Does Financial Independence Sound Appealing?

I may not be exactly the audience the Wall Street Journal’s money advice for those starting their careers is targeting but, nonetheless,  I was interested in what they had to say. Five successful business individuals wrote short pieces sharing their wisdom. I recognized names like former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and I had heard of the companies that these professionals lead like Land o’Lakes or a subset of Merrill Lynch. There was only one  exception – Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble.

Ms. Herd stood out on a few fronts. Not only did I have no idea who she was or what her company did but looking at the drawings of the featured three women and two men suggested that she was the youngest of the group. Most importantly, her advice was of an entirely different type than everyone else’s.

If, like me, you aren’t familiar with Bumble, it is a dating app. Its unique property is that it gives women sole control of the first point of contact. What interested me, however, wasn’t the company but its thirty-year-old founder and CEO’s advice. You could file all the other respondents’ advice under the category of financial literacy. They included concepts like understanding debt, valuing savings and measuring job opportunities by looking at growth potential and skill acquisition as well as salary.

Ms. Herd’s succinct advice? “Never be financially dependent upon anyone else in your life. Don’t rely on a parent, a spouse or a boss. It will only erode your self worth and negatively impact the important relationships in your life. Instead, learn to save money, make money and then you can rule your own world!”

I found it fascinating, if not surprising, that the youngest member of the group offered the most personal and emotional advice. It turns out that Ms. Herd isn’t advocating living life alone. She married a few years ago and is expecting her first child. Interestingly, the articles I subsequently read about Bumble featured quite a few women who were economically independent but who were finding it very difficult to meet a worthy man with whom to share a life. Many of these woman were of an age where children may no longer be a reality. Recent studies have shown that younger people in general value marriage and children less than earlier generations did at the same age. Is Whitney Wolfe Herd an outlier as a strong, effective woman who at what today is considered a relatively young age is combining business success with marriage and family?

Her advice reminded me of the advice my generation of women received when we were in our twenties, “Don’t sign any documents your husband hands you without investigating and understanding it yourself.” In theory that sounded reasonable and prudent; in real life it wasn’t so simple. After all, pretty much everyone today checks a box that reads, “I have read and agree to the terms of service,” when we have at most read the first few sentences of legalese governing how we will interact with online companies.

The advice to independently assess insurance documents, house deeds and other legal contracts was spurred by fear. What if your marriage fails and you find out too late that you signed away your economic interests? What if your husband is actually a horrible person who is looking to cheat you? The most benign interpretation was, “What if your husband is incompetent and financially foolish?” After all, if you trust your spouse, there is no need to duplicate effort and spend time and possibly money by having separate lawyers and advisors walk you through verbose and confusing documents.

Everyone giving the advice knew of or had heard of someone who had been hurt by a “bad guy.”  They did not want another woman to fall victim in the same way. Those of us getting married did not think that our chosen loved ones were bad guys or would become so. If we did, why would we marry them? And, as always, time and money were at a premium and the desire to wade through boring papers was well under control.  We signed the papers put in front of us. In the overwhelming majority of cases, everything ended up just fine. In a rare case, it did not.

I assume that Whitney Wolfe Herd, like many of her generation, has been raised to value independence over relationship. The fact is that each time you trust another person and each time you attach a piece of your heart to another person, you cede some of yourself. I read that as a result of her pregnancy, the CEO is prioritizing childcare initiatives at Bumble. Yet, no matter how good the childcare, chances are that a piece of her heart will ache if she misses her baby’s first smile or if she has to walk away when a feverish baby clings to her. When you love, you lose some of your independence. That is true in all relationships. Financial independence can protect us from one type of harm, but seeking it may lead to other damage such as missing out on marriage and family in a timely fashion while we are busily pursuing our economic goals.

John Donne’s oft-quoted poem begins, “No man is an island, Entire of itself…” His words speak of the larger world, but they are true in our innermost lives as well. I don’t have a brilliant way to make sure that no one is harmed by someone they love and trust. I do believe that operating from a belief that we should be complete in ourselves, on whatever front, results in more of us being alone even when we don’t want to be. Linking our parents, spouses and bosses together as if our relationship with each is identical results in placing barriers on our hearts that keep out feeling as well as danger. Linking our self-worth too tightly to the economic arena limits our worth in other areas. I wonder if asked to comment on the same question in forty years, Ms. Herd’s answer would be the same.

21 thoughts on “Does Financial Independence Sound Appealing?”

  1. Tzipi Kathleen Hartson

    My Mama married at 15, immature, childlike, without regard to much of anything. She had me at 16, my five sisters and brothers by the time she was 25. She had an eighth grade education, perfect spelling, penmanship, sentence and paragraph construction and read to us, even out of the old KJV. She was fun and playful, an excellent teacher. As the baby of six daughters, her nearest in a age sibling seven years older than herself, and a mother widowed when Mama was three, raised in poverty, in the basement of what must have been a house at one time, no indoor plumbing, Mama taught herself to cook and sew. She loved music, and bought two different collections of great and diversified music offered by grocery stores back in the 1950’s, exposing is to classical music and to an excellent diversity of music, each album following a theme, such as patriotic, children’s poetic songs, western classics (Yellow Rose of Texas), Bible songs, etc. Mama loved Daddy, and made our home a joy for the most part, working around his alcohol & infidelity demons, always protecting us from such facts, and honoring him in love, that we would not know but would hold him in high regard, as befits a child’s right. In short, Mama was amazing, her love of life never diminished, and I suspect neither did her love of Dad, though long divorced. She died poor financially, and lonely, but always with a heart of forgiveness, thankfulness and gratitude. Sadly I didn’t know my siblings were not attentive to her until I moved here, and I tried to make up for the years she invested in us, but in six months she was gone. No college degree. No financial success. No husband. Children too busy with their families. Bittersweet life, but never in her eyes. She refused such self-pity and invested herself in others. That’s my Mama, a great woman and kind human being. A Giver. I do not believe my Mother could have left the world a better place had she been an engineer or financially independent. So much for wealth, or education degrees. The values she taught us by her example have been replicated in my life, and I have wonderful memories of her, and the obligation to increase her life’s legacy by passing on the eternal biblical principles to my children and grandchildren. Life isn’t only about Narcissism or “financial Independence.” It is about serving and exampling too, as truly successful people understand, and why such people value their spouses, children and are giving away billions of their wealth. Family is the only “real” legacy. Thank you Susan, RDL and most of all, Thank you Mama. My apologies to Susan and my high school English teachers for the multiple infractions in sentence and paragraph construction.

    1. I have read books on how men pursued women for money and took it. Ms. Herd is just giving advise on how women can protect themselves. As she stated and it is true, once you are in a relationship, you give up some power but it takes a time to really know someone. I even had a teacher, relatively recently, poured out her heart to me, a total stranger. She told me she met her husband at a financial institution. They don’t work there anymore. She cashed out her 401(k) in the amount of $20,000 and gave it to him. Since they both lost their jobs at the financial institution, she had to go live with her sister and he some where else. What did you do with the money she told me she asked him, and he said he did not know. I did not ask her, why did you give him all that money to hold on to, you could have put it into an account with both signatures. I do expect a woman well into her adult life to exercise some sense. I do not care how much a person pray, you cannot put your whole confidence in a person. I do understand very very well what Ms. Herd is saying. I do value relationship but people are pretenders. They always lustful for what you have not for what is in your heart.

      1. Hope, I absolutely agree that women (and men) have to be wise about the people they love – and careful about whom they allow themselves to love. However, swinging to the extreme of not being open to love until one is financially independent and then not being willing to trust a spouse if you do marry, comes with its own costs. We need to be prudent and get good advice, but there are no guarantees of not being hurt by another person, even if the hurt comes from not letting another person into your life.

  2. Dear Miss Susan and Rabbi Daniel, your response to Ms Herd’s take on financial independence triggered a memory of a book I read decades ago. It is called, funnily enough, “No Man Is an Island,”. It was written by a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton. The book is a collection of essays on various issues (hope, conscience, charity, etc.) related to loving others -from a spiritual perspective and centers on the theme that we are all called to love one another. I first read Brother Merton’s book back in the 70’s or 80’s. I think it is time to go back and read it again. It probably should be on every young person’s reading list because it addresses so many subjects that are important spiritually but no longer mentioned much is this PC obsessed, progressive, pagan culture. Blessings to you both. Also, with the High Holy Days fast approaching, La Shana Tovah (hopefully I got that right).

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Joyce
      for both your book recommendation and your blessing (quite correctly articulated)

  3. So, would you suggest a woman should not have a job or business? I’m wondering because as an unmarried woman I have a desire to start a business. And also I’d love to get married one day.

    1. I’m going to try to answer your question in a reasonable amount of space though it deserves a column of its own if not a whole book. Obviously, I don’t know your age, talents etc. What I would say is that girls/women should develop their talents and contribute to society. Sitting around waiting for Mr. Right isn’t good for anyone. However, I think that we are largely lacking awareness today and that is what I would encourage. If you do want to get married and have a family, then what you are doing should be weighed up with that in mind rather than an attitude of, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.” For example, a job or business that demands lots of travel stops you from being part of a faith community and nourishing friendships. Those are invaluable in making connections that lead to marriage as well as helping you hone in on what type of man and home you want. A very successful (and never married) prosecutor we knew told us that her femininity was the price of her success. Had she been aware of that at the outset she might have made different choices or taken deliberate steps to counter that effect. So, I would urge keeping your eye on the entire future you want and being aware of paths that make that more or less likely.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Not so, Girl confused,
          the story about the lady prosecutor I discussed on the podcast had a happy ending. She is today a wife and mother of a large happy family. The Minnesota prosecutor that Susan Lapin mentioned never did get married though she eventually took a huge risk and had a baby boy by artificial insemination. That story worked out okay and years later I officiated at that young man’s wedding

  4. As we’ve been teaching our kids, every time you say “yes” to one thing, you say “no” to something else.

    1. A lesson youth probably has always had a hard time with, but in this generation a lot of people way past youth have the same problem and aren’t able to give the guidance that you are to the next generation.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      And sometimes, Paul, as you have undoubtedly learned in your successful business,
      Saying no can be more important than saying yes.

  5. “…difficult to meet a worthy man…”

    Nearly every discussion I witness where women are talking amongst themselves regarding men includes this phrase. (especially when the topic surrounds women who are looking for a partner – someone to date or marry). Do women ever look at that phrase and ask themselves what it means? Can women even define what it means? Or is it just a bunch of words that get tossed into the mix because it “sounds good” or “represents a default consensus among women”? Because if you look at who these women actually choose to pursue it seems to have no relevance whatsoever.

    The phrase is highly degrading (and offensive) to “good men”. I define a “good man” as one who has demonstrated a capacity and who has an intent to materially (financially) support his woman and the children they produce. Yet women pass over such men consistently. With a plethora of ridiculous excuses that, to me, have no foundation. The most common is: “Oh, he’s just a ‘nice guy’ – not somebody I would seriously consider.” The kiss of death. Is it any wonder men are fleeing marriage in droves?

    I have never married, despite a very long attempt to find a partner. It is true (but unstated) that a man does not choose his partner. All a man can do is offer to be one, and it is the woman who chooses. That is how God designed things. Yet the town drunk – who is constantly losing his job and is never faithful – has a woman with him every night. Because he is “exciting”. Do I want to consider the women who choose him? Absolutely not. But it is very draining to see how the world actually works, despite what women describe as what they “want”.

    I am now at an age where I will never have a family. I have amassed a many-millions empire and I doubt I will ever marry (find a woman who will choose me). I worked very hard for decades to build a foundation of financial stability and security. I do not reveal that to anyone, and you would never guess what I have by looking at or talking to me. I am not interested in being judged by what I have earned/saved. Only by who I am and what I do. I know dozens of such men who have been brutally rejected so many times they are no longer willing to entertain the thought of dealing with women on anything but a business basis.

    Probably women will assume we all have a laundry list of character flaws. In an attempt to look anywhere but at themselves. I don’t know anybody who is perfect, not even women. All of us give much of our time, money, and energy to others who are in need.

    There will be no answers. I suspect the Lapins will have a biblical view of this conundrum that theoretically describes why this takes place. But to those of us who are living flesh it won’t solve the problem or soothe our aching hearts.

    1. I think the phrase “worthy man” is very much in the eye of the beholder. I agree that many women look right past men who are worthy in an objective sense but who doesn’t match their picture. Part of that is financial, but it isn’t the whole picture. I’m sorry that you haven’t found someone who you can appreciate and who can appreciate you. I wouldn’t give up – it’s not over till it’s over.

    2. I would say the say the same.
      I have trusted by life in the past to two individual the first for 19years one son, the second 2 years I realised that my life was in danger. And moved on, because I became aware that God has better in store for me, I was exploited by theses men…
      Will I trust a man again yes because now I know that God will make the choice for me. I love God creation and therefore I will wait for His timing.

    3. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Solitude Orca,
      You ended your much appreciated letter by predicting that Susan and I will have a Biblical view of your problem but that it wouldn’t do much good or soothe your heart. I naturally sympathize with your pain and loneliness-I am saddened by the suffering of any good person. However, whether we soothe your heart or solve your problem isn’t really the measure of our response, is it? We endeavor to respond truthfully and, yes, through the lens of a Biblical perspective and our words may possibly aggravate your pain. Hearing truth often does that to us. Our interest lies in pointing the way to a solution–not providing it. Only you can do that. In your letter, this is the key sentence: “I have never married, despite a very long attempt to find a partner.” This is like someone whose highest culinary abilities resemble something a dung beetle might have rolled onto the plate sadly reminiscing and saying, “despite a very long attempt to find a chef job in a five star restaurant, I have never found one.” Directly put, I don’t believe you ever knew how to find a wife. In the majority of cases of men who never married despite claiming to have wanted to, the reason is seldom that they never met the right woman, it is nearly always that they failed to become the right man. I am not going to waste your time and mine by massaging you with warm butter. Any man this side of physically repulsive with basic hygiene habits and who makes a good living can get married. Period! One of your mistakes, and there are probably others that a conversation would reveal, has been your determination to keep your financial success a great big secret. Now why on earth would you do that? If you have read any of my books on money you know that money is above all, a certificate of good performance. Why would you keep it secret that you have served so many others of God’s children with faith and honesty that they happily handed over to you much money. And you didn’t want a potential wife to find out about this? Huh? Well, obviously there is much more to explore and I am so sorry that I was not able to plant any of this far better thinking into your life many years ago. But here we are and for other male readers of these pages, just remember, becoming the right man will make the right woman materialize.

      1. Dear Rabbi-

        I sincerely take your words to heart. You are no doubt correct that I did not (do not) know how to find a wife despite being active in my church (protestant) and putting effort into learning God’s word. My family of origin is very damaged, and no doubt I carry damage with me. I have spent years with professional help to improve that situation. So I have put time, effort, and money into that.

        I do not show my wealth because I do not want that to be the basis of how people interact with me. When I go to the bank the staff treats me differently than others. That offends me. I want my Grandmother to be treated as respectfully with her $10 checking account as I am. She is not treated well when she goes to the bank. (I do support her but she chooses to manage her social security funds herself.) I am very wary of anyone who elevates someone they know to have substantial means. I also dislike it very much when a person shoves their monetary success in your face, as though that is the measure of a man. You have a different view and I accept that. But I do not respect people who elevate others who simply have acquired more. I elevate others who have a character forged in God’s image.

        A woman is especially subject to the lure of money, for obvious reasons – resources to raise children. If any woman I dated had been interested enough to get to know me then I certainly would have shared my financial success with her. But I certainly am not going to put it on the table at the start. Tactically you would no doubt disagree. I believe it is foolish to lead with wealth and then try to figure out if the other person loves you or your pile of stuff. Why create a problem for yourself that way?

        The vast majority of women I have dated have used the “you’re just a nice guy – no thanks” excuse. I make an effort to show the other person they matter to me. I know this is a turn-off to many women. While I do not understand it women are drawn to men who in general ignore them and do not show any particular interest in them. I am not interested in being with such a woman. So what I am looking for is not what is commonly available.

        I accept your description of me as a “dung beetle”. While I may not agree you do have a point. I accept that my ability to effectively assess others as you are able is simply not present in me. I have numerous business relationships that are founded on respect, mutual interest, and an orientation towards success. When someone cheats me or presents themselves dishonestly I end the relationship, even if the relationship is producing profit.

        Thank you for your thoughts. I think there is a lack of appreciation by those for whom managing human relationships is easy and intuitive versus those of us for whom it is difficult and exasperating. (In contrast I could try to teach you quantum mechanics and you would probably feel as frustrated as I do in figuring out how to deal with people.) Just because something is easy for you does not mean it is easy for me. I have put a great deal of effort in trying to learn – it simply is an area I apparently do not have an aptitude for. Resulting in enduring frustation since it is such a necessary skill for a satisfying life. I notice many things when I watch others but putting those lessons into practice is very difficult for me. Do not feel sorry for me, instead try offering something that helps.

        Thank you, and may God bless.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Solitude Orca
          I sincerely apologize if you thought I was comparing you to a dung beetle! God forbid! I would never insult you in such a rude fashion. I’m sorry to have caused you pain. What I explained was that someone without a clue of how to cook and present an appetizing dish can’t expect a job in a fine restaurant. (That’s where the dung beetle came in)
          If you made your money through your own hard work and skill that tells a woman a great deal about you. Could your attempts to conceal something so profoundly a part of who you are made you come across as awkward?
          Of course your grandmother should be treated politely, courteously and efficiently but I don’t think it inappropriate for the bank to lay out special red carpet treatment for a high net worth client. In the same way it is just fine for an airline to offer special perks to frequent fliers who are loyal to that particular airline.
          Wishing you success

    4. Dear Solitude Orca,
      I’d like to respond to your writing as a woman who is confused by your description of yourself. I was left feeling like you’re not being very honest with yourself or others concerning who you are and what you’ve accomplished (something you yourself admitted to) and perhaps you’ve subconsciously sabotaged possible relationships before they’ve had a chance to grow. I hear you saying that women are especially susceptible to the “lure” of money and yet, if you look at the truth of things you will find that the vast majority of women do not marry or love their husbands because they’re millionaires as most men are not millionaires. Most women simply want to be happy with a good man. I’m not sure what is meant by a “worthy” man as I’ve never heard that term from a woman before in my life but a simple response to this statement would be, “Worthy of what?” Their answer would tell you a lot about that particular woman but will tell you little about women in general. I agree with the Rabbi that you can’t expect to be judged on “who you are and what you do” when you hide a big part of who you are and what you do. What you “have” is a direct result of who you are and what you do. Another thing that confuses me is your belief that only the women choose a spouse and all a man can do if offer himself to the chopping block where he takes the chance of being “brutally rejected”! Don’t you agree that a man only offers himself to a woman he has CHOSEN? A woman can accept or reject a man only after he has chosen her. (If I were a man I’d steer clear of any woman who has the potential within herself to be brutal to anyone for any reason. Instead choose women who will be kind and gentle and graceful enough to explain why they are not interested without using any brutality.) You also seem to be terrified that you won’t know if a woman is merely interested in your wealth or if she’s interested in you. Due to the fact that you don’t trust your ability to discern the truth about any given woman and you haven’t given away all your assets so that you can know for sure, I have to wonder what is more important to you, a good woman or your wealth? You said that you esteem people with “characters forged in God’s image” but I’m not seeing or hearing much Godly behavior in how you present yourself to women. I think you should pray that God will remove your fears of women and that you will be able to relax, be yourself (your whole self) and realize that all the wealth in the world is far less valuable than a life spent with a good woman. As for anybody who esteems money over anything else, simply remove them from the “possibilities column” and move on. You’re never too old to find good people to share your life with.

  6. “I wonder if asked to comment on the same question in forty years, Ms. Herd’s answer would be the same.”

    I wonder too. Thank you for that Susan. You and Rabbi are Amazing.

    I remember something the Rabbi said in a recent podcast about women why women who have high paying jobs find it more difficult to marry than those with low paying jobs.

    The women in the Bumble who are financially independent but unmarried confirms what the Rabbi taught. I am enjoying Ancient Jewish Wisdom from your ministry. Thank you and God bless.

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