Joined at the Checking Account

Checking Account “Why do I suddenly feel like we are married?” Those were the first words out of my mouth once the bright California Sun had cleared some of the bank induced haze from my brain. The best of all husbands and I had been dating for just under a year and Jeff had popped the big question: “How do you feel about living together?”

He had asked me over brunch a few weeks earlier and I must have mumbled something in the affirmative. I had thought about living together since our relationship showed signs of staying power. Jeff’s housekeeping style tended to the casual, easy access variety, while mine was a more severe version of “everything in its place and a place for everything.” As long as he could see where he had left the laundry on the floor everything was well. I assumed he derived a sense of comfort by openly surrounding himself with his belongings. When I see too much stuff, it stresses me out and mental to-do lists start to get out of hand. I keep things in drawers and behind doors and make my bed after I get up. I guess it’s a German thing.

But when Jeff was staying over at my place, he meticulously kept his stuff in his overnight bag and never left anything lying around. While the former gave me pause, the latter gave me hope about our ability to inhabit the same space. He would not tell me until much later, that he had harbored very similar concerns, just approaching them from the opposite side. Would he ever be able to live in this sterile environment that looked like nobody lived there? In the end, we both naively assumed that it all would work out. Each naturally assumed he would convince the other that our way was the right way of living and the other would come to the light. Once he had explained everything clearly and persuasively, or led by example.

So after the better part of a year of dating, Jeff felt assured in his early conviction that I was a keeper and I had convinced myself that I knew him well enough to make it through living with him for the duration of a one-year lease. Romance can look very differently from the two perspectives of a couple. From there, we came up with a pragmatic plan for our finances. We would split our fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, and a grocery budget in proportion to our income and deposit the respective amounts directly from our paychecks into a joint checking account. Each of us would have access to the money and there would be no need for detailed accounting or awkward asking for money. Any other expenses, like going out to a restaurant, we would split evenly.

All we needed was a joint checking account. To accomplish this prosaic goal, we walked on a bright Saturday morning into a bank branch with the stage coach design on Santa Monica Boulevard. In the center of West Hollywood, two guys opening a joint account did not raise any carefully shaped eyebrows. A friendly banker walked us through the process, we signed more paperwork than I would have thought reasonable, handed over social security numbers and driver licenses. We deposited a couple of checks and walked out of the branch in under half an hour.

Once out of the bank, this mundane administrative step undertaken to simplify our financial transactions, hit us at a very emotional level. That joint checking account was the first outward sign that our relationship was heading towards something different than “friends with benefits” or Saturday night sleepovers. The only other person Jeff had ever shared an account with was his mother. I never had done this with anyone. I was still keeping a close eye on the exit door of this relationship to stop me from bolting, even if the exit was going to be at the end of a year-long lease. Jeff, while more optimistic about our long-term prospects, wasn’t quite ready for this financial intimacy either. He was haunted by thoughts of living on an allowance or having to argue for buying a new pair of jeans.

On Santa Monica Boulevard on that Saturday morning, I glanced over at Jeff and we shared a smile. I took his hand as we kept on walking. “I guess I will be ok,” I told myself, “it is only a one-year lease.”

This article was first published at Frontiers La.

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