Dear Carolyn: Five years ago, I lost my job, and had to move out of my house and into my boyfriend’s “temporarily.” I never managed to replace my salary, but I did rent my house for a couple of hundred dollars less than the mortgage.
When I finally found a job paying two-thirds of my former salary, and sans benefits, my boyfriend started charging me rent, saying, “Where else could you live for free?” We also started splitting evenly all of our social engagements, vacations and food.
Family and friends are horrified and wonder what happened to the independent career woman I used to be. I’m waking up to the realization that I’m a roommate with benefits, but I’m terrified of leaving, falling onto financial hard times again, and finding myself completely alone.
Please offer me the proverbial slap across the face to help me move out and get on with my life. – Petrified and Paralyzed
I don’t know, it sounds as if you’ve been slapped more than enough.
So I’m just going to put my verbal hand on your chin and turn your gaze to the single most practical step you can take to extract yourself from this mess: Start looking for housing that would cost you no more than you’re paying your boyfriend.
Looking is not the same as signing; you can do this research for as long as it takes to get your mind around the idea of moving. In the process you may surprise yourself. Any housing search involves the mental exercise of imagining yourself in a place. You may well “try on” a life that fits so much better than the current one that it makes your decision for you.
By the way – the problem with your situation now isn’t that you’re paying your way; pulling one’s weight is always the honorable course. The problem is that you and your boyfriend didn’t approach the rent issue as equal financial partners, or even equal emotional partners. It was as grudging rescuer and terrified supplicant. The only way to get your emotional footing back is to get your autonomy back.
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