On the day my partner and I got married, I didn’t promise him much. Life is long. Uncertainty is its only certainty.
For poorer? In sickness? Forsaking all others? Until death?
I have questions. Why are we poor? Are we poor because capitalism sucks and robots took our jobs? Or poor because one of us hid a gambling addiction, and poured our life savings down a slot machine somewhere in Hollywood, Florida? Because those are pretty different things!
What sickness? All others? Because if I get a neurodegenerative disease, and I lose every memory of you, but you stay by my side, and the kind nurse (who has been with a long string of undeserving guys and who’s super pretty but doesn’t know she’s pretty) leans over to check my vitals, and compliments you on your unfaltering loyalty to me, and then your eyes meet, I do want you to kiss her. Details from my upcoming self-published romance novel to follow.
When comes the death? Who dies first? How different will we be? What kind of world will we live in? What will it cost me to keep these promises?
Obviously there is a pleasant future we’re aiming for where none of these mundane trials become marriage-ending events. But I am a realist. Life can change people, sometimes beyond recognition. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. So I would never promise to stay married to someone no matter what. And I would never expect a pledge from a partner that I myself am unwilling to give.
In the end, what we promised each other was this: “I will always enable your happiness.”
If we were happy together: mazel tov. If we were happy apart: so it goes.
That was a promise I knew I could keep. And it was the only one I wanted in return.
But I did make one other promise that day, this time to his parents. I took them by their shoulders, looked them square in the eyes, and gave them this pledge:
“I will take care of your son. You never need to worry about him ever again.”
Mr. Kitty at $20,000
When we met, Mr. Kitty was an actor. He made about $20,000 every year; he had no health insurance; and nothing by way of retirement or savings. I didn’t need his parents to tell me that they fretted about their son’s long-term financial stability. He is the middle of three sons, all of whom studied the arts in school. Of course they worried about him. They worried about all of them.
But now their tender, idealistic, conciliatory INFP son was safely delivered into the hands of a savagely ambitious ENTJ. The division of labor in our household was clear. He would love me by giving me patience and kindness. I would love him by giving him confidence and direction.
Oh! And money. Lots and lots of money.
We’ve talked about which personality types tend to make the most and the least money. My personality is statistically the former. Mr. Kitty’s is the latter.
I love making money. And I’m good at it. In our partnership up to that point, making money was My Thing. By the time we got married, I was making 2.5 times the money he was, in a career with much more growth potential. I’d paid off my student loans early and weaseled him onto my insurance. (Thanks, bigots, for opposing gay marriage and creating that convenient domestic partnership loophole. You facilitated our sinful cohabitation splendidly!)
But I didn’t just make the money for him—I showed him exactly how I did it. I let him into my sundry schemes, stratagems, pivots, ploys, plots, gambits, maneuvers, deflections, and contingencies. (Relevant article incoming.) I showed him the ways that confidence could inspire others to take a chance and bet on me.
We cross-trained in each other’s strengths. And we began to grow.
Mr. Kitty at $0
Six months into our marriage, I finally surpassed a $75,000 individual income. That’s the first time we had a Big Talk about our financial future.
(Why is that number significant? It’s the Mo Money Less Problems Axiom. Research shows that money does buy happiness, but only up to this $75,000 point. After that, additional income’s ability to improve quality of life flattens out—the Mo Money Mo Problems Inversion.)
We made a list of what we wanted to do in our lives. “What would you regret not doing on your deathbed” was, I think, the morbid-ass way I put it.
The first thing my husband put on that list was “make a video game.” This surprised me not at all.
There were other things: countries to visit, things to learn. But I noted that nothing on his list had anything to do with acting.
“If I made enough money to support both of us,” I ventured, “would you quit your job, change careers, and make video games instead?”
It was a surprisingly hard question for him to answer. Perfect opportunities aren’t often handed to us, like a ripe peach in the leather-gloved hand of Jareth the Goblin King.
“I don’t want to take advantage of you,” he said.
“I don’t want you to die with your music still inside of you,” I countered.
We struck an agreement. We saved toward a house; I continued to grow my income; and finally, it was time. Mr. Kitty winded down at his old job and began to teach himself how to program.
Mr. Kitty at $60,000
For about a year, Mr. Kitty was a full-time student. He made a few apps—simple things, like a shared grocery list that we could each edit. He learned by doing. It was pretty incredible to watch.
But when he had the skills to finally start a big project, his progress was glacial. Given a list of things to do, he kept gravitating to nonessential things, and letting them expand to consume his day.
“What’d you do today?” I remember asking him once.
He paused. “What did I do today…?” We looked at each other, and I think the moment chilled both of us.
Not too long after this, he decided to reenter the workforce.
Part of that decision was practical. Programming skills aside, processes and general best practices were a known-unknown. “I wanted to learn how a team worked, so that I could understand how I was a team,” he explained. “Who am I missing, and how do I make that okay?” He wanted more teachers, mentors, and creative professionals he could turn to for feedback, problem-solving, and inspiration.
Part of the decision was more ephemeral. “When it’s hard to find intrinsic motivation, it’s helpful to follow the rhythms of extrinsic motivation by going to work,” he said.
He also felt guilty. Making neither fast progress toward his goals nor contributing to the household was a strain. Providing is a very gendered expectation. He wanted to help me because I deserved help, but also because there’s much more social pressure on men who choose to stay at home. (A great example of how sexism damages all genders—and a topic I definitely plan to write more about in the future.)
He started interviewing for jobs. It took a long time for him to find a startup that was willing to take a chance on him: he had the skills, but not the resume. The pay, relative to the role in an expensive major American city, was pretty bad.
But it was still three times what he was making when we first met.
Mr. Kitty at $160,000
After a year at the startup, he began looking elsewhere. It was pretty much part of the plan that he wouldn’t stay. He was the only married man on the team. His coworkers liked to casually schedule team meetings for 7 p.m. on a weeknight because they were all recent-grad night owls who hadn’t discovered self care or boundaries. It wasn’t a long-term fit.
Now that he had relevant experience on his resume, recruiters had an easier time discovering and selling him.
But he still had a really rough time of it. One company spent more than a dozen hours interviewing and testing him, only to pull out at the last minute. “Your answers were right,” the recruiter explained, “but they didn’t think you said them confidently enough.” That’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re self-taught. You have the right skills now—but you’re still the wrong kind of person!
But he persevered, and eventually, he was offered a new role.
A company working on digital medical aids (for people with the same disease Mr. Kitty’s father has) wanted him to help them. And they wanted to give him $160,000 a year for it.
He’s been at this new job for a few months. He loves it. And he’s made more progress on his personal game while employed versus not-employed.
“Seeing other people doing it helped me get started. Like, ‘Oh! There are some tricks I can learn—but there is no manual.’ So I should just start pushing buttons and see what happens.”
In eighteen months, my partner went from making nothing to making more money than we previously made combined.
And let me tell you, that’s a pretty strange feeling.
Both of us at $260,000
Alright, alright, that’s enough about him. What about meeeeeeee? I have a lot of feelings on this subject. Most of them are only semiprocessed.
I’m so fucking proud of him.
It goes without saying, even though I just said it.
They say that women are better at negotiating if they imagine they are negotiating on behalf of a loved one. I use this trick religiously, and Mr. Kitty has always been the person living behind my demands for more. I’ve always thought of him as smarter, more shrewd, more hardworking, and more capable than anyone has given him credit for. I’ve always wanted him to get the recognition and validation he deserves.
He put himself out there, accepting rejection after rejection gracefully. (This, by the way, is an actor skill—one of many he’s carried through into his new career.) He persevered without sulking or souring or turning the negativity inward. I couldn’t have done the same.
My husband isn’t naturally confident. Though highly skilled, he is perpetually humble and a very poor salesman of himself. He didn’t know the right language to use to sound credible, or the right arguments to use to ask for more.
Thankfully those crucial skills were all in my wheelhouse!
Teamwork made the dream work. And it didn’t matter that we were married—it mattered that we were friends who weren’t exactly like each other. I do the same thing for so many other people. If you printed out my text history with all of my friends, it could be published without edits as a six-column treatise called Sending Your Boss to Hell: Instructions, Directions, and Helpful Diagrams.
Even my friends (like Piggy!) who are extremely experienced and capable still seek out my advice. It makes me feel like I’m using my god-given skills to help people. That’s a rare and special feeling.
At the same time, making money was something I brought to the table in my relationship. Sure, I’m a disgusting troll who stained our brand new pillowcases with acne medication I knew I should’ve washed off before bed… but at least I’m Midas!
There’s a certain level of power and psychological safety inherent in having skills your partner doesn’t. I’m not sure I was aware of that until I lost it.
If I were garbage, I’d probably cope with this sudden power change by undercutting his success, reminding him how much of it he owes to me. Or maybe I’d let his success tank my self-esteem, then blame him for my sadness. Thankfully I’m not garbage—at least not in those ways. Guys, they were brand new pillowcases.
But it’s a good lesson to learn. Sometimes the earner gets laid off. Sometimes the physically strong one gets sick. As I said at the top, life is full of reversals. This is a happy one, though it still unsettles me.
If you’d told me at my wedding four years ago that Mr. Kitty would be making six figures, I would’ve known that you were The Thing as surely as if your blood leapt away from a heated wire.
If you told me that our household income would be a quarter million dollars in a few years, I would’ve naturally assumed you were Black Phillip, trying to ply me with riches and/or the taste of butter.
Like. LIKE. What? Lol okay. Sure.
A few days ago, Mr. Kitty brought home some leftover birthday cupcakes from work. “I didn’t have any tupperware on me, so I wrapped them in napkins and put them in my computer bag.” Um, do I need to tell you what they looked like when he unpacked them? They were squashed to high hell, with frosting smeared onto napkin, crumbs everywhere. I regret to report they were not even good: kinda dry and not as flavorful as they could’ve been.
YES, WE STILL ATE THEM. No matter how much money we make, we will still crunch our way through day-old bread and attack free food like ravening wolves. It’s really hard to train yourself out of a scarcity mindset.
With this development, it’s hard to imagine that money troubles will ever darken our skies again.
We’re throwing this windfall income into our mortgage. We should be paid off within two years. A day is coming when we won’t have to pay anyone just to have a house over our heads. (Don’t @ me ‘bout property taxes, libertarians.) And that will completely transform our lives.
Among millennials, I’m in the top 3% of earners. Mr. Kitty is in the top 1%.
The math really couldn’t be clearer that we’re among the most fortunate people alive.
Okay, okay, we’re not really what people think of when they say “the one percent.” Our money is not Jeff Bezos money. As of publication, nobody has petitioned me to singlehandedly fix Flint’s water crisis. (The comments section is open!)
But suddenly we can comfortably afford a yearly vacation. We can travel. We can own our home outright on a schedule that works for us. There’s no normal-person hobby that’s too expensive to pursue. (Like, no to classic car collecting, yes to basically everything else.)
If we wanted to, we could afford labor-saving, life-improving luxuries like a house cleaner, or a laundry service, or a lawn mower, or meal deliveries. We have the choice to prioritize our labor, and opt-in or out of many of the day-to-day tasks that bind human beings.
If we wanted one, we could afford a child.
I can tip 25% on everything and it feels fucking awesome. I don’t have to sweat when someone asks me to throw $10 towards their lovely charitable endeavor.
The amount of energy I spend worrying that an unforeseen diagnosis or disaster will ruin my family has ticked down to 0.002%.
And I’m so fucking mad because this is probably exactly what middle class life in America is supposed to feel like. The gap between rich and poor has grown terrifyingly vast. My partner and I shouldn’t be in the single-digit percent. We should be like, I don’t know—the low thirties??
I’m not enough of an idealist to think I will live to see a society where everyone can afford everything they want. But “phew, medical bills probably can’t bankrupt me now!” is a bar so low that even Hermes cannot limbo under it.
According to all those episodes of Mad Men I watched, there was a time when a single working income could bring home enough to afford a nice house, two cars, two kids, a wife’s cigarette and/or diet pill habit, seven martinis a day, six pot roasts a week, and the odd Hawaiian vacation. How do we get back to that??
I mean, not all of that—honestly, just the robust compensation packages and flattering dress silhouettes.
Me: i hate systemic inequality, and i need someone to blame for it
Doctor: why don’t you try blaming the 1%
Me: BUT DOCTOR I AM PAGLIACHI
My biggest fear in sharing this information is that I will turn off our readers. Specifically, our poorest readers.
To clarify: the people we write this blog for are the people who need help the most. People who don’t have stable, smart, honest big sisses outside of the internet. We get messages from people who are young, vulnerable, and alone, stuck in really difficult situations. Their problems break our hearts, and their progress updates make us Snoopy Dance.
If I ever start writing about how hard it is to get the caviar off the top shelf at Whole Foods, I charge you all to distribute torches and pitch forks quickly and equitably.
But, hey. I wanna be honest too.
I’m rich af, and I’m still figuring that shit out.
My #1 most hated piece of financial advice… the advice that makes me want to eat my own ears clean off the sides of my head… is this skanky, moldy chestnut: “If I can do it, anyone can!”
I not only disagree—I’ve dedicated significant time to dismantling and refuting it.
What my partner’s journey has shown me is that love changes the odds. (Oh, did you think that was corny? Strap in, weak sauce, It’s gonna get worse.)
Not romantic love, not waifu love, but the mutual respect and admiration shared between people who aren’t like each other at all. The altruistic love that inspires us to have another person’s back, and be kind and generous, without expectation of immediate in-kind returns.
What Mr. Kitty gives to me, I cannot give back to him. Something deep inside of him puts out love and patience like a flame puts out heat. He works tirelessly, listens closely, and anticipates my needs with the swiftness and invisibility of a Buckingham Palace butler. He radiates like the sun. And I, like the moon, reflect back as best I can (which is to say, medium).
But I am very good at other things. Different things. Less like a noble prince, and more like a clever swamp hag. In my hands, a business email’s cc field is as explosive a potential weapon as any rocket launcher!
When we work together, and listen to each other’s stories, and lend each other complementary strengths, and share hard-won wisdom generously, we can compound the results of those individual efforts many times over. Working together, we are much greater than the sum of our individual parts.
Maybe you’re not great at every aspect of Being An Adult. Maybe you need help with money, or career stuff, or snarky step-by-step instructions on how to run a fucking dishwasher. That’s okay! That’s exactly why we’re here. What knowledge we have is yours.
By our powers combined, we can become something entirely new. We will grow stronger, surer, more successful, and more capable of navigating this uncertain world together.
What are the strengths that you share with the people you love? Please tell us about ‘em in the comments below! And a very special thank you to my partner, Mr. Kitty, who lets me write articles about his life and stayed up until 2 a.m. last night consoling me in my hour of need. (The hour they aired that last episode of Game of Thrones, hey-o! Topical humor! JK no spoilers.)