More thoughts provoked by “Self-Esteem Class”

As a younger man, I was hostile to being paid for. I used to assume this was driven by a proud independence, that I was rejecting financial subordination, or, at least, resisting a natural laziness, passivity and dependence.

Was it, though, just a lack of self-worth? If anyone volunteered to buy the tickets or foot the bill, or get a round in, I felt something more akin to alarm than indignation. Perhaps I wanted people to think I was worth paying for, but I couldn’t see how I deserved it. What were they getting in return? I was certainly too cynical to believe the offer was driven by bonhomie or largesse. Unconsciously, they’d be expecting something from me. I’d be in their debt and forced to masquerade as somebody who deserved it. I’d be vulnerable to being unmasked, to being asked to live up to that expectation, and being incapable of it.

I’m probably admitting to a feeble capacity for love or affection, and assuming nobody else felt strongly, either. Sure, I used to offer to pay for others, or split the bill, or pay the extra, but everybody does that. Always being anxious about money, I did so out of a sense of duty and decorum, not affection.

Now I’m financially dependent on my wife. As the person with the much more important job and the much larger income, she pays for everything because I can’t afford to. She pays the bills; she pays the council tax; she came up with the deposit, arranged the mortgage, bought the house, repays the loan; she gives to charity; she bankrolls the children – their clothes, their after-school clubs, their holidays; she subsidises me.

Making money has never been important to me. (This isn’t virtue, it’s the privilege of never having experienced serious lack). I have no problem with Jo being more successful, and I’m not clamouring to pay all the bills. But being dependent makes me feel vulnerable, lacking control of the situation. I trust Jo not to throw me out on a whim, but my existence is still fundamentally conditional. I don’t own it. They aren’t my decisions. I’m so uncertain, I wouldn’t be able to make them if they were. My job is to wait and see what they want to do and then go along with it. It’s as if I’m in limbo, or at least between jobs, particularly as I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer, which appears to be beyond me.

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