Disappearing Acts

I didn’t make more than my ex boyfriend. I have no idea what he made exactly, but I know how much the mortgage and maintenance on his condo is, and he had other expenses cable, cellie, student loans, etc. And when I did the math in my head, I couldn’t afford it. Not even close. This was not an issue.

Here was the issue: I made less, but I also had way less overhead. Without going into deep explanation, let me say any review of my filed taxes would not list me as anything close to ballin’, but because of the way I lived and was taught to manage my funds (and also, that I was bailed out on my student loans), I had a decent amount of disposable income and savings. This meant that if I felt the urge, I could buy a ticket to a foreign and sunny destination, lay on the beach for three to five days, and get a golden tan. It meant I could eat out when I felt like it and as often as you feel like it too. It meant I could drop on a purse. It meant I could get front row tickets (or at least first level) to a good concert. And it also meant I could do none of these things and stack so that I could do (in theory) Ibiza instead of the Caribbean, Mr. Chow’s instead of Ruby Foo’s, Louis instead of Dooney, and if I missed getting tickets to the show in my own city, well, I could just catch it somewhere else. This was the way I lived (and spent) before him.

With him, this was a problem. A man’s gotta feel like a man, whatever the hell that means. And part of this feeling like a man is the ability to provide the things he thinks his lady deserves whether he actually does it or not. And when a lady can do for herself on a level above what said man can do for her, well, at that point she’s pretty much fucked, isn’t she?

Call it the Disappearing Acts dilemma.

I found a clip here. But it won’t let me embed it. But if you can’t see the clip or haven’t seen the movie or read the book (much better than movie. In fact, it’s McMillian’s best book, IMHO), let me break down what happens:

Sanaa (Zora), a teacher, is a professional woman, with no kids, a steady income and some savings. Wesley, is an out of work contractor with two kids to support. He only just a little money left since he lost his job, but he takes the cash he does have, and buys tickets to the Earth, Wind & Fire concert because it’s his woman’s birthday. Since they’ve begun dating, his woman has been enjoying their time together within his means (ie, what he can afford is below her usual standard) and she’s been happy for the most part. But it’s her birthday, and well, she’s tired of settling for doing things his way. So she spends her own money to upgrade the tickets to front row. It’s where she’d be sitting if she’d bought them. The scene ends with Wesley loudly blurting “fuck you, Fuck your birthday” and leaving her standing by herself outside the concert hall.

I and everywoman I know with a decent disposable income can relate. There was the time in college, where I insisted on driving my car to the movies because it was freezing and my boyfriend’s car didn’t have heat (or a radio). We’d driven to his family’s house for Thanksgiving the weekend before and I’d shivered the whole way in my buttoned up coat. Fuck that “let a man be a man” ish. We needed to be warm. He flipped on me and my suggestion in the dorm elevator and needless to say, we didn’t go to the movies. I found myself in a similar dilemma again when I was just out of grad school and copped (or was comped) tickets to a New Year’s Eve celebration my boo at the time couldn’t afford. He retaliated by making lemonade at the table and telling me more or less that I wasn’t going to be shit. (Read here and here for that story.) There was the time Penelope, also used to life’s necessities (heat) and simple upgrades (music), was left struggling with her heavy bags when her man who made less told her something along the lines “you can do everything else for yourself, so you can do that too.” In the resulting tirade after that comment, he revealed that all she likes to do is go to fancy restaurants and other places he couldn’t afford. He was tired of her throwing her money in his face. She was baffled. She hadn’t asked him to go anywhere she didn’t frequent before him and never anything that she deemed “fancy.” Throwing her money in his face? Huh?

Now with each of these scenarios, there’s more to the story of course. There was a long list of the things that the women could do (more money might equal more problems but it also means more options) or places they could go (vacations, restaurants, parties) that left barely a dent in their budget, but would leave their man broke. These minor instances that ended in major arguments were just the last straw in breaking an already fragile male ego. And all of the dudes involved were otherwise nice guys who flipped and left their women baffled and publicly humiliated by their behavior (and why do these scenes always take place in public?) So they’re folks worth working with (I think), but how’s a girl supposed to manage and still do the things she likes?

Now I’m all for walks in parks and evenings spent on breezy rooftops. If there’s good conversation, I’m good hanging out with a man anywhere safe. I don’t judge a man’s worth to me on how much money he spends, moreso on the time he spends. But even then, every once in awhile I want to break up the routine of “just chilling” and do something that might not be totally free or cheap. And while inexpensive pina coladas at BBQs are fun outing, I prefer to go to Ideya or A. Bistro. I figure if we go to “his” places sometimes, and “mine” sometimes too, and if I offer to pick up the tab on occassion, all should be right with the world. But it always seems “my” sometimes becomes a big problem, even (and especially when) if I offer to pay (so his pockets won’t take the hit.)

My mother’s take: “cut your losses.”

I broke down a scenario to her where I wanted to offer to pay for something I wanted to do and could afford that he could not: concert tickets. He’s trying to get his money right. My money is right. And since I want to go to the show with him, and I can afford tickets, I want to buy them for us. She told me not to go with him, go with my girls instead. Then she laid out what lay ahead. “Men like to feel like the provider. And when they can’t provide, they don’t feel like a man. What’s gonna happen is you do it once, it sets a precedent. You’re going to get accustomed to spending for him to do what you like to do and while you might be fine with that, he’s going to feel kept, and he’s eventually going to go and get a woman who’s broke too and makes him feel like a man. And when you find out about it, you’re going to be devastated. Like I’ve been spending on this broke man so WE could do nicer things and he’s cheating with this broke chick because he feels like a man with her?”

That sounds so pessimistic, but I could totally see it happening (it has before.) Is Mom right? If we can put a man on the moon, there’s got to be a way to have a happy, stable (un-tantrum having) way to be in a relationship with a good man who works hard, but just hasn’t either learned to manage his money or doesn’t have a lot to begin with.

But what is that way?

—Amelda

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