Last week, I wrote a post about being the female breadwinner. In that post, I delved into some of the emotions regarding bread-winning that most likely stem from societal expectations. Today, I’m also going to talk about making more than your partner, but I’m going to look at a very specific potential downside. Although it sucks, the reality is that some women who make more than their partners can get taken advantage of. And I know, because I was one of them. So now, I’m working on preventing myself from getting taken advantage of as a female breadwinner.
Getting Taken Advantage of as a Female Breadwinner
Its so easy to fall into the trap. It starts because you just want to help someone. Or you want to go someplace exciting that they can’t afford, so you offer to pay. But it turns into you paying for everything, all the time. It turns into you paying all the bills while they blow money on stupid stuff. You end up buying them everything that they need. Instead of just being the breadwinner, you are now the sole provider – but you never really signed up for that. It just sort of happened.
How Does it Happen?
It’s important to note that not all those who take advantage actually mean to. Some absolutely do, but I think others just lack maturity. They fall into a pattern and don’t try to change because it’s easier to stay the same. It’s easier to let yourself be taken care of than to be an adult.
I know this isn’t just a women’s issue. Male breadwinners are taken advantage of just as much (if not more, considering so many more men are breadwinners) than female breadwinners. But there are unique issues that affect women, which in my opinion, make it a bit easier for the female breadwinners to get sucked into this trap.
I wrote a lot about feeling shame over what your partner does in my previous post – but for me at least, those feelings of shame can lead to being taken advantage of as the female breadwinner. It’s super weird, I know, but hear me out.
I feel guilty because I am capable of doing these things that my partner just can’t do. I don’t want to exclude him, and I don’t want the shame of telling my friends that he can’t come to whatever event because he can’t afford it.
While in a really bad previous relationship, I discussed these feelings with a therapist. I expressed how uncomfortable I felt doing something as simple as ordering take-out. I didn’t want to pay for him (because I paid for freaking everything!), but I felt bad about bringing food home for just myself. My philosophy has always been that if you are in a relationship, you should take care of each other. And the really crazy thing is that I felt guilty not taking care of him even if he didn’t take care of me. I made more money, I should be doing those things, right? I’ve since learned that no, that is not right at all.
One of my biggest issue is that I was over compensating. I would try way too hard to make sure that whoever I was dating didn’t feel bad about their lack of income. But thankfully, I’ve realized that isn’t my problem. And they should take care of me in others way, if they can’t financially. Relationships should be give and take on both sides, not just give on one side and take on the other.
The Caring Nurturer
Another issue that tends to affect women more and lead them to getting taken advantage of is that society often sees us as the caring nurturer. I can’t speak for all women, just for my experiences, but my caring nature has led me to make some really terrible decisions. Because I care so much about people, especially someone I’m in a relationship with, I’ll do anything I can to make them feel special and loved. I’ll go above and beyond to make sure their needs are taken care of. I want to do those things for the person I love. But, it becomes a problem when they come to expect it, and refuse to do similar things to show their love and appreciation for me.
I have a weird need to take care of people (and yes, I know this borders on codependency – but that’s a post for another day!). I want them to take care of me back, but unfortunately, I have chosen partners who are incapable of doing so.
Choosing your Partner
And what a great segue into one of the most important things you can do to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of as the female breadwinner! Clearly, I don’t have a lot of experience with picking the right partner, but I do have tons of experience in picking the wrong one. They say love is blind, but man do I really need to start paying attention to waving red flags.
Red Flags that Someone Would Take Advantage
Not that I won’t ignore them in the future, but after a lot of reflection about my last few relationships, I’ve come to understand what some of the red flags were that were waving right in front of my face. Here are some things to pay attention to:
- Lack of household items
- Serial Unemployment
- Blaming Others
- Too Agreeable
- Too Invested too Early
- Expecting you to Pay
I know it seems like common sense, but it’s not. Addicts are great at lying about their behavior, at least in the short term. And if you’ve never had experience with addicts before, it’s hard to see the signs. At what point does him having a six pack every night turn into a problem? Watching someone you love fall deeper and deeper into addiction is a horrible experience. My advice is to watch for the signs, and get out early if you see them.
Lack of Household Items
This is a red flag that you are dating someone who needs to grow up. Unfortunately, I just recently realized this. When I first started dating my most recent ex, I’d have to bring toilet paper with me when I went to his place, because he couldn’t be bothered to get it. I thought it was funny at the time. Now I realize that he couldn’t even really take care of himself like an adult, so how could I expect him to take care of me in the adult ways that I’d need? The answer is that he couldn’t. But, I’m glad that he acknowledged that, and I’m proud of him for moving on and working to take care of himself.
My problem with this one is that I just believe the best in people. Naïve, I know. If someone tells me that they are out of work because they just fell on hard times, I tend to believe them. I don’t hold anyone’s job (or lack thereof!) against them. But I have learned that people who tend to be serially unemployed tend to be the biggest users. They don’t want to work; they want to find someone to take care of them. Maybe this is common sense to most people, but if they are constantly out of work, you may want to avoid dating them.
Another huge thing to look for is whether your potential partner can admit fault. Did he lose his job because there was a layoff and he didn’t have the experience to stay, or did he lose his job because Jan from accounting talked badly about him to the boss? Does he blame his parents for his behavior, or does he hold himself accountable? People who want to play the victim about everything and refuse to accept responsibility for anything that happens in their life are not ready to grow up and have an adult relationship. They want to be taken care of, and will blame you (or gaslight you!) when you don’t do what they want.
You’d think that agreeableness is a quality that you’d want in a partner, right? But you have to be careful with that. If someone is just agreeing to everything that you are saying, are they really listening? Or are they just saying what they think you want to hear? A good way to tell is to pay attention to their actions rather than their words. Someone who is just telling you what you want to hear won’t follow through. They will disappoint you again and again while promising that they care and they will do better next time. Don’t fall for it. Watch for the early signs of a smooth talker – they will agree with everything but they won’t follow through with anything.
All in Too Soon
There’s a common tactic among manipulative people known as Love Bombing. They will tell you how amazing you are, how they’ve never met anyone like you, and how you must be their soulmate within the first few weeks of dating. For most people, that sounds like a giant red flag. But for some of us Disney Princess wannabes, meeting someone who you instantly connect with on that level is a dream come true.
Unfortunately, more likely than not it’s just a fairy tale. It isn’t real. You can’t know someone well enough after a few weeks to know that you want to be with them forever (ok, I know that it works out that way sometimes, but in general, it’s safer to be skeptical). I’m a hopeless romantic at heart though, so I always struggle with this. It is possible (however unlikely) that next time it will be real!
Expecting you to Pay
It’s one thing if you offer to pay. But when it gets to the point that he doesn’t even make an attempt anymore, he might be taking advantage of you. Clearly this doesn’t apply if you are in a long-term relationship and have had discussions of who pays for what. But if you just started dating someone who expects you to pay all the time, you may want to re-evaluate.
Other Ways to not Get Taken Advantage of as a Female Breadwinner
Choosing the right partner is paramount to not getting taken advantage of as the female breadwinner, but it’s not the only thing you can do. You can also use discretion when disclosing your salary, take things slowly, set clear boundaries, and protect yourself.
Disclosing Your Salary
I’ve made the mistake of telling guys how much I make way too early in the relationship. I tend to be overly honest about everything. Fortunately, I’ve since learned that oversharing probably isn’t the answer. When an immature person, or someone prone to using, learns how much you make, they start trying to find ways for it to benefit them. It might be something simple, like asking you to borrow a few bucks that they have no intention of paying back, or it might be something more expensive, like a weekend get-a-way that they expect you to pay for. In their minds, you make more than enough money to cover it, so it’s all ok.
I’ve learned to not disclose my salary to anyone unless we are at the point of combining finances. The “what’s mine is yours” mentality only works when both people are on-board.
Take It Slow
Fools rush in, as they say. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve been incredibly foolish in my life. I guess that’s the hopeless romantic in me. But, it’s just as important for you to take things slowly in a new relationship as it is for the guy to not be all in too soon. It takes a long time for the rose-colored glasses to wear off, and you want to be sure that you are still independent when they do. When you are wearing rose colored glasses, red flags just look like normal flags.
So many of us have issues with setting and enforcing boundaries. But it’s important to prevent yourself from getting taken advantage of, especially as a female breadwinner. Make it clear from the beginning that it is not your job to take care of anyone but yourself. Don’t feel obligated to buy him things that he can’t buy himself, and don’t let him make you feel guilty over it. Ensure that the relationship is moving at a pace that you are comfortable with. The boundaries that you set need to be what is comfortable for you.
Sometimes it takes a long time for a manipulator to show their true colors (or for us to notice them!). One of the most important things you can do to not get taken advantage of as a female breadwinner is to protect yourself. That means to keep all of your accounts separate – and if at one point you decide to have joint finances, keep at least one account in your name alone. It’s always smart to have a safety net.
Also, unless you are married, don’t cosign for anything. It took me way too long to learn that lesson unfortunately. A final thing you can do is request a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage. I know that it’s an incredibly sensitive topic, but I think that if there is a large financial disparity on either side, a prenup is a good idea.
Share Your Stories!
Have you ever felt taken advantage of as a female breadwinner? I would love to hear your stories about why you felt that way and how you mitigated it!