Does Having an Exit Strategy Mean Your Relationship Is Doomed?

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I think it’s because I leased a car this week, for just a little more than writer Julia Anne Miller revealed she spends on her “Single Girl’s Starter Kit,” that I was inspired to run a relationship cost benefit analysis.

See, I need the new car for work, but having the car for a future of day and weekend trips this summer with my boyfriend also delighted me. Spending just over $2,000 for the year would provide great positive utility for my relationship.

The point of Miller’s Modern Love column in the New York Times was that, despite living with her boyfriend of many years, she spends $2,268 a month on a storage space that holds one single girl’s bed, one set of flannel sheets, one pillow, her grandmother’s afghan, one each of various kitchen utensils, one tool kit, one ladder and one box of love letters from past admirers, all the things she believes she will need in case her relationship (7 years!) goes awry.

My circle of friends, all women in their early thirties, had passionate reactions. One girlfriend read me the story over the phone.

“Any woman who wants to do this will be single for the rest of her life,” she ranted. “If you give yourself an out, you will always eventually take that out!”

Another called Miller a commitment-phobe and still another, from the middle of the country, called her a typical neurotic New Yorker and told me that $2,000 is what she spends a year on part-time day care.

The story came up again while I was having a drink with another friend who recently moved in with her boyfriend.

“Any woman who wants to do this will be single for the rest of her life,” my friend ranted. “If you give yourself an out, you will always eventually take that out!”

“Can I store a box of single girl things at your apartment, like under your bed?” she asked.

“Why,” I responded.

“Because I can’t afford a storage unit,” she said very matter-of-factly.

A couple of weeks before the story came out, I was interviewing a very fancy fashion designer in Iceland. She told me she gives each new employee a beautiful and gigantic leather travel bag the week they start work.

“I tell them to fill it with their most important things and use it as a reminder that they can leave us whenever they want,” she said. Then as an aside, whispered to me. “I have one for myself, but I keep it for relationships. It reminds me I can always pick up and leave!”

I was enchanted by the idea. I wanted to put my baggage in my actual baggage. It seemed so neat and easy.

But then I read Miller’s story and began crunching the numbers. The $2,268 she says she spends could also go towards a romantic vacation for two, a year of subsidized therapy, a grill and enough meat for summer barbeques every Sunday, a lot of tango lessons or two new bikes—all things that could contribute to the growth of a strong relationship.

Even that giant leather bag, filled with my single girl things, would take up valuable real estate in my Manhattan apartment. Don’t get me wrong; my Hell’s Kitchen one-bedroom is very much MY apartment, and will stay that way until my relationship gets MUCH more serious. But I still want to have space for the boyfriend to put his things when he comes over. I want to make literal and emotional space for him. The giant bag takes away from that. Plus an emergency single girl bag also means I can’t use it on those fun weekend trips the two of us can take in my new car.

Miller addresses her own fear of commitment, and asserts that she’s found an option that works for her. It must be working somewhat well if she’s been with the same guy (who seems like a winner!) for seven years and even moved in with him. Relationships are hard, so anytime someone finds something that works, I say let’s not judge.

Still, for me, $2,000 a year is a lot to spend on an escape route from something I don’t want to escape from. I want to spend my resources on maximizing the awesomeness in my relationship in the here and now, not planning for when it will end.

Jo Piazza is the author of the upcoming novel, Love Rehab: A Novel in Twelve Steps. Follow her on Twitter.