If you’re at all active on social media, you’ve likely caught one of an endless number of arguments about how bills should be split in relationships. I’m personally on the side of do what works for you, however, I’ve noticed a number of proclaimed “feminist” / “womanist” women who think men should pay all of the bills in a relationship. This position is valid, but the reasons I’ve seen given are – for lack of a desire to put this a better way – stupid as hell. I’ve seen many supporting their positions with arguments about how men are often misogynist in relationships, including marriage, and women are often tasked with performing most of the labor, physical and emotional. And all of this is true.
Where I get confused, however, is by the thought process of encouraging women to marry the misogynist with the most money as something “new” or “empowering”, as though that isn’t the entire history of marriage – as though women haven’t been sold off to the highest bidder since… forever. Women have always married for survival. What about that is progress?
“Well, men are misogynist and exploit women for labor, so you might as well be with a misogynist man who will exploit you while paying the bills.”
Yes, it is true that in traditional marriage, most of the burden of responsibility falls to women: from giving birth and raising children to running households and everything that comes with it. Additionally, we navigate misogyny that devalues us as people and creates risks of violence and partner abuse, with black women being the most likely to experience partner violence up to and including being killed by a partner. Knowing that, why would we want to encourage upholding these traditional structures? Why set such a low bar for ourselves and call it “standards”? What happened to not needing a man? Because we absolutely don’t.
Why are we arguing over how to divide bills with misogynist men who exploit women, rather than reminding girls and women that we DO NOT have to marry these men? Instead of promoting that we continue to uphold white supremacist, capitalist, misogynist, heteronormative ideas of marriage, dating and monogamy that are all around trash, we should be encouraging each other to examine and unpack our dating norms that keep us trapped and stunted. We have so many other options and alternatives to traditional marriage that can actually serve us.
Here’s my short list of things that are infinitely better than going 50/50 or 100/0 with men we don’t like, who don’t like us and see us as nothing more than live-in help:
Staying single: You do not need a relationship of any kind, let alone a toxic one. There is so much joy in the freedom of living your life for you and you alone, of exploring who you are, what you like, and what you want from life. Learn things. Pick up hobbies. Travel. Date. Have sex. Enjoy companionship without tethering your life to someone else’s. To truly love yourself is liberation that cannot be bought.
Not dating people you don’t like/whose lifestyle you don’t want: We have a tendency, not just as women but as people, to get into relationships with people we are fundamentally incompatible with and try to change them into who we think they should be. We find ourselves attracted to people who want to pursue their creative dreams full-time and we try to convince to get a “real job” because it’s how we want to live, or in relationships where we think we can convince our partners to be more like us because they’d be “perfect” if they just changed this one thing about them. Stop doing that. Leave.
Find someone who wants what you want and offers what you’re looking for or be single. It is okay to want what you want; it’s not okay to try to force anyone to be that. It is also okay to stay single (see above).
Group living: More people are poor or poor adjacent (in the US and globally) than wealthy, yet so many of us have this fantasy we will all be rich someday. We won’t. And struggling alone as a measure of “character” is an idea we’re long overdue to abandon. Living with a group of family members, friends, and/or partners who live compatible lifestyles and share mutual goals can go far in lightening each of our individual burdens. Communication, boundaries and compatibility are essential in this and any arrangement. Be choosy about who is part of your community, especially if children are involved.
Choosing platonic life partners: Sometimes you meet people you are incredibly in sync with regarding personal and financial goals but aren’t necessarily interested in romantically. Or maybe you’re a heterosexual woman who finds it easier to work and collaborate with other women. In terms of stability and financial security, building same-sex partnerships in which you work toward your individual and partner goals is a great way of empowering and supporting one another, as black women have higher graduation and employment rates than our male counterparts. I’m particularly for this idea for single mothers wanting partners equally invested in raising children together.
You also double your hair products and potentially your wardrobe, while never having to fight about a toilet seat and still being able to date or sleep with men when you (for whatever reason we’ll never be able to understand) find yourself wanting their romantic or sexual company. Sounds perfect to me.
Not living with a partner or partners, at all: Everyone who is romantically compatible is not suited to cohabit and many frustrations in marriages/relationships that have nothing to do with how much we like/love one another stem from having completely different standards of living and lifestyles we try to force each other to adhere to or accomodate. Sometimes it’s best to just keep your shit separate, enjoy your time apart, love on each other when you come together and retreat to your own s p a c e to recharge when you need.
Relationships are not one size fits all, and contrary to popular belief, there is no template or rulebook. Find what works for you and your partner(s), do what works for y’all, and communicate openly and often about what that is as you grow and change. And when it stops working and y’all can’t grow together anymore, leave. But never, ever settle.
Even for the highest bid.