money talks

‘My Divorce Is Cheap. But Self-Care Is Costing Me Thousands.’

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The Cut is asking readers to share what they’re doing with their money — or lack thereof — in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. This week, we spoke to a 35-year-old woman from L.A. whose marriage (like many people’s) fell apart mid-lockdown. She spoke with the Cut about the financial stresses of divorce, the process of splitting assets with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, and why she’s pouring thousands of dollars into therapy even though she worries about money every day.

I met my husband at LaGuardia Airport in 2014, when I was 28. I sat next to him at the gate and was like, “Oh, he’s cute.” Our flight was delayed, so we started talking and wound up getting a drink. Then we kept talking even though we lived in different cities. Within three months, he got a job in New York, where I lived, and soon after that, he moved in with me. He’s always moved fast. When he proposed after three years of dating, he wanted to get married within 30 days, so we eloped.

I’m a planner, and I don’t like to rush into things. But if he likes something, he’s 110 percent committed the moment he discovers it. He was like that with me. He’s like that with his hobbies. He’s like that with moving to new cities. He’d be like, “This is going to make me happy.” And then, three months later, he’d be like, “This other thing is going to make me happy.” And he’d convince me every time. Last year, he was like, “I’ll be happy when we move to Los Angeles.” Then once we moved, he still wasn’t happy. That’s when I started digging in and saying, “Until you learn to be happy where you are, I’m not moving anywhere else.”

We had conflict over our finances, too. I’m a hoarder and a stingy person, and he was a spender. My parents struggled a lot financially when I was young, and I have a major scarcity complex. My husband was the exact opposite. If he got a bonus, it would be gone in 60 days. If I got a bonus, it would sit in a savings account, which I call my NBS account: “Never to Be Seen.”

When we first moved to LA, we lived in an apartment. Then, about six months in, he started pawing at the windows and wanted to move to another city or a house where he would have room for a woodworking shop. I found us a house that was only $400 more per month, which was more than we’d ever paid in rent before, but we could manage it. And it had a garage where he could do woodworking. But I wound up bankrolling the entire move because he spent $10,000 on woodworking equipment — which he used maybe five times total. The same thing happened with a photography hobby and a $5,000 road bike that he bought for a vacation that I then had to pay for. This year, right before COVID, he got a big bonus — he works in real estate — and he bought himself a brand-new truck. He didn’t even clear it with me first. I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

We started seeing a couples therapist during our second year of marriage, and after many months, it finally started helping. Right before the pandemic, things were actually the best that they’d been in a while. But quarantine was a pressure cooker: Early on, we got into a silly tiff, and we both reverted to driving each other nuts. We barely talked for two weeks. We barely made eye contact. It was a full-on freeze-out. This was in April, when everything was full lockdown. It was so lonely. We had a back office in our house that I use for work, and one weekend I just moved in there. That’s when I realized that I was more lonely with him than when I was actually alone.

At first, we thought we’d do a trial separation. He rented a place a few hours away for the month of May, and I stayed home. Then, three weeks in, he called me and said, “I just want to be carefree. I want to go and live wherever I want. I want to spend money however I want without having to talk about it.” I was like, “Sounds like you don’t want to be married.” So we decided to make it official. In June, he moved to another state. I was devastated, but I also felt free.

I worry about money every single day, but that’s always been the case. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I work in communications, and I do well financially now, but it’s taken me over a decade of working 11- to 13-hour days to get here. I neglected my physical and my mental health for my career, for the sake of feeling stable. That took its toll on my marriage, too, and wound up costing me — right now, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, since we’re not splitting rent anymore. Plus I’m pouring tons of money into wellness to keep myself sane. I’m not comfortable with it. It concerns me a lot. But I have to remember that it’s an investment in myself, to keep myself functioning. And because of the pandemic, I have fewer options — it’s not like I can fly to see my best friend.

There’s a lot of affordable ways to do self-care, but I was in such a rock-bottom place that I was willing to pay for help. So I hired a trainer to do Zoom sessions three times a week for $120. I know it’s ironic that I sacrificed my health and well-being to be in a career position where I can afford a trainer — there are more efficient and inexpensive ways to be healthy, which is to not burn yourself out in the first place. I sold my mental health for wealth, and now I’m trying to buy it back. I also pay for a meditation teacher every morning. I try to do either her group class, or a private session for $20.

I also go to therapy, which is probably the most painful thing I pay for. My psychologist is expensive, $250 a session. When money is tight, it is the first thing that I think about cutting. Literally, I’m spending what many people pay in rent to go to therapy. But she keeps me accountable. When I had a surprise tax bill from 2019, my instinct was to cut everything out — cut therapy, cut training, just eat ramen. And she was like, “Why would you do that? You’ve been working really hard. You have emergency savings to pay for this.” Her perspective keeps me on track, taking care of myself so I don’t unravel.

When I look at how much I’m spending on self-care, it’s a really offensive amount, like 20 percent of my take-home pay. And if you add in all the healthy food I’m buying, it’s closer to 30 or 40 percent. I spend 30 percent of my income on rent, and pretty much all my other expenses could qualify as self-care in some way or another. But I’m not buying a lot of other stuff right now — alcohol, pants, coffee at Starbucks. And at the end of the day, nothing would’ve cost me more than being so burned out I lost my job. That’s the alternative.

One thing that has made the divorce less expensive is that we did a prenup. It was my idea, and my husband was deeply hurt by it at first. But we’re both children of divorced parents, and we had seen enough marriages fall apart that it made sense to talk about what might happen if ours did. My own parents’ divorce took five years because they had such an extended legal battle. I think they paid more in legal fees than the amount of money they were fighting over. I also saw the prenup as a gesture of mutual respect — it was a promise of how we were going to treat each other in the future, even if worse came to worst. Also, obviously, I’d been with him for three years and I knew we spent money very differently. I wanted to make sure that my savings would never be erased by whatever debt he accrued. His mess was his, and my mess was mine.

The prenup was cheap — we just did it on LegalZoom — and it basically says that we would keep our assets separate with the exception of anything that we consciously combined. We had a joint bank account for day-to-day expenses and a joint savings account that we both contributed to. We also had a joint investment account, but because I was paying attention to the market, I actually liquidated most of it right before the pandemic because we were talking about buying a house, so I thought we’d need a down payment. The prenup said that anything joint would be split 50/50, and that should have been true for the joint savings. But I’d contributed quite a bit more to that account than he had, and I raked him over the coals to make sure that he knew it. Then I gave him 40 percent or something like that. I think we found a solution that both of us were equally unhappy with, and it was pretty quick. That ridiculous truck he bought is in his name, so we don’t have any joint debt. My paranoid and controlling tendencies around money probably drove him away, but it made dividing assets easier.

We haven’t officially filed for divorce yet, because it’s going to take awhile. Courts are backlogged because of COVID. We’re also not talking. It seems unlikely that it could be finalized before 2021, and per my accountant, we’re going to have to file taxes jointly this year anyway, so there’s no point trying to rush the paperwork. I’ll just have my accountant talk to both of us when tax season comes around.

It’s been the roughest few months in my life, and some of the most expensive. But I think the money I’ve spent has been worth it. I threw the kitchen sink at keeping myself together, and now I’m sitting here in August being like, “You know, I’m having a pretty good week.”

‘My Divorce Is Cheap, But Self-Care Is Costing Me Thousands’