I Get By With a Little Help: Singleness and (Financial) Dependency

A post I loved recently was Stefanie from The Broke and Beautiful Life on why she’s planning her financial life as if she were going to be permanently single — whether that ends up happening or not. Obviously I’m doing the same thing, although my personality and romantic history make me feel more strongly that I’m likely to stay single than she does 🙂

A pretty interesting discussion also developed in the comments. A number of older women cautioned that everyone should plan not to depend on others; Tonya put it really concisely when she said “It’s too easy to become complacent and dependent on someone else,” citing the example of her friends who married in their 20s and then were unexpectedly divorced ten years later.

A lot of me thinks this is really right; my financial focus as a single person has been on independence, on solidifying my shorter-term savings and retirement funds and increasing my income so I can “make it work” without a second income (or potential second income, because one-income families always have the option of trying to get the other adult back to paid work.) Self-reliance and hardcore planning are the key here.

However, further meditation got me thinking about the flip side of my experience as a long-term singleton, which is the creation of a whole network of dependencies. Let’s start with the non-financial side of that. My emotional eggs are in a lot more baskets than many married people, I think; studies show that with the relatively recent changes in how we conceptualize marriage, married couples are more and more inclined to focus on each other, relying on each other not only for financial support but also for companionship and emotional support. Straight men especially often report that their wives are the only person they talk to about their inner lives! Women are more inclined to have another confidant or two or three, but even they report greatly reduced numbers of really intimate friends as they’ve become more emotionally invested in their primary relationship. I, meanwhile, sometimes feel lonely because I don’t have that long-term deep primary relationship, but as a result of the way my life’s developed, I think I have a lot more invested than I otherwise would in a variety of other relationships, mostly with various women I know but also with men and with couples. [1] Friendship is how my emotional life is defined. I am absolutely dependent on all these people.

Now, money! No, I don’t take money from my friends. But you know, I would if I had to; I’d be very reluctant to take actual cash, but I know there are several spare rooms that would be available to me in the event of a financial emergency, and I’d be ok with that, and with exchanging services (housework, childcare, whatever) for room and board, at least for a while until I figured something else out. In fact, to me, having that network available so that if I fall off my own personal financial tightrope I have somewhere to fall *into* is pretty key to my confidence in myself. It’s a good idea for women (and men) not to be so dependent on their partners that they’re left devastated if those relationships end for whatever reason; but I think it’s an equally good idea for me as a single person to understand that I depend on all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons.

This has been kind of a stream of consciousness post, but it’s occurring to me that this is probably why my thoughts about retirement housing run so strongly towards “figure out some way to live in relationship with other people.”

[1] reading this over, it occurred to me that maybe it looked like I was saying all married people didn’t do this. I don’t think that at all! I just know myself and I know I have a limited amount of time/emotional energy, so I think if *I* had a primary relationship I’d probably end up focusing on it and still have friends, but give them somewhat less of myself.

20 thoughts on “I Get By With a Little Help: Singleness and (Financial) Dependency

  1. Interesting point about the network of friendship. I feel very fortunate to know that were I in dire financial straights I would never go homeless or hungry because there are so many people I could turn to- that’s comforting.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yes, me too! I can’t depend on any one person…but there’s a whole group of people I could depend on if I had to. It is a major comfort.

  2. Kristin says:

    I am pretty independent and have a tough mentality, but it can be hard sometimes not being able to share everything with a partner. The main reason I started blogging was to find other people to “talk” to about finances 🙂 I know I’ll date again and hopefully marry, and it would be so nice to have dual incomes incase something happened. Relying on myself to survive can be scary sometimes, but I’m fortunate to have great family support if something ever happened.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I just think single living requires a different way of thinking about how you “get” all the stuff people in relationships do — support (financial and otherwise) has to come from somewhere else, and so you have to get creative. I definitely go through stages where I really just wish I had a partner to lean on, but it hasn’t happened and might not so I also have figured out how to compensate.

  3. Cindy says:

    I agree with this completely! I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with my 86 year old Grandmother. She married my Grandpa at 22; He mostly took care of everything in their lives. Grandma has always been very social, but all of her friends came to her. She didn’t drive, and didn’t travel much because she didn’t like to be away from my Grandpa. Aside from running errands, they didn’t much leave their house. Oddly enough, she had a lot of life-long female friends who never married, but traveled (several still do) and had very full lives.

    When Grandpa died, she just relied on the fact that someone else would take care of things for her. She doesn’t want to live with anyone, and hates leaving her apartment at all anymore. She’s depressed because she wants people around her 24/7, but doesn’t want to make friends with any of the other people in her apartment (who are all elderly), because she “already has friends”. My Aunt took over everything for her, and then passed it off to my cousin. She hates the way things are being handled, and the way my cousin treats her like a child, but is unwilling to make any changes. It’s created some huge rifts in the family.

    It’s an everyday reminder for me that, even if I do marry, and have children some day, I’m responsible for my own life. Women usually outlive their male counterparts. We have to be prepared, both financially and with a network of people that we can depend on. And a plan for what we want, and how we’re going to make that happen.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Oh, tough situation. I’m sorry your family’s going through that — it sounds hard for everyone, definitely including your grandmother. I’m really hoping that when I’m old, I can avoid getting into that mental place where I refuse to make any changes even though I’m miserable with the status quo; I’ve seen that in a lot of people and it just seems like a good thing to avoid. So I’m trying to stay mentally flexible.

  4. I have straight up asked friends for help in that I asked them if there were any jobs they needed filled or help, like cat sitting, cleaning, etc. Many have hired me for odd jobs here and there which has really helped me in a pinch. I think being single does kind of “force” you to find close relationships with other people other than your SO. I had one friend who was very outgoing and did a lot of stuff, until she met her now fiancé and she disappeared off the face of the earth. A dangerous move in my opinion because if the s does ever hit the fan, who does she turn to?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Right? I always feel a little mercenary when I think about my “single strategy” like this, because obviously I really do love all of my friends! But it feels so critical to actually maintain those friendships, just like married people need to maintain their relationships. You have to have people to turn to in an emergency.

  5. Even though I’m in a partnership, our finances are separated and I act single in the sense I know I can only take care of myself. I have had lots of networking opps through friends, which also helps. I think self-reliance is so key — you never know what will happen!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, it’s a balance between being self-reliant, and knowing that you definitely do depend on others — and I think that’s true no matter whether you’re partnered or single!

  6. Liz says:

    This post was amazing, I had been trying to write something similar myself, but it looks like I can stop trying now. Paying down debt or just living on your own when your single with no [current] plans to get married or settle into a serious relationship, is a different ball game that requires having close relationships in other areas of my life and I’m glad I do. I often think of how the relationships I have differ, when reading debt free stories(which I love), but I feel like most of the time it is the story of someone with a SO where they had someone else to rely on or help with the everyday expenses, it doesn’t make it any less impressive that they focused on their debt and got it paid off, but I relate less. I get really excited when I run across a debt free story of someone single. So thanks for sharing your story!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Aw, thank you! I’m really glad this vibed with you. There are starting to be a few of us single ladies blogging — it is nice to have the variety of perspectives and I also really appreciate it when I find another singleton 🙂

  7. DebtFreeJD says:

    Interesting post. I had maybe a little of the opposite experience – I was so independent for so long that it took me a while to really lean on my husband, even when I needed to. It was a wonderful learning experience when I figured out that I could.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      That does sound nice! I’ve never been able to lean anyone but my family or my best friends and even them I do try to hold off on a bit…. Maybe someday.

  8. Nice post, C! It’s SO important, married or not, that we all have a variety of relationships in which we can give and take from. Rick and I definitely confide in each other most, but I truly need my girlfriend and extended family relationship too. In those extended relationships, not only do we support each other emotionally, but we share expenses on outings (as in potlucks or group ticket purchases) and other things that benefit all of us.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I think the healthiest marriages are ones where both partners have a good network of support! Financially and emotionally, like you say.

  9. Elroy says:

    So tough for independent individuals to accept help. The key is, knowing when it is ok to do so. With my job in limbo, I know there is always a resource out there for me to tap, it’s just knowing it is ok to accept help from other people who I [hopefully] give a lot in return during my flush years.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I think being able to give freely and then gracefully receive when you need it is important to how I want to live my life. Good luck with your job situation!

  10. While I wouldn’t borrow money (cash / loans / credit / etc.), if you broaden financial help to include support that, in the marketplace would cost you, then yes I would seek that support (e.g.: housing, food, etc.). Thankfully, I would not go homeless if I lost my job. Although, I’m not sure living with my mom would be the better option… 😉

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I also wonder that about living with my parents 🙂 In the event of near homelessness I’d wayyyyyy rather live with friends than family, I think.

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