My wife wants out. That is not news. However, we can barely afford a cup of coffee, let alone be financially independent of one another—especially with two children to protect. There is good news on that front, though, but how we get from here to there is a big question mark.
For the last 3 1/2 years, our family has been effectively running on two part-time jobs. While my wife is in her dream career, she does not make enough money. I work retail. Scheduling and the fact that I barely make $1 more as a supervisor than a cashier means I am underpaid and have a less than full-time workload. With two children and no money for daycare, we have been able to craft our schedules so that the children are always with a parent (when not in school). However, the arrangement has never been ideal for either of us and does not generate the money required to float a family of four.
For years, the family has operated on a negative cash flow. We were able to do this because when my mom died, I became a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, stock options, and a 401(k). That gave us six figures in the bank account and the opportunity to move to a safer neighborhood. We had our second child and guaranteed our older child would be able to attend the top-rated public school in the district. I was able to stretch that money for years, but now it has run out, and the family is crisis mode. Bills are past due; rent is frequently late; our credit cards are maxed and closed. At the same time, we do not qualify for many government assistance benefits because we are in that gray zone: We make too much to be poor, but we are too poor to pay all of our expenses.
While all of this happening, the quality of life in our home has deteriorated. The children do not get to do as much as they used to (things cost money we don’t have!). We stand in food lines to acquire donated food our kids do not necessarily want to eat. Stress levels are high; nerves are frayed. My wife wants out of the house more than ever. She is unhappy. Not that she exactly knows what she wants, but she knows it is not me. Still, without financial stability, leaving really is not an option right now. If we can’t keep one house afloat, how are we going to finance two separate households?
There is some hope, though. Early in the year, she received a significant raise. Now, I am on the verge of acquiring a government job that would be full-time and double my current salary. I have a tentative job offer pending background checks (which I have no reason to fail), so paid training should start in late May. That means I should see a paycheck in June that could start taking us to a place that is not underwater. This is all great news, except for the fact that getting from here to June will require some magic. We are lucky to have three figures in the bank account these days. Filling the gas tank is an exercise in fear.
Lately, my wife’s family has been applying pressure. They offered to extend us a loan that would get our bills current and float us until the tide changes. However, the deal comes with significant strings.
First, the loan would be formalized legally, binding both my wife and I to repay the loan. While that seems kosher on the surface, I believe that puts me at great risk. The family would never forgive my half of the loan but, of course, may be willing to look the other way when it comes to my wife at some point in the future. They are upset with me because my transition has caused my wife such pain. Being legally bound to a family that seemingly despises me seem like a bad idea.
The second condition: My wife would need to set up her own personal bank account. While community property laws and martial conduct exceptions could allow me to claim a portion of any money held in a private account while she continues to access joint funds, I really do not want to have go down that road during a divorce proceeding. Our relationship was built on honesty, but her family is encouraging her—actually requiring her—to keep funds for herself that would not necessarily benefit the family as a whole. This way, they can funnel her money while keeping me from directly being benefited by it. This stipulation is an end around to hurt me and help her with no deference to how our family fares in the end.
The third condition of any loan from her family would require us to begin actively separating ourselves from one another. Now, while separate accounts and divorce proceedings are very likely in our future, I object to her family using financial leverage to dictate how and when we choose to dissolve the marriage. If they want to help the four of us get out of a financial emergency, then we thank the family for the help. However, this entire deal is odious and offensive to me. It legally binds me to being indebted to a family that no longer wants anything to do with me and provides them power over my decisions. At the same time, my wife may be afforded waivers and leniency where I will never see any. The whole deal is unbalanced, manipulative, and unreasonable.
In response, I have tabled the family’s questionable offer. Instead, I am looking at all ways that I might be able to raise funds to bridge the gap between now and June. To that end, a friend of mine has offered a no-strings-attached loan, that while not covering all of our projected needs, at least gets us current on bills and keeps the lights on. No signing on a dotted line. No power grab. My friend’s offer comes because she cares about my well-being and that of the family, not because she has a secret agenda at play. I thank her for her help. We are still projected to be short, but at least this is a start. I continue to find other ways to make this work out without having to succumb to the family’s loan.
Beyond the Marriage
My wife has told me she thinks I have rejected the offer because I am trying to keep us together. While there may have been a time that would have been true, she could not be further from the truth. In an ideal world, she would stay with me, realizing that I am still largely the same person she fell in love with all those years ago. She would see that I have a lot to offer—love, support, even romance if she wanted it. She actively worries about what life will be like without me. At the same time, she still wants out. I have my own worries and fear about life beyond the marriage. However, I have already taken the step of grieving our union at least once. I have cried, screamed, and fought against my heart telling me to stay. Her continued pulling away from me has made it easier (again, easier not easy) to pull away from her. The more she makes individual decisions, keeps gifted money to herself, does not communicate the basics of what is going on in her life, and hides emotions & feelings, the more I do not want to be with her, either. I was raised to live openly and honestly, to share feelings even when they are uncomfortable, to talk things over in times of need and celebrate in times of victory. But there is little joy here. Romance is non-existent. Hugs are few and far between. What is there to hold on to? What is there to save and keep together if one or both of us is no longer invested?
For quite awhile, she has been pulling away from me, and I have not stood in her way, as much as it hurts me to watch happen. However, I am not sitting on the sidelines trying to keep us together as she conjectures. My focus this year has been to improve myself both personally and socially. To that end, I have found this new job. I am sharing my story a little more actively in an effort to possibly advocate more in the future. I am working to keep emotionally balanced despite the stress and drama that surrounds me. While still providing plenty of attention and love to the children, I am also taking more time for myself. I am making more friends and going out a little more often (on the cheap, of course!). I think about the future—my future and the future of the kids.
The upcoming job will first and foremost help stabilize the family’s financial problems. Its secondary purpose will be to establish my individual financial stability in the long run. I hope to achieve this goal without need for her family’s interference. We will separate when it is appropriate for us on our own (hopefully, amicable) terms. If her family wants to help her then, by all means, I would expect that from them. That is what family does. However, if I can not be in debt to them, then more power to me.
Beyond the money, I have interest in moving on. For the first time in years, my libido is non-zero. I have interest in not only making more friends, but even possibly in dating. I want someone who loves me for me, not for what I used to be. I want to realize that maybe I am more beautiful than I think, that being transgender is not a romantic death sentence, and that the fact that I have children could actually be an endearing quality instead a deal breaker. I have feared that being 40, trans, and a mother of two could get in my way. That might not be the case after all. My personality and my kindness are features. If I embrace the compliments I regularly receive, my sense of self will be improved, which in turn makes me more marketable. Gender confirmation surgery would not be bad, either.
There is a long way to go to get there. First, what is left of our family comes first. I will do everything in my power to protect the children and myself from harm. I will find things to sell. I will drive Uber. I will work multiple jobs with little sleep. I will not be played, and I am certainly not trying to figure out how to keep my wife and I together. That ship has sadly sailed. As Morgan Freeman said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” I choose to hope, to dream, and to live. Time to inspire myself in the same way I have inspired others. Now, to figure out how to safely get to June and beyond…