This guest post from Maria is part of the new “reader stories” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others will be examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. This story very much reminds me of the book for unmarried couples I reviewed earlier this week.
This is a story about a relationship between two people and some money.
Boy meets girl. Boy moves in with girl. Household expenses are split and all seems well. Years pass. Boy wants to change cities for professional reasons. Girl wants to finish grad school. They make a deal: They'll move when the degree is finished.
Warning signs: She is paying a greater share as the years go by and her career advances. He doesn't take any concrete steps toward advancing his own career. He has sold his car ‘to save money' and relies on her to drop him at the train station for his job. He has no real friends and his ‘project partners' (in six years, there's only one finished project) all seem to be women. And then:
The degree is finished and true to the deal, she starts organizing a move. She researches new jobs cross-country. She rents a truck, makes hotel reservations, and arranges for a friend to drive the car in caravan with them. Oh, by the way, she'll pay the friend's airfare home. She puts down the money on an apartment. She lands a job, but he says he needs some time off work to get things going. They make a new deal: She'll cover the rent for a while so he can concentrate on jump-starting his career. Years pass. His career hasn't started. The subject comes up fairly often, but she hates to fight.
Warning signs: By the end of three years, not only is she paying all living expenses, she's giving him an allowance to cover his “career-building” expenses. He hasn't held a job since the move. His ‘project partners' still all seem to be women. He has built no social or professional network and does not participate in her social life. (This didn't bother her much when she was in grad school, but life is different now.) She doesn't really want to live alone, and she tells herself he isn't costing her much more than it would cost to live alone; but their relationship has become that of roommates. And then:
She takes up an activity she's passionate about. He isn't interested. She meets someone new and tells her roommate she wants to pursue the new relationship. He panics. He asks her to marry him. He argues. He threatens. He marches her into the bank and stands at her back while she takes cash advances on six credit cards, a total of $30,000. He deposits the money in his own account. She tells him that they can't continue to live together, and she can't afford to move because she doesn't have the money for a deposit. He won't move out. She starts spending most nights and weekends away.
Warning signs: The whole situation.
After months of misery, she is able to finally get him out by renting a truck, packing it with almost all their possessions, and driving it to his sister's home nearby. With the expenses of the move, her own living expenses, and the extortion debt, she is barely making ends meet. She has no savings and no assets. She talks things over with the new partner. They decide bankruptcy may be the best solution. She asks around and gets the name of a firm of attorneys.
The attorneys hear the story, go through all the paperwork, and agree that going after the ex in court would be both expensive and unlikely to result in restitution. A bankruptcy petition is prepared and filed, at a cost of a few hundred dollars. She has to appear in court. She feels like an idiot, a failure, a disappointment to herself. The judge hears a brief statement of her reasons for the petition, nods, signs off. That's all. Ten years later, the bankruptcy is off the credit report. Had she not filed, she would still be making payments on the debt.
This is a true story. I've heard similar stories from half a dozen women, and a couple of men, in my city. At least I never married him. At least I didn't have to smuggle my belongings to my office and store them under my desk until I had all the essentials together, and leave for a new state from the office, like one of my friends did. At least I wasn't that scared.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have either moved out immediately or had the bank call the police. But I didn't want to feel responsible if he hurt himself, I surely didn't want him to hurt anyone else, and his behavior was sufficiently frightening that I believed one of those outcomes was possible. So I bought him off.
What is the moral of this story?
Don't cover expenses for another able-bodied adult without a contract, and don't make financial deals that only favor one party.