July 20, 2008

About ten years ago I dated someone who always insisted we split the cheque when we went out to eat. I didn't mind and assumed it was because he didn't have money. Then I found out that wasn't the case. It was the opposite. He'd sold his screenplay for thousands of dollars and wasn't comfortable with the expectation that just because he earned more, he should be obligated to pay. I understood; and saw him as being practical. But my friend Laura saw it another way. She saw him as being cheap.

There is an unspoken understanding that if man earns more, he should pay. And when that happens, most women don't question it. But it doesn't work the other way around. Lately I've noticed I have a couple of close female friends who earn more than the men they are dating and it's a problem. It's an issue of pride.

The other day my friend Alex was talking about her boyfriend. I hadn't seen her in a while. "I can't remember the last time I saw you," she said. "Where did we leave off?"

I told her we left off with her problem with his bad breath.

"That long ago? We have a lot to catch up on. Those were the good times."

Last month he lost his job and since he has no savings, he is broke. As in, 'can't afford an Oyster card and now walks everywhere' broke. Alex is a lawyer, works hard and has a good income. She told me she's offered to help, but he won't accept it.

Why not? If he needed a kidney transplant he would have no problem accepting one of her organs. But offer to pay the phone bill and he'd sooner shoot off his foot.

This poses a problem because she likes talking on the phone. And she also likes eating out. So she has had to become industrious. One time she called ahead to a restaurant, gave her credit card number, and told him they owed her dinner on the house. She also said she could get him a year's free subscription to Sky broadband - she couldn't, she'd have paid it, but at least she'd have been able to use the Internet at his flat. Last week she crumpled up a £20 note, placed it in his dryer and pretended to find it when she was doing the laundry.

She was doing his laundry? That was truly deceptive.

She explained she's had to go to extreme measures to find ways to pay for things without him knowing. The fact that he doesn't have money isn't an issue. The fact that he won't allow her to cover costs is. It's becoming a complex.

Perhaps because it has to do with him feeling desirable. When a woman's in debt, it doesn't make her unattractive. You never hear a man say: "She was really hot and I totally wanted to sleep with her but then I found out she hadn't paid off her credit card and I lost interest."

Yet when a man is in debt, he might as well tell women he meets that he works at an Anthrax factory.

My grandmother used to say there's a lid for every pot. Is there really? I'm not so sure.

A lot of women I know make adjustments so that the lid fits. Not me. I'll let things boil over and then clean up the mess later.

My friend Heather loves to travel, particularly to Africa, but the man she's currently going out with has never left the U.K. When I asked why he doesn't have a passport she shrugged. "He's not fancy."

I was discussing this with my friend, Sophie. Her take on it? "Well," she said, "At least he doesn't hit her."

Those are the choices?

No wonder I don't have a lid. When my pot was being made, it wasn't formed properly. It's lopsided. Maybe my lid is on the rejects shelf.