Ten years ago, when I was 41, I was a well-to-do housewife in a nice suburb. My husband worked outside the home, I worked inside it, and there was plenty of money for everything we needed. When I wanted something—be it a skirt, a serving platter, or a bottle of wine—I bought it.
Soon, though, that began to change. It became apparent that our marriage wasn’t working for either of us, and I knew that I would need to start earning an income so I could eventually live on my own. Talk about motivation! I had dabbled at writing novels for years, but there was no compelling reason to knock myself out trying to publish them. Then, as now, I wasn’t very motivated by the idea of fame. Sure, I wanted people to read my stories—just not bad enough to make it happen.
But with a divorce looming, I got serious, writing every spare moment of the day. The novels I’d been writing at a glacial pace suddenly started popping out at startling speed. I sold the ninth one, right around my forty-fifth birthday. A few years and a dozen published novels later, I was finally living on my own.
A complicated mediation agreement granted me spousal support as long as I didn’t hit an earning target that was wildly unlikely for a midlist author like myself. Money was tight, due to a series of recession-era reversals and the fact that there were now two households to support. After some bracing end-of-month empty wallet scenarios, I learned to budget, sold all my good jewelry, and cut out all the old luxuries. Goodbye, Whole Foods; hello, Grocery Outlet! Also, who knew you could wear seventeen dollar shoes from the Ross clearance rack to an editorial meeting?
Then a funny thing happened. Last year, quite unexpectedly, I made enough money that I didn’t need support. The dollar figure was the same as if I had received payments from my ex, but I had earned the money, all by myself. I was still on a tight budget, but all of a sudden buying things felt different.
My stove died and I bought a new one, and every time I turned it on it was a revelation: I did this! These BTUs were paid for by me! I bought more things, ever giddier: a light fixture, bathroom caulk, dental insurance, tickets to a music festival. I invited five friends to my own birthday dinner and picked up the check. Every time I slid my credit card across the counter, I had to resist saying to the clerk, “Ahem, just so you know, this isn’t my husband’s money I’m spending, but mine.”
Of course, more women in this country bring home paychecks than not. When I was married, I lived in a time warp, a latter-day homemaker with liberal politics and a Volvo, smug in my conviction that our smooth-running household was its own reward.
Now, I’ve learned something many other women already know—the satisfaction that comes from making your own way. When I’m standing in the Target line with my cart full of toilet paper and double-fiber bread and generic makeup remover, I smile meaningfully at all the other harried, middle-aged women shoppers. We ought to have our own secret handshake, or maybe one of those choreographed fist-bump routines, to congratulate each other on bringing home the bacon. Especially if it’s on sale.
Sophie Littlefield is the award-winning author of 17 novels, most recently, THE MISSING PLACE. Visit www.SophieLittlefield.com for more information.