They get something of equal or greater value, and it’s not just loyalty or sex.
Financial support isn’t love
I have had several serious boyfriends who offered to pay for everything — meals out, travel, the full rent in luxury places; one who offered to pay off my student loans; another who only half-joked about buying me an Audi to match his own. (I did not take either of them up on those offers.)
To a lot of women, this looks and feels a lot like what we’re told is “the perfect relationship;” even “love.” After all, isn’t “being taken care of” the big goal? It certainly was for my mother, who encouraged me to stay with these dudes and took their side after we broke up, “friends” who told me they were jealous of my “ideal” relationship, and numerous other women out there in society who dream of Prince Charming “saving” her by way of financial support.
But it’s not the easy ideal we think it will be.
They do it to benefit themselves, not you
Financial support is a power play, subtle or overt. Because whoever has the gold makes the rules.
At its best, the power play is subtle
Men like this get off on feeling that they are “taking care of you” — i.e., that you are someone who needs “being taken care of” — i.e., someone lesser. It may not feel like this at first, because it’ll look like “love,” or what we think we want, but it’s not. (Unless you actually think of yourself as lesser, but I don’t.)
At its best, you’re effectively a live-in, long-term escort — someone expected to dine and smile, have a nice time, be nice company, go on trips with him, maybe drive the nice car and carry the nice bag… it all sounds fun, right? Really livin’ the dream. Until you realize that you are effectively a tote bag with a pretty face. And at the end of the day, that is emotionally and psychologically deflating.
It is benevolent sexism at its best — the pinnacle, perhaps, of an “ideal” heteronormative relationship. The notion that a woman’s role is to be pretty; a man’s role to provide. A woman is provided for — a passive entity in her own life, a consumer of a lifestyle bought and paid for by someone else.
And sure, her end of the deal is simply to enjoy. But the unstated dark side of that is: always, and without real complaint.
He may give you play-pretend arenas of power — choosing the restaurant, the vacation, the house, the couch, the car, the bag, the babies. But it’s all a safe-space sandbox within the context of how you fit into his life.
He may yield to your complaints in these spaces, or buy the things you ask, but always because he’s assured you only have superficial power in meaningless areas, while he holds the real power of earnings, and yes or no.
At its worst, the power play is overt and abusive.
The worst ones will throw the financial support in your face any time they want to end a fight or silence you. The worst ones will point out “I could kick you out at any time” or engage in emotional warfare with “most women would be grateful for what I do.”
The only way to renegotiate power is by taking away their financial stronghold and paying your own way — or leaving.
If you are happy to exchange your self-worth for (false) “security,” then being “taken care of” financially is fine. You don’t really love him (you love the security he provides) and he doesn’t really love you (he loves the ego-boost of providing) — and this is balanced in other ways.
But if you are looking for love — and equality — the exchange becomes draining. The heartbreak happens when you approach these relationships thinking they will be loving, because they aren’t. Too often, people don’t know how to love as equals, without subjugation or submission — and that’s what this is.
It may take you a while to realize it, especially if you have a lot of direct and indirect encouragement from other women and society, but eventually you’ll hear your self-worth whimpering in the night.
And then you have to choose between that and the high thread-count sheets where you hide.