Sex & Love

Women Relate Financial Cost of Choices

The Secret Currency of Love is a fine new book, featuring essays by professional writers on the role money plays in their lives. Unfortunately, its significant value is obscured by a cheap subtitle – "The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money … Read More

By / January 13, 2009

The Secret Currency of Love is a fine new book, featuring essays by professional writers on the role money plays in their lives. Unfortunately, its significant value is obscured by a cheap subtitle – "The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money and Relationships" – a confessional tagline that sounds designed to attract the fans of supermarket tabloids.

Worse, it’s misleading. It implies the book treats the shocking woes of a gender that’s been fiscally undone by love. In fact, the majority of those selected for inclusion by editor Hilary Black – including high-fliers like Pushcart Prize-winning novelist Ann Hood – explore the low wages paid to most writers, and the resulting pressure that that puts on their close relationships.

Every form of love that can be affected by the calculus of poverty and wealth is treated by her contributors. Among them are NPR commentator Lori Gottlieb, who covers the cost of raising a child alone in Los Angeles; financial writer Abby Ellin, whose fiscal freedom was bought for her by her parents; and memoirist Bliss Broyard, who learned how to milk friends and guilt people, all by being poorer than thou.

But for each, it was her career choice – rather than love – that determined her shaky earning power and its consequences. Most of the anthology’s contributors are freelance writers, and their difficulties arose, or grew, once they tried to meet the needs of someone beyond themselves.

"Before I had a child, I didn’t care about money," admits Gottlieb, a single mother who works on contract. On longing for a second child, she found, "I’d gone from being a person who was indifferent about money to one who was obsessed by it."

Some felt less squeezed because others helped pay the bills. Former New York Times columnist Ellin says that her parents sent her "to camp and college and graduate school," and then bought her a city apartment. "With this kind of financial support," she adds, "I’ve always been armed with the courage to be adventurous."

Adventurous, or entitled? The latter drove Broyard, the daughter of literary critic Anatole Broyard, to mimic the spending habits of wealthy friends, until she was broke. They ended up buying her meals – then traded up to clothes and vacations. "Part of them admires my choice to live slightly off the grid in order to pursue my artistic ambitions," she writes, adding, "They need someone like me in their lives."

Could be. But the question of how to live, and on whose dime, has less to do with gender than it does with individual choices. Too bad the title of this anthology doesn’t reflect that.

Susan Comninos is a freelance writer in New York. This article previously appeared in The Journal Sentinel.

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