It’s funny how life turns out sometimes. Take the case of my friend Kevin: about a half-year ago, he went in to see the dentist about his wisdom teeth, and as things progressed and more and more surgery did not relieve his pain and suffering, it became clear that he, in fact, had cancer. Now he’s on the mend from major surgery to graft new skin and bone into his jaw to replace the parts afflicted with cancer.
I’m probably not saying this well. It’s not funny at all. Very serious, in fact.
I’m just drawing attention to how we don’t really know where events and life is leading us, and what things will become more important later and what will just be a brief interlude. Y’know, sometimes.
One night not long ago Lindsey and I sat down, at her urging, and she helped me map out my finances. Sounds like such a small thing, something normal people do. But it is kind of huge. My financial situation has been on the verge of becoming catastrophic for about a year and a half now, and I have been vaguely aware of it, but managed to ignore it. Ever since my car accident a year and a half ago, things have tumbled more and more out of control.
Up until a couple of months ago, I didn’t really care. I figured it was just me that would pay the consequences; no one else would be hurt, no one else would go hungry, no one else would have to deal with the stress. Yes, my friends would care. My friends would want to help. My friends would hurt by proxy for me, would shake their heads and try to figure out why I let the situation go on as long as I did without facing up to it.
So, duh, I kept it all from them. From you, and Tracy and Ken and my sister and my dad. I was good at denying it to myself; how much easier it was to keep it from everyone who cared about me.
Then I met Lindsey.
As she and I got to know each other, I found that she had reached the conclusion that debt and money problems were something to be dealt with. How novel! She carefully tracked her money, she made plans, she knew how much she owed and how long it would take her to pay it off. She had learned all this through bitter experience caused by overspending and borrowing. Sure, she had made mistakes; more importantly, she had made different mistakes than me. Her default method of dealing with money was not the same as mine. Where I avoided the problem and spent more and more selfishly on myself, Lindsey had gone the other way – she had sent more and more to her creditors, depriving herself of more and more, until she had little money left for food and other basic needs like prescriptions and clothing.
The silly part is that she thinks she is selfish. So wrong. I’m the selfish one; in my head, the credit card companies can piss off, this is my money, dammit, I can do what I want with it!
And as she and I got closer, I realized that at some point, I would have to tell her about my troubles. As we found that we enjoyed each others’ company and saw much to love and care about in each other, I came to the knowledge that it was unfair to hide such an important and stressful part of myself from her. I took small steps, I dropped hints, but I couldn’t take that important first step and be honest about how badly I had screwed up. She and I talked about other personal, intimate topics… but not this one.
In my mind, it loomed as a huge deal breaker. I feared that I could lose this amazing woman, and I would have no one to blame but myself.
Not knowing the extent of my issue, Lindsey offered her assistance. She gave me advice that would be perfectly fine for someone with a less-dramatic financial hole. She told me that she loved me and that she only wanted to help, and her words both warmed me and caused a cold knot of fear to bloom in my guts – What if she found out?
I tried to figure out what I would need to do to fix my situation; I could sell stuff to pay off my debts! I could take on side jobs! I could work overtime! I could buy a lottery ticket! Yeah, not really realistic.
So, eventually, she gently but firmly set a date for us to talk about money. She reminded me that money troubles trip up more couples than almost any other issue. She did not let me avoid taking a cold, hard look at what I owed and who I owed it to.
I needed to face it. Even if it cost me this amazing woman, I need to deal with it. It’s my own problem, of my own making, and no one is going to fix it but me. Regardless of where Lindsey and I stand, I need to pay these debts off.
And I will be better for it.
I still feel the shame of having let it linger for so long. I still feel the fear that I can’t do it, that it’s too big, that I should just run away. I don’t like giving up the power of telling giant corporations to fuck off; but it’s a false power, a temporary lift, because the problem just won’t go away.
And starting today I will be trying a better solution.