Dear John: Are Her Feelings More Important Than The Mortgage?
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
My wife and I are buying a house from a family member who has also been generous enough to seller finance the property. We've been negotiating with him for about 8 months and are just about to sign the closing documents in the next week.
We shared a lot of financial information with the seller since we wanted to show that we were a good risk despite not qualifying for a traditional mortgage on this property. We both have 800 credit scores and only a tiny bit of student loan debt. We're pretty careful in most of our financial life and that allows us to make certain choices. My partner and I don't make a ton of money, and the financial information we shared shows her making between a third and a fourth of my income as take home pay.
Here's where the trouble really starts. The seller wants us to get life insurance sufficient to cover the loan, but only on me. My wife is extremely upset about this clause because she feels that it takes away her agency to make decisions, is sexist, casts her as less important, and implies she is unable to care for herself without a man.
As someone who tries to be a good feminist, I'm trying hard to understand her feelings. My belief is she would figure it out if anything happened to me, but it would make figuring it out a lot easier if she didn't have to worry about tripling her income in the unlikely event of my death.
I looked into getting us both policies, but since she's a smoker, my policy is about $25 a month and hers would be over $60 a month for 1/3 the coverage. If her policy cost the same as mine, I'd sign us both up in a second. We don't currently have any dependents, but we're planning on having one in the next few years.
At this point, she's agreed to sign the documents, but she said she's never going to forget that I'm subjugating her and coercing her to do so and am basically taking away her agency. She is also planning on cutting off any future contact with the seller once the deal is done. This has set off a series of uncomfortable conversations between the two of us, some of which were probably the most intense disagreements we've ever had. She's now suggesting that I don't understand feminism and need to learn about it to understand what she's upset about. I don't doubt that there's more I could learn, but it is something I’ve had some exposure to. I read the Good Men Project; I read feministing; I've even been reading financial blogs targeted towards women to see if I could find some more insight into this.
Admittedly, the seller is sexist and totally believes in traditional gender roles, and the power dynamic in his relationship is something I've worked hard not to emulate. However, he’s also extremely financially astute.
So, Dear John, we come to my actual questions. Am I being unreasonable when I think it's not a bad thing for us to get some insurance? Is the seller overstepping? Is getting a single policy contributing to sexism? I want my wife to know she's loved and important, but I'm afraid I'm really having a hard time agreeing with her, and I don't think it's possible to agree to disagree on this one. I'm honestly worried about my marriage.
Trying My Best
Dear Trying My Best,
Your wife is being unreasonable in so many different ways that I’m worried I’m going to miss one.
Basically, a financially savvy relative is doing you a favor. His condition that you have life insurance is entirely reasonable. It may be motivated somewhat by an outdated and sexist attitude toward “the breadwinner,” but mostly, it seems motivated by the simple and obvious fact that you earn nearly four times as much as your wife. If she made four times as much as you did and he was still insisting only you need life insurance, I might be better able to understand your wife’s point of view. But what, exactly, does she expect you to do here? Teach your relative a lesson about equal partnerships by insisting he require both of you to purchase life insurance? Okay, fine – except that’s not affordable because she smokes! So again, what does she expect you to do?
If the death of a spouse is going to leave the surviving partner with a pile of unaffordable bills (like a mortgage or child-rearing costs), then life insurance is essential. If your wife couldn’t pay the bills if you died, your life should be insured. If you couldn’t pay the bills if she died, then her life should be insured. But determining these things comes down to a simple question of cost vs. risk, and if that analysis leaves you as the sole insured party in your marriage, your wife is being completely unreasonable in attributing that situation to sexism. (The fact that you make almost four times what she does may or may not be due to sexism. Without knowing what either of you does for a living, I couldn’t say, but it doesn’t seem to be one of your wife’s issues, so I’ll assume that’s not the case.)
Again, a relative is willing to help you both by loaning you a lot of money when more conventional sources would decline to. He asks the partner who makes four times as much as the other to purchase life insurance in order to protect his investment (and your wife’s financial security if you die). And for this your wife is saying you’re forcing her to enter into this agreement against her will, she will never talk to this relative again, you and he are both sexists, and most ominous of all for your relationship, she fully intends to hold a grudge against you over the imaginary insults she’s endured. Is that about right?
To answer your questions in order: 1. No, you’re being prudent. 2. No, the seller/lender is protecting his investment, as you should expect any lender to do. 3. Getting whatever life insurance makes sense to protect a family’s finances is not inherently sexist, even if that results in only the husband buying insurance.
And what’s really ironic is that in casting herself as the helpless, powerless victim, your wife is the one who could learn a thing or two about feminism.
My sister passed away a couple of years ago. We were very close. She would confide in me about things, including things in her marriage, and I’m sure I know something about her attitudes and motivations that even her husband was unaware of.
I find myself in social situations with her husband and others quite frequently, and when we talk about my sister, sometimes I can barely recognize her in the stories her husband tells. The problem is that oftentimes, her husband doesn’t know all the facts, so he ends up making my sister seem less able and in command than she was. He diminishes her. I don’t want to undermine him, but at the same time, I want people to appreciate how truly remarkable she was. When these situations arise, how should I handle them? Or should I just be happy people continue to think and talk about her, even if it isn’t always completely accurate?
Dear Memory Keeper,
At the risk of splitting hairs, it doesn’t sound like the things your brother-in-law says about your sister are inaccurate as much as they’re incomplete. If he were misrepresenting her in some significant way, I would encourage you to set the record straight. But it sounds like he simply wasn’t privy to some information that you have. I can understand your reluctance to make him look oblivious or out of the loop where your sister was concerned.
I would encourage you not to parse every anecdote for accuracy during these get-togethers and instead try to enjoy the simple act of reminiscing with friends about a woman you all loved. Memory is a subjective thing, and each person’s memories are accurate to him or her. But if you feel that a recollection is so incomplete as to make her seem other than she was, perhaps you can share one of your own that reveals something about her personality.
When I was leaving some friends’ house recently, I slipped on some icy steps and sprained my ankle. I had to go to an emergency room for treatment and I don’t have medical insurance. Now I have a bill I can’t afford to pay. My friends have expressed concern and have offered to help me with errands and things but the only thing I really need help with is paying this bill. I know they don’t have a lot of money but they have more than me. They haven’t offered to help financially in any way. I’m really starting to resent them over this. Do you think I have a right to ask them to help me with this bill?
Hurt Ankle And Wallet
Dear Hurt Ankle,
You certainly have a right to ask them for help – but should you?
You say their steps were icy, but was this a bit of ice that remained even though they had cleared them off, or were these dangerously icy steps that had been poorly shoveled, if at all? If this were your house, would you be satisfied with the condition of these steps?
If they were poorly maintained, I think your friends have an obligation to help you out. If this was just bad luck on your part, though, you can still ask them if they can help, but they would be doing you a favor to do so.
You should also call the hospital and explain your situation. Most hospitals are quite willing to work out realistic payment arrangements, and some may even reduce your bill somewhat. Your best bet is to be proactive and contact them, though. Don’t just ignore this hoping it will go away. It won’t.
And please understand that this is just my personal opinion about what’s fair. If you want to know where you stand legally, you should contact a lawyer.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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