When I went to a Beyoncé concert last summer, I did as instructed when Bey asked all the independent women to throw their hands up at her. “Yeah!” I yelled, waving my arms along with 20,000 other (mostly) women to the popular power anthem, while Bey crooned on about buying her own shoes, rocks and watches. I felt gratified. I felt sassy. I felt single — and proud to be so.
I also felt like a fraud.
Because even though I’ve put in the hours to make my freelance career a well-oiled machine, there are times when I’ve caught myself thinking not-so-independently: Sometimes, when my morale — or bank account balance — drops, I do That Thing Modern Women Aren’t Supposed To Do: I fantasize about living on Easy Street with a partner who’d support me financially, changing my title from professional writer to professional gold digger, and trading in my MacBook for a chaise lounge with an ocean view.
These thoughts have bubbled up when I cruise Craigslist for apartment rentals and have to physically remove my jaw from the floor after viewing the asking price for a basic one bedroom in a not-particularly-posh neighborhood in New York. Or when I have to dilute the amount I spend on bridal and baby shower gifts because there’s no plus-one to kick in his share of registry expenses. Sick with the flu? I’ll have some soup, thank you, which I’ll meekly accept from a delivery driver, the hem of my bathrobe dragging on the floor as I retreat back to bed and curse the empty other half.
Or (and this is when the confessional stuff gets really real) I’m on a date with a wealthy guy, and I catch myself acting a certain way. Well-behaved, you might say. Pleasant. Especially if the date happens after a string of bad ones. It’s not that I don’t like to give each prospective partner equal-opportunity treatment, but when I found out a few months ago that a guy I met at a party had not one, but two cars — and a boat — I found myself flashing a smile when the conversation dulled and dutifully accepted a second date for dinner even when gut instinct told me there wasn’t anything more between us than a fleeting attraction.
Two hours before our second date, I was dressed to the nines and agonizing over whether I should cancel. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t a case of a skewered first-impression; it just wasn’t a good fit. And I was utterly guilty of letting a fantasy life — one which I am capable of providing myself — dictate my decision.
Dinner was a predictably awkward affair. Not even a copious amount of wine could mask our non-existent chemistry. I did it to myself, of course: My heart had already said no, but my head said, “Be practical! He’s got a good job,” which resulted in feeling insecure and desperate (and, um, neurotic) while picking over tapas. I compensated by pulling a rogue move, offering to split the bill to prove to myself that I was still a woman, independent. He declined, and seemed — surprise! — annoyed with my hot and cold behavior. If it’s not obvious already, our second date was our last.
Does even thinking about saddling up with a solvent man or enjoying the company of a guy with dough make me manipulative? I shudder at the thought. In the roughly decade and a half that I’ve been dating, I’ve never once chosen a guy for his money alone, no matter how lean times have been, or how many times I’ve been reminded that I’m not getting any younger. Razor-sharp wit and a shared love of Sedaris memoirs? Yes. A titanium black card and Bitcoin shares? No.
The heart, as I mentioned before, wants what it wants, and you just can’t fake that fluttery feeling in your stomach. At the same time, being acutely aware of a guy with a nice car (or anyone who dares to maintain a vehicle in the city, for that matter) doesn’t make me a gold digger: It makes me a woman who likes nice things — shoes, rocks and watches included.
Moments of insecurity can happen to the best of us. It doesn’t make me any less self-sufficient to crave stability when I’m on shaky ground. I did take those feelings as a cue for me to up my emergency fund contributions, though, and put any princess fantasies to rest.
It’s nice to be on the receiving end of a boyfriend’s generosity, sure; but nothing can replace the satisfaction of being able to say, “I bought it.” In cash. If Mr. Right turns out to be financially savvy? I’ll consider it a nice coincidence.
But “gold digger,” just like “Mr. Right” (and Cartier) is a label — a tired idea, at best, and perhaps one that’s ready to be put to pasture. If anything, the awareness of financial disparity between the sexes should serve as reminder that there’s still work to do, and to be frank, I’d rather be out in the trenches than sitting pretty on someone else’s dime.