As I clicked the "cancel direct debit" icon on my computer screen, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. As of this moment, I was no longer making any contributions to the joint bank account I share with my husband – the account which pays for our mortgage, our bills, our food and, basically, everything necessary.
Although I was alone in my living room, I glanced over my shoulder in case anyone had witnessed my fall from independent womanhood – as if my female friends, my mother or an apparition of Beyoncé were going to leap out from behind the sofa and scream at me, “What are you doing?”
In February, my husband, Kurt, and I agreed that I would take a temporary "financial break" from our relationship, after we relocated to a new city for three months so he could oversee a work project. Practically, our new geographic location didn’t have to affect my earning capacity – as a freelance writer, I can work from anywhere. But it coincided with a period in my career where I felt… stagnant. I no longer woke up feeling inspired and had fallen into a quantity-over-quality mindset, choosing assignments because they paid the most money, rather than creatively fulfilled me.
In the ebb and flow of a relationship, it’s natural – and even unavoidable – that at certain times one person may not contribute as much as the other, whether it’s due to maternity leave, redundancy or illness
At the age of 32, I felt professionally depleted. When Kurt suggested I take three months off work to “just enjoy myself”, it sounded insane to my inner-workaholic. So, we came up with a compromise: for the next three months, he would cover all of our expenses so that I could work on passion projects which paid less (or paid nothing at all).
This arrangement did not come naturally to me as a Gen Y go-getter conditioned to pity the housewives who came before me. Gold-digger, kept woman – the terms used to describe a financially reliant female are not flattering or fair. In most of my previous relationships, I have been the economically stronger partner – who paid the most rent and always handed over my card in a restaurant.
I’m not alone. According to a 2015 survey, almost one in five women are now the main household earner, and nearly 40 per cent of women in relationships keep their finances completely separate from their partner. But are we so determined to Beyoncé our bank accounts that we’re overlooking one truth? In the ebb and flow of a relationship, it’s natural – and even unavoidable – that, at certain times, one person may not contribute as much as the other, whether it’s due to maternity leave, redundancy or illness.
If one partner offers to pick up the slack, without a hint of resentment, should we say no just to prove we’re strong and capable? My own mother is currently struggling with the fact that, after retiring in her fifties, she is financially dependent on my father for the first time. She feels incredibly guilty, even though she paid their entire mortgage for five years when he was battling cancer and unable to work. Is it fair she feels this way?
I am very lucky that my financial hiatus is out of choice, not necessity. I am also grateful that I have personal savings, which I use for extracurricular expenses, like clothing or haircuts. But, halfway through the three-month experiment, I still cringe with guilt every time I hand over our joint bank card, even if it’s just £5 in a café.
Although I normally tell my girlfriends everything, until now I hadn’t confessed our economic arrangement. My ego doesn’t want anyone to think I am a failure who needs to be bailed out because I can’t get work. I’m still working eight hours a day. The different is I’m now picking projects that creatively inspire me – even if they pay peanuts. I feel proud of my work again because I take the time to complete projects thoroughly, instead of rushing through them to get to the next pay check.
I wouldn’t want to lean on my husband forever, but I’m grateful for the space and time this period has given me. I recently read a female author describe herself as "a sponsored spouse" because her husband supported her while she was writing her book. To me, this description is far more relatable than “kept woman”, which was traditionally used to describe a mistress supported by the man she is having an affair with.
I am not a money grabber. I am an ambitious woman in a mutually supportive relationship who is making the most of a generous offer which has given me the freedom to better myself, professionally and emotionally. Instead of feeling guilty, I’m determined to feel grateful instead – and I hope any other woman in my situation can do the same.