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By Sarah Donnelly
“Well it is hard work to steal your senior manager’s cowboy hat and not have him notice.”
After meeting at a mutual friend’s party in Paris, and doing the long distance international relationship thing for almost a year, Sylvain and I were ready to talk about moving across the ocean to be together.
Initially, I had been adamant about staying in Washington, D.C., which had been my home for the past 7 years. I loved my friends, my neighborhood, my improv theater, and my apartment. I also had a very stable, very Washingtonian job. These weren’t things I could transfer to Paris, and I wasn’t ready to give them up.
But after realizing that obtaining a visa to work in the United States is harder than winning the lottery (and getting a visa is an actual lottery), we began to discuss the possibility of me moving to Paris.
I wasn’t thrilled with this idea, but after Sylvain applied to his 60th job and once again got denied due to his immigration status, I started to be more open to it. We began doing research, and learned that I could pretty easily immigrate to France on a student visa.
Of course, this would mean that I would be going to school, but it also meant that I would not be allowed to work for more than 20 hours per week. That is, if I could find a job considering I knew zero French. Thank you weird high-school me who wanted to be different and take German!
Even in the best case scenario, if I could find a decent paying job that ignored my language skills, 20 hours a week is not enough hours to make a living in Paris. Like any major city, the cost of living is high, apartments are hard to come by, and affordability isn’t a word that gets used often, if ever.
In order for this move to work, I would have to move in with Sylvain and he would have to support the two of us off of his salary. Sylvain would be the sole bread-winner in our relationship, and I would be giving up my financial independence.
When that reality sunk in I had to admit that, no matter how I sliced it, I would be moving to France to be with my boyfriend and have him support me financially. And while I was thrilled at the idea of being with the man that I loved every day instead of every other month, I also felt like I needed to turn in my feminist card and delete “Independent Woman” off my Ipod. I felt like I was sliding into the land of kept women, and I hated that idea.
“I don’t know how to act properly when I’m not employed.”
I’ve had a job since I was 14, and they’ve ranged from theater camp assistant to temp to dish washer. When I moved to DC after college, I saved enough money to pay for my security deposit and first month’s rent on my own. It felt really good to get that first apartment without any help.
I took pride in taking care of myself when other friends were getting “allowances” from their parents, despite the fact I was struggling. I never expected anyone to give me a hand-out, partially because my parents have no money, but also because my Mother raised me on good, old fashioned feminist values.
From a young age she told me that I could do anything or be anyone that I wanted to be, and most importantly I didn’t need a man to help me get there. Maybe this is why, when I was 6 years old, I staged a mini-protest at my summer camp. I decided that if the boys could take their shirts off in the summer heat, why couldn’t I?
So, I took my shirt off. I even recruited another little girl in my campaign. When the counselors asked us to put our shirts back on, she did, but I refused. Not sure what to do with an uncooperative, topless 6-year-old girl in 95 degree heat, they eventually just sat me in the shade away from the other kids. I don’t think I put my shirt on until my Mother picked me up, and she just laughed at the whole thing.
But when I told my parents that I was leaving my job to move to France and live with my boyfriend, and that I wouldn’t be working exactly, my Mother wasn’t laughing. In fact, after I broke the news, she paused for a few seconds and then coolly asked me if I would have health insurance.
It was difficult for her to support me because I went against the mantra that she had raised me on: “You don’t need a man to take care of you.” I felt like I had betrayed my feminist self, too. Here I was quitting this great corporate job (yes, with extensive health coverage), to be supported by a man. And while I knew that I didn’t need A man in theory, in this situation I did need THIS man to support me.
I had never shared an apartment, animal or even a book with a boyfriend before, let alone a bank account. I was nervous about how all this sharing was going to work out, because it was Sylvain who was doing the bulk of the sharing. When we discussed it, we agreed that his financial contribution and my move across the ocean, leaving behind my family, friends, and job, were of equal importance for our relationship and showed how we both were making a big sacrifice to be together.
But I was still torn on the inside. I bristled at the thought of him giving me a weekly allowance, or me having to ask him for money. What if he scrutinized every purchase I made? I’m a girl, and I need girl things like a trash can in the bathroom and nail polish remover. Was he going to be OK with that?
Sylvain isn’t a sugar daddy or some wealthy, businessman dude. He is a normal guy in his late 20s who works in an office. We would be stretching every paycheck each month to make ends meet, and we weren’t exactly sure they were going to makes ends meet. It was a huge gamble for both us, and not just financially.
Somewhere in the midst of finalizing my visa paperwork, I had a realization. I thought about what feminism meant to me, which isn’t about making other women feel bad for their choices. To me feminism is about having the choice in the first place.
I spent most of my twenties proving that I could be independent and take care of myself, and I did just that. And now, I was making a choice about something that I really wanted, to be with the man that I loved, and I was lucky enough to be in a position where it was a choice. Why should I feel bad about it?
I also realized that I have an amazingly supportive, feminist boyfriend. He doesn’t expect me to have a hot dinner on the table when he gets home from work just because I’m not working, and in reality he does most of the housekeeping, because I’m down right bad at it.
He respects the fact I walked away from my life in D.C. to be with him, and tries to support me with my other pursuits any way that he can. Living together, sharing our (tiny) studio and (mostly his) money, is something that we are working on every day. I still struggle with my dependence on him, but slowly but surely I’ve managed to get a few jobs. Though they aren’t pulling in the big bucks, it feels good that I am contributing to our household income.
We don’t agree on everything financially, like the time I spent 20 euros on a Swiffer, but overall we seem to have a good understanding of how we need to spend our money. So while it still feels awkward admitting that my boyfriend supports us financially, I am cutting myself some slack, and I hope that other card-carrying feminists will too, because I’m not turning in my card anytime soon.