We were sitting in our tiny studio apartment discussing our plans for the next day when he popped the question.
"Why don't we just join accounts?" my boyfriend asked when I said I needed to open a bank account. I had recently moved to Australia with him and just started my first job there.
I froze. I focused on maintaining a neutral face, but inside I was screaming, "Absolutely not."
We were hardly a new relationship. We’d been together about a year and had been living together for 11 months. I was American, he was Australian, and we met in the U.K., where he was visiting family and I was studying abroad for one short semester. We had to decide very quickly whether we were willing to get serious, and we said yes, fast. Neither of us had hesitated to move in together — in Australia — after about a month of dating. I moved to the other side of the world to be with him, and he had agreed to return the favor when my Australian visa ran out. I knew I would marry him.
From the beginning of our relationship, we had shared money freely. We met while we were, like most twentysomething travelers, broke. If he had money one week, he would buy groceries. If I had a positive balance, then I would refill both of our Oyster cards so that we could ride the London Underground. There was no splitting the bill and no keeping track of expenditures. We simply shared. And yet the idea of sharing a bank account bathed me in panic.
"What if we break up?" I asked, grabbing the first logical concern that might explain my reaction.
"If we broke up, I would never leave you stranded," he said, his hurt feelings evident.
We ended the conversation, but there was a tension between us that money had never caused. The next day, I stewed while I was at work. I hated the idea of joining accounts, but even more, I hated the fact that I couldn't put my finger on why. I trusted him completely, and I had already sacrificed a lot more than my solo bank account in order to make our life together work.
Was it social pressure telling me that strong, independent women in the 21st century should maintain control over their own money? Part of me felt obligated to keep my own account because women had fought so long and hard for the right to financial independence. My grandmother and countless other women never would have had the option to do so.
And yet, hadn’t women just been fighting for the ability to choose what was best for them? What if joining accounts was the best decision for me? We already shared all our money, so having only one account to maintain would be simple. Plus it would look good on our immigration application when it was time to pursue permanent residency for my boyfriend in the United States, proving we were a real couple.
But I still hesitated.