Beware of a man who feels threatened by your success, says Lucy Mangan.
Money talks. And sometimes it lets slip some potent little secrets. A new survey by the US Census Bureau has revealed that when women out-earn their male partners, the latter tend to exaggerate their salaries and the former minimise theirs.
What makes me suspect that this isn’t a phenomenon confined to our cousins across the pond is the fact that I am always being shocked by how… cagey… my friends and their boyfriends/partners/husbands are about the money that comes into their shared homes and funds their shared lives. Not, I feel I should point out, my closest friends. Not only are they all loud and proud about how much they earn to their beloveds – because those beloveds are, like most, supportive, lovely men, delighted every time their partners’ talents are rewarded infiscal or any other form – we all keep each other informed too.
We’re all freelance in similar fields and try to have each other’s backs as a kind of informal union. This shared knowledge has given me the confidence to push for a bigger fee many times, and I encourage you all to do the same in any similar situation with any group of friends you trust enough.
But the friends a little further out comprise women who don’t admit to payrises (either so their other half doesn’t feel bad, or because they want to keep some money for themselves but don’t think they have the right to withhold anything from their partner or family); women who don’t ask how much their partners’ bonuses were or what he’s done with it; strange, asymmetric relationships in outgoings – she pays for all daily, weekly, monthly expenses, perhaps, while it’s understood he will pay for ‘big stuff’ – that somehow always seems to leave her out of pocket and him with enough to put away in a pension or to fund some ‘vital’ hobby. And that’s long before we get into the unquestionably murky waters of people who assure you that it is ‘better’ if you keep your name off the rent book, lease, deeds, ISA or holiday account, or aren’t named as an insurance beneficiary, and so deviously on.
Money talks because it is a proxy for so much in a relationship. It can reflect, as the US Census stats suggest, uncomfortable power relations, with men still feeling threatened when they don’t – or aren’t seen to – fulfil the traditional role of male breadwinner. And of power and independence still being construed by both sexes as unfeminine and embarrassing.
To get an accurate summary of the deep state of your relationship, you need only look to your collective finances. How transparent you are about them with each other is a marker of how much or how little you trust each other. His attitude to your earning power, income and savings can tell you a lot about how he really views equality, how much he truly wants the best for you, how controlling he can be, and how bound up his sense of worth is in the often-toxic markers of stereotypical masculinity. These are all very useful things to know.
Then you can choose whether you want to work on them or access the running away fund you in turn have been keeping from him and disappear off into the night… Of course, you also need to stay alert for the partner who is only too happy for you to out-earn him and to sit on his arse on the sofa you pay for, watching Netflix you pay for, in the house you pay for, awaiting your next food drop.
But they’re easier to spot. It’s the hidden costs you pay that you need to look out for – to save yourselves.