asking him to do something unreasonable, plus he wouldn't ever be begging you for money, keeping you both somewhat happier. No?

Grace said...

Well, you've hit a bit of a sore spot, Laura. When C. and I entered this agreement, he had a sweet part-time job as a printer for a photographer of male homoerotica. (That's m'boy.) His employer went digital over the winter though, stranding him without work. Since then the breadwinning has all been up to me.

However, the day after our fourth and most recent fight over money, with no prompting from me, C. went and got a job selling guitars.

I am pleased.

Anonymous said...

At the places you stole from you introduced hardships into the lives of the people you stole from.

Grace said...

Anonymous: I am sure this is true.

Anonymous said...

this one is easy my sister. I have been married and very happy for 21 years, and may I say one thing?

Never ever argue about money. Never. Its not important.

And never take a man to the grocery, you go or he goes or whatever but never ever ever go together my girl.

Its poison. Go alone. Or send him

He sounds like a wonderful amazing guy. A real keeper. Buy the olives.