As a man who, on a volunteer basis, writes stories about sexting and refusing to share bacon, it should come as no surprise that I don’t have a lot of money. That being said, I decided to grow up and talk to a financial advisor; what follows is a detailed account of how a massive B-word who is terrible at her job, AKA my financial advisor, accidentally taught me a lesson about gender roles in relationships. Not enough of a lesson to make me feel bad about the B-word comment though, she deserves it.
This story takes place shortly before my most recent break up. I was in a long-term relationship with an older woman and staunch feminist, that being said, our relationship was beyond the parameters of traditional gender roles and all sugar coating aside, she was the man in relationship.
When I informed my girlfriend or “partner”, as she liked to be called, that I was going to see a financial advisor to ask about a loan/line of credit/way to be not be so poor all the time, she told me that she would like to come with me. This was because she, herself had a line of credit and knew which questions to ask the advisor. I prefer to keep my personal finances, well, personal, but I decided to accept her stewardship.
We were ushered into the office of a woman who we will henceforth call Carol, because I don’t remember – nor do I care to learn – her real name. We were greeted warmly enough by Carol; I explained that I was interested in a loan/line of credit/poverty life-line. Her first question was if this was a joint account, we explained that no, she was just there to…supervise I guess.
As I mentioned, I am stone broke. Carol explained to me that in my current financial state no one is going to lend me money, BUT she would like to have a look at my financial records and help me make a plan so that in time, I will be eligible to borrow some money. Carol collected my bank card and both of my credit cards. She pulled up my financial records on her computer and told me that my best option was to open a tax free savings account and set-up automatic deposits of 25 dollars every two weeks: that way I would build a history of savings and the bank would be more confident in my ability to pay them back. I responded that that would be good but that it doesn’t help me right now, because right now, I’m so broke I can’t even afford to slice 25 dollars of the top of every paycheck. Right around now is when I realized that I was going to have a problem with Carol.
“Its only 25 dollars every two weeks” she told me.
Thus started the back and forth of “I know its 25 dollars, I can’t afford it”.
“– But its only 25 dollars” and so on and so forth.
Next I lost my most valuable ally in the room: my “partner” chimed in with “you know, 25 dollars a week is like, one less night we go to the bar”, and with that statement, I had become the irresponsible alcoholic, throwing away my money at the bar.
To her credit my “partner” did defend me when Carol chided me about “wants and needs”, informing Carol that I typically only have one beer and it’s usually only because she has pressured me to go to the bar with her in the first place, despite my protests of “no, I cant afford to go out drinking”. Carol, in her limitless incompetence, completely ignored the lack of evidence of my raging alcoholism and pulled up my record of debit transactions and performed a keyword search for “LCBO” to show how often I go to the liquor store. She seemed disheartened when she found only 3 transactions in the last month, each under 10 dollars, and unbeknownst to her, each at the behest of my partner who’s beer supply had run dry. Not only do I dislike being spoken down to, but she had just tried to embarrass me in front of my “partner”, I can only ask why anyone would seek to belittle their own client. Why?
Carol then added that we should start “a second savings account”, I figure she was counting the account I was currently refusing to establish as the first. This second savings account is where after each paycheck I would deposit half of my rent and half of my phone bill and that way I wouldn’t have trouble paying my bills at month’s end. I explained that I don’t have problems paying my bills, I have a problem getting ahead of my credit so I won’t be stuck in a debt hole for the rest of my life. I would like to explicitly specify the rest of this paragraph will be free of exaggeration, and no, none of this is a joke. Okay, she looked at me, sighed, and REPEATED, VERBATIM, THE EXPLANATION OF THE PURPOSE FOR MY “SECOND SAVINGS ACCOUNT”. Not a fan of repeating myself, I simply said “no, I don’t want that”.
Carol then turned to my partner, REPEATED HERSELF, A THIRD TIME, and my partner responded, “I think that’s a good idea”, so Carol smiles, turns to her computer, AND BEGINS SETTING UP BOTH ACCOUNTS.
I. Was. Flabbergasted.
I use the word flabbergasted because the only other words I know to describe my feelings at that time are swears – swears, unintelligible grunts, and medium to heavy limb thrashing. I should say that I’m the kind of person who has a hard time being polite and firm simultaneously, it makes it hard for me to say no in situations where I feel it’s important to be polite. What I did next was extend my hand between the faces of Carol and my “partner” to whom she was explaining the details of my new accounts, right into their eye-line, and snap my fingers. I know it was kind of rude but I didn’t start this war. When they looked at me I simply said, “you’re talking to me, I’m not interested in the account”. So she looks back at me, and again, this actually happened, she starts explaining the account in simplified terms, as if speaking to a child. While she was dumbing down her speech patterns to match my level of hindered intelligence I could only be reminded of Elmo explaining to me that blue is a bluer colour than red and that the stove is hot.
Again I was overtaken by complete astonishment, I could feel a rage boiling inside me, I wanted to spring from my chair and shout “Is this really happpening?! Am I having a seizure?!” my rage dissolved as I watched the birds play outside the window and the leaves sway in the wind, an old man walking an equally tired and graying dog, surely his longest, most loyal friend, I thought of the adventures they must have had together. Eventually Carol noticed that I had chosen staring out the window over listening to her speak. I’ll admit it was kind of rude and childish, but she broke my brain with her audacity overload, so it’s her fault.
She stopped mid-sentence and asked “you’re not really interested in this, are you?”
I returned my gaze from the window, looked her dead in the eye, desperately searching for a shred of irony, and stated “no” in a tone that suggested I chose to stop before uttering “…are you just figuring that out?”
I thought that was the end of it, but I was wrong. My Interac, Visa, and Mastercard were still on her desk as I reached to take them back; Carol scooped up Visa, and commented on how it was held together by masking tape. I told her I hadn’t replaced it because I don’t use it anymore and with it broken in two, I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to; but I keep it so I can use it to pay my bills with more ease. So Carol asks “if you don’t use it anymore, why don’t I just cut it up for you?” Instead of citing the perfect rationale I just elaborated on, I sank to her level and repeated myself. That was a mistake, she repeated herself in response to my repeating myself, trapping me in what I call “The Idiot Loop”.
Negotiations to rescue my hostage VISA card deteriorated further, so I just said “No, give it to me”, her position remained the same until I caved, uttering “fine.” and slouching back in my chair while she cut it in two, horizontally, and threw it, quartered, into the garbage.
Moments later we concluded our interaction, she shook my hand with a hearty, “pleasure doing business with you”, which I met with an absentee, “sure” and walked out of her office to go and find a tree to punch.
Where is the lesson you ask? Well days later while relating my experience to my sister, she pointed out that I had experienced what it is like to be a woman. An authority figure will treat you like the only reason you disagree with them is because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Even worse, she told me, try being a woman when your husband is around, he’s in charge, people will ask him your opinion because they will see you as his wife sooner than as an individual. If you don’t agree with them, they will go to him in the hopes that he will overrule you. Granted, for me, it was the reverse. My “partner” was a pretty dominant woman; in fact I had referred to her as “the man in the relationship” even before my recent empathetic experience. Maybe Carol picked up on our dynamic and thought she could use it to her advantage, maybe it’s that kind of intuition that enabled her to make it in her field despite having the social skills of a taxidermied seagull with googly eyes glued on. I don’t know, but I’m certain that being “the man” is something we need to see less of. I stated that my “partner” and I are not together anymore, I feel part of the reason for that is that neither of us was satisfied with the balance of power in the relationship, so many of our clashes revolved around one of us usurping power from the other. What a relationship needs is exactly that, balance.
If I take anything from this experience it’s that we all have a responsibility to foster equality in our relationships. People talk a great deal about gender equality, there are countless movements, rallies, benefits, protests, conferences, peace talks, summits, what ever you want to call them, but if you really want to affect change, you need to start in your own relationships, children learn social interaction from watching their family, where is a better place to start then mom and dad treating each other as equals?
That. And Carol is stupid and I hate her.