I’m 24 and estranged from my family. It’s a long story, but they’re a collection of violent, drug/alcohol-addicted, racist, mentally ill psychopaths. I moved across the country to escape, and luckily I have a great life now because I was able to get scholarships and lucked into a good job and a fantastic man.
Because I’m a teacher, I don’t make a lot of money, but I’m extremely responsible with what I do have. I also supplement my salary with side jobs, and I’m careful to put money into savings every week—even if it’s only a couple dollars. Growing up, we often went hungry because my parents were too fucked up or drunk to bother feeding us. I don’t ever want to live that way again. My problem is my fiance. He makes less money than me, which is fine, but he’s also very irresponsible with what he does make. I’ve already had to cover the rent and bills three months in a row because of his irresponsibility.
I can’t talk to any of my friends about this, since they have no idea where I come from. I’m terrified of going back to that way of life. I’ve tried to talk to my fiance about finances, but he thinks I worry too much and tunes out. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet anyone as great as him, but I’m terrified to the point of having anxiety attacks at the thought of dumpster-diving dinner again. Am I worrying too much? Or should his attitude about money be—as I’m starting to believe—a deal-breaker?
—Financially Freaking Out
Sometimes after you’ve spent the first 17 years of your life getting beat up on a weekly basis, you wind up having a first boyfriend who picks up where your mom left off. Not because you enjoy getting hit, but because that’s how love has always felt to you. That anxiety, depression, and pain is also your comfort level. Sound familiar?
What you’re doing is repeating the familiar. Luckily, this dude is skipping the abuse and drugs (I hope) and only throwing you into financial chaos. You’re right to worry, especially if he laughs off your concerns. I think he’s probably not right for you, but you’re a smart girl and will figure that part out on your own.
I wanted to address something you didn’t ask about: your fear of being found out. Think how hurt you’d be if you suddenly discovered that one of your best friends was keeping a big part of their life a secret because they thought you would judge them. Would you ever judge someone you loved for something so completely beside the point? Why do you think your friends would think badly of you for things your horrifying family put you through? Unless all your friends are assholes, which I’m guessing they’re not.
Jeannette Walls was in a similar situation, and wrote a brilliant memoir called The Glass Castle, which I don’t merely advise you to read, I insist on it. Like you, she grew up in abject poverty, hightailed it out of there, and for years lived a lie, denying her past. If nothing else, her “coming-out” story will help you realize you’re not alone. Even if you do wind up single.
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