In the wise words of Sir Paul McCartney, “Money can’t buy me love.”
When we were younger, my sister and I used to joke about giving up school and marrying rich.
It doesn’t seem like a bad life, right? I’d get to live in an amazing house, have tons of free time to do whatever I wanted, and buy whatever I wanted. All I had to do was look pretty (which wouldn’t be hard given my copious amounts of time and money.)
Whenever we would indulge ourselves talking about our luxurious future as trophy wives, my dad would always cut us off.
“No,” he would say. “You girls go to school, get your degree, and make your own money.”
At the time, I thought my dad’s stern response was just an effort to instill practical values in us. My parents are both professionals, and making sure their kids have college educations has always been important to them.
It wasn’t until a few years later, around the time I was 17, that I realized the real reason my dad had shut always down our talk of trophy-wife-hood.
It was at the end of a very long day of high school -- extra curriculars, ACT prep, and honors classes. I collapsed into an arm chair next to my dad, and said with an exhausted sigh, “I give up. I’m not going to school. I’m just going to marry rich.”
Without looking up from the paper my dad said, “No you’re not.”
A little annoyed, I sat up. I asked him why not. I asked him why it makes any difference if I make money myself or if I let a husband provide for me.
I’ll never forget the way he looked up at me and, with a straight face, said, “What happens if that rich husband of yours someday decides you’re not that great of a wife, and you find yourself financially dependent upon some abusive asshole?”
Consent is not always a matter of “to rape or not to rape.” Consent is about the free, willing, and open agreement to participate in any aspect of romance or sex. My father was talking about physical force as manipulation in a relationship. But as I grew older, I realized that there was more than one way to force someone into a relationship.
In her amazing TED talk, domestic violence survivor Leslie Morgan Steiner tells the story of her own abusive marriage. Her abuser isolated her from friends, encouraged her to give up her job, and made her financially and socially dependent upon only himself.
I don’t want to trivialize the physical violence Morgan Steiner endured, but there are other aspects of her story that are important to observe.
Her husband made her unable to turn a different way: he took her autonomy away from her, and pressured her into “loving” him with threats of homelessness and friendlessness without him. That was a non-consenting marriage.
Manipulation, of any shape or size, is a form of non-consent. When women feel pressured to “put-out” because their date bought dinner, that’s a form of manipulation. When your significant other is constantly guilting you into spending time with them in lieu of your normal social life or responsibilities, that is manipulation.
Fear, intimidation, and guilt are not tactics to “get the yes.” As soon as you use them, you’ve already lost “the yes.”
I realize now that my dad was not trying to scare me so much as trying to empower me. It’s a lesson I try to pass on to everyone I meet.
You never have to do anything you don’t want to, especially in a relationship. You are entitled to change your mind, to say no, or to back away at any given time. If you ever feel like a significant other is trying to coerce, guilt, or threaten you into being with them - that’s not love, and that’s not consent.
And if someone wants to buy you a $100 steak dinner, let them. You deserve it. But it still doesn’t mean you have to sleep with them.