When the company I was working for decided to restructure my department, I understood my time there was up. My fiancé, an entrepreneur who runs a successful small company, supported my decision to leave — without a new job lined up. He told me to take my time and wait until I landed on something that felt right.
Since his paycheck was already covering a significant portion of rent, and his credit card covered most of our meals out, I wasn’t exactly surprised by the encouragement. And yet, it made me nervous. What if two months went by, and then three, and then it became harder and harder to find work I felt passionate about?
I was still chipping away at a graduate school loan debt by myself, and I hated the idea of not saving any money, even if it was only temporary. More than that, though, this sudden and total financial dependence on my partner was a foreign notion, and it freaked me out. I’d prioritized contributing to my IRA over an emergency fund, so it would be only a few months before I’d be 100 percent financially reliant on my partner.
Did he truly understand what he’d be paying for? In addition to shouldering my portion of rent, he’d need to pay for all the little and big things in between — medical copays, birthday presents for my siblings, face wash, everything.
I wanted to take the advice of a friend who encouraged me to enjoy the time off and not rush into working right away. But I felt guilty, like I wasn’t being a contributing partner.
At the same time, I was facing a change in how I looked at my career. I wondered if I could find contentment in not having a corporate job with a clear path. If I ended up freelancing here and there but could at least contribute something to our shared income, perhaps I could get used to a different kind of career and contributing less. (Being a stay-at-home mom would be one thing, but since we’re not planning on becoming parents, I wasn’t sure I could justify letting him financially support me completely.)
When it came time to pay rent, he took care of it. Although I’d always done the lion’s share of the cooking and cleaning, now that I wasn’t working I felt that it wasn’t enough. I started cooking extravagant meals and running errands — anything to feel like I was pitching in my fair share.
But, over time, it became clear that contributing much less than I had been didn’t sit right with me. Being so dependent on my partner ate at me, and without meaning to, I projected every anxiety onto him. I hated feeling financially vulnerable and needy when I’d always prided myself on being self-sufficient.
I expressed my anxiety to him, and though I searched his face and analyzed his tone, I couldn’t find an ounce of stress. All I could think about was how freaked out I would be if I were burdened with supporting both of us. I wondered whether I would want the responsibility and whether I would resent him. How long until he started resenting me? I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
The moment it became crystal clear to me that I could not go on in this way, even if my partner could, coincided with a sudden craving to get back into the 9-to-5 world. My work-free days were flying by, but I felt bored and listless. I wanted to feel passionately about my work, and I wanted to be earning money.
I might never be an entrepreneur like my fiancé, and I might never make as much money as him. But I could do something. I wasn’t going to be happy tending to domestic duties while he paid for everything. Once I put my finger on it like that, I had a new fire driving my search. It wasn’t long before I got an offer I deserved and asked, “When can I start?”
It’s unlikely that I’ll ever bring home the bigger paycheck, but that’s not something that bothers me. I found a job that I unabashedly love, and I’m back to contributing to our shared expenses in a way that we both consider fair, based on our salaries. I’d like to think that, as my relationship strengthens, my anxieties about who’s paying for what will dissipate. But for now, bringing in money — via work that I love — is what I need.