I* had my first encounter with financial abuse when I dated a controlling and manipulative top-level executive in the entertainment industry.
But at the time, I didn’t know it was a case of financial abuse. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances.”
Financial abuse, from my experience, does not have to start with controlling the finances in a relationship. It is an extension and an outcome of emotional and mental manipulation, and it serves as one link in a chain of abuse that has already been established.
Here’s my story.
My first date with Paul (for whom I am using a fake name) was a great one. We talked all night, and we seemed to have a lot in common. His family was from the Caribbean. So was mine. He loved reading about art, culture, and entrepreneurship. So did I. Like me, he considered himself highly spiritual and felt committed to supporting causes that uplifted the most underserved communities.
But between our first and last date, I noticed a change. When I started to show that I was beginning to like him, I noticed that he started to test the boundaries. He wanted to see how far he could go – how much he could push, how much he could pull.
In hindsight, there is no doubt that this man was out for my soul. He was hell-bent on using lies, putdowns, and manipulation to get it – all under the guise of L.O.V.E.
First, it was how I dressed. My signature look was jeans and a cute top. Easy and breezy with no fuss and lots of style and comfort. On our first date, he complimented my style. But after a few dates, he told me that he wanted me to start wearing dresses because jeans showed off my butt too much. He said, “It’s like you’re putting yourself on display when I should be the only one to see it.”
I remember his grip on my arm being a little too tight one night. He noticed that I had decided to wear some tight black jeans with an orange cardigan, and he disapproved.
Then it was how I kissed. He told me my kisses were too wet, so we only kissed when he was ready and how he liked. It finally snowballed into what I should be doing for him with my free time. He wanted me to wash the cuffs of his white pants so he could wear them on his flight to Miami. He demanded that I check his Chinese food orders to ensure they got his order correct.
Did I mention that he wanted to stay on the phone with me every night until I fell asleep? His rationale was that he was “just so into me.” The truth: the man was so insecure and controlling that he wanted to know where I was 24/7. He thought that keeping me on the phone was the easiest way for him to monitor me.
But in the midst of detailing my faults and outlining my duties, after a few weeks of casual dating, he wanted us to secretly get married. Then he said he wanted me to quit my job.
He said, “I am worth $3 million. There will be no need for you to work. In fact, I would prefer that you did not work. You can stay home and take care of the kids.”
When I told him that I not only wanted to work, but that I also saw myself transitioning from being a classroom teacher to becoming a school administrator, he got hot. Livid. He told me that that was the problem with black women and why we were single. We were too busy running around trying to be independent. We had forgotten our role as queens, nurturers, and mothers.
I am confident that had I ignored my gut and stayed with Paul, married him, quit my job, and had his babies, I would have lost my voice as well as my economic power.
I would have experienced some of the classic look-fors described by the National Network to End Domestic Violence as the signs of economic abuse, which include, but are not limited to: forbidding me from working; controlling how all of the money was spent; withholding money or giving me an “allowance”; not including me in investment or banking decisions; forbidding me from attending job training or advancement opportunities; and forcing me to work in a family business without pay.
But unlike many women who get caught up dating men who are abusive in general – and financially abusive, in particular – it was easy to leave Paul for a number of reasons:
- I could see the signs of financial and emotional abuse loud and clear early on. Paul wasn’t good at hiding his misogyny. He was attempting to assert power and control before we were exclusively seeing each other.
- I had options. I started seeing Paul as a gainfully employed feminist who reveled in the quality of life that earning my own money had afforded me. As a result, I did not look to Paul to be a source of income. When a woman has a career and a purse of her own, it's easier to escape financial abuse.
- I just wasn’t that into him. As I mentioned before, we had a few good dates. A few. And the more that I got to know him, the less I liked him. I also caught him in a number of lies about his education, his business success, and his parents’ educational backgrounds.
I DATED PAUL EIGHT YEARS AGO, AND ONLY FOR TWO MONTHS, BUT I STILL GET CHILLS THINKING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.
I know the long-term effects of financial abuse are devastating. In relationships with long-term financial abuse, women return to their batterer for difficult reasons. It might be because their credit is ruined, or they have no assets, or they have limited housing options, or they may have cut themselves off from their emotional and social support system due to coercion from their partners.
We should never be quick to judge women who stay in abusive relationships.
It is important to know that their circumstances may have less to do with a lack of willpower or personal courage and more to do with the ravishing effects of financial abuse: a lack of funds, limited employment opportunities, and possible legal issues caused by battering – all of which make it more difficult for any woman to gain or re-establish financial independence, safety, and long-term security.
Do you know a woman who’s dating a Paul? If you do, provide her not only with encouragement, but also with resources that can help her re-establish her financial footing and her confidence.
*The name of the author has been withheld to protect her privacy.