I memorized the phone number after about the third call.
From that point forward, I wrestled with anxiety every time I saw it light up my caller ID. The call came once in the morning and at least once more in the afternoon. Sometimes, it would come as late as 8 pm.
The caller was looking for payment on a credit card issued in my name, one I had naively handed over to my boyfriend because his poor credit could afford him nothing more than a small, prepaid debit card.
By the time the card was maxed out, and the charges were compounding due to missed payments, our relationship was on the outs. Despite the shaky ground we were on, I still believed him when he said he was handling it.
He had told lies about his financial situation since the beginning of our relationship.
Bill collectors, ones I could hear clearly on the other end of the line, became "telemarketers" when I asked him who was calling. Our finances were separate at the time, so I chalked his monetary problem up to being another issue in his long line of life woes.
I brushed it under the rug.
This separation made it his — not our — problem. Yet, even without a ring or a marriage license, relationships have a way of intertwining two people’s lives in unplanned ways. Because money is something we all deal with on a regular basis, it weaves itself into the fabric of relationships, before both parties even give it much thought.
In my mind, lack of money was the root of all that was evil in our relationship. If he simply had more, we could patch up the issues that were constantly adding stress to our life together.
Yet, when a sudden influx of cash found its way into his bank account, it quickly slipped away on purchases he would later lie about.
Money, even before we signed mortgage papers or acquired a joint checking account, was saying something about us that I was taking great care to avoid: We would never work.
1. Lies don’t stay quarantined to one area of the relationship.
Once our relationship ended, I realized the lies about his monetary struggles were just an iota of the total sum of lies he told me.
In the beginning, I never challenged the lies because they seemed small and, by relationship design, none of my business.
But the small lies, the ones you didn’t think were worth telling and didn't seem worth challenging, are actually the scariest of all.
If someone, especially a romantic partner, lies about even the smallest things, then he's likely already worked his way up to the really astronomical lies.
We may all lie to some degree, but those who habitually lie about one area of their lives generally aren’t discerning when it comes to lying about other things. In this case, his money lies were just the beginning.
Still, years later, I come across other things he lied about. In my case, money was just a physical representation of the deceit present in all other areas of our relationship.
2. Money represents far more than the balance in your bank account.
A few years older (and what seems like a million lifetimes wiser), I realize our lifestyle desires were so far removed that we could have been from different planets.
Money has always represented safety and security to me. I’d rather give up owning a million different possessions for the guarantee that I could stop working at a reasonable age. I’d also rather fork over a chunk of money for a trip I’ll remember forever, rather than buy a bunch of small things I won’t remember I own.
I found freedom in saving, and he found it in spending. No amount of forceful pushing and prodding could make these two vastly different priorities align.
The way someone manages and spends his or her money is a direct reflection of his or her priorities. If this person's concerns don’t align with yours, it’s important to take note of that now, not once you’re considering combining financial lives.
3. A lack of transparency is a nail in the relationship coffin.
Most relationships don’t begin by laying a whole deck of cards on the table. Instead, we’ll lay a few out, let those sink in and then move on to the next. A healthy relationship will continue with this transparency process, eventually reaching a point where both parties feel comfortable enough to disclose the entire deck, skeletons and all.
Some people, however, have no intention of disclosing everything at any point.
The problem with my relationship was transparency was never a requirement. We both knew there were things I didn’t know about his life, but I silently accepted it, believing it wasn’t as catastrophic as it seemed. He would tell me when he was ready, I told myself.
But that never happened.
Real, healthy, long-lasting partnerships are transparent because the other person lends necessary support. You're open open with your partner because you want help with whatever you’re struggling with.
Whether it’s a massive load of credit card debt or student loans in the double digits, monetary woes can be a heavy burden to bear.
If one person doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing this information, or the other person makes it clear he or she isn't ready to handle the ramifications of this disclosure, beware. This could be too much pressure for the relationship to shoulder down the road.
Anything less than full transparency, concerning money or otherwise, can quickly become a nail in the coffin for any relationship.
4. Nothing makes up for a lack of self-awareness.
No one is immune to financial struggle, and chances are that we will all have our fair share of it at some point in our lives. The differences between those who have a period of financial hardship, and those who are on a lifetime rollercoaster of financial hardship, are often separated by a few key traits.
There are those who have the ability to see the issues and have the motivation to change, and there are those who have neither.
Self-awareness is not something we are inherently born with, and not everyone learns this trait along the way. Looking back on my relationship, I now recognize that lack of money wasn’t the issue. It was his lack a self-awareness and his inability to recognize the astronomical issues that came with how he managed money.
Add this to a lack of motivation to change, and we were doomed from the start.
5. Money lessons aren’t cheap.
Years after the last payment was sent in on the credit card that never should have been used, I checked my credit report. Even though I had healed from the most substantial relationship wounds, black marks on my previously blemish-free credit score served as a reminder of how money and relationships sometimes don’t mix.
Now, long before wading through the marriage and baby conversation, I’ll talk debt, money habits and long-term financial goals.
It’s not sexy or romantic, but somebody has to do it.