Los Angeles, CA

What It’s Like to Go From Upper-Middle-Class to Poor After a Divorce

Elle Silver

It's a struggle to get by, but I alone control the narrative of how I view my financial situation.

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I grew up in an upper-middle-class family. I always assumed I would live an upper-middle-class life as an adult.

That would not be the case. I would end up struggling financially in middle age, a single mother.

This is my story.

After college, I lived the life of a "poor" hippie.

I went away to college at eighteen years old, all paid for by my parents. After graduation, I spent a period as a nomad. I was a hippie who traveled around a lot.

Having a "good" job was not a priority for me. I was poor but didn't care.

I was still young. I assumed I'd make money at some later point in life.

That or I'd get married. My husband would have money.

Little did I know that even if I married rich, my husband could still lose it all.

We had money but lost everything in the 2008 financial crisis.

I did marry a man with money. When I met him, he was making a good living as a real estate investor. He also comes from a wealthy family.

We married and I began living an upper-middle-class life. I had a huge diamond ring on my finger and we owned a big house in a nice part of Los Angeles.

My husband also owned ten properties. Then the 2008 financial crisis hit, and he lost them all.

The properties foreclosed and my husband declared bankruptcy. To survive, he borrowed money in my name and invested it in a fund that guaranteed huge returns.

The fund turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. Now I owed $50,000.

I had to declare bankruptcy as well. Our relationship would not weather this strain.

I left my husband and became poor.

I stayed as long as I could in my marriage. One reason was because I was afraid I couldn't survive financially on my own if I left.

I now had two children to support. I knew my husband was broke and bankrupt. If I left him, he couldn't give me much in child support. His parents also declared they wouldn't help me.

I stayed in my marriage. At a certain point, though, I was so unhappy that I couldn't stand it any longer.

I divorced my husband.

When I left him, I left with nothing. Divorcing my husband meant moving from our large, four-bedroom house into a tiny apartment. It meant moving away from an area with tree-lined streets to a gritty, urban neighborhood.

I went on welfare to survive. It was a struggle but it didn’t bother me because I was just so happy to be away from my now ex-husband. I was dating and having the time of my life.

But recently, it’s really hit me: I'm poor. My life wasn't supposed to turn out this way.

I'm coming to terms with the reality of my life.

It's not easy to wrap my head around the fact that I can now be classified as lower-middle-class. Well, that's on a good day. In Los Angeles, I feel quite poor.

I drive an old, used car. I still live in a shabby apartment in a crummy part of town. I'm on Medi-Cal, California's welfare health insurance. I still receive food stamps from the government to help feed my children.

Sometimes I find myself experiencing a lot of anger about my financial situation. I'm resentful that I can’t buy a house in this city.

I get triggered sometimes by people here, who seem to have so much. Take last night. I went to an art gallery and met a female artist who owns the space. She was standing there, showing me her photographs, all the while she was covered in diamonds.

I just knew she had a wealthy husband. At least that was my assumption. She was a kept woman, the kind of woman I used to be.

I felt so jealous. Here, I struggle, and her life is so easy. It’s not fair!

And then I told myself to calm down. We are what we think we are. We’re in control of our own narrative.

We alone decide our identity.

I can decide to see myself as a sad, poor woman who is down on her luck and everyone around me has it so much easier in life. Or I can see how well I'm doing.

My kids are happy. I did the right thing by leaving my husband. I'm so much more content now.

Yes, it's been a struggle trying to get by as a single mom. I just have to put my shoulders back and know that I’m good enough even though I’m no longer upper-middle-class.

I'm poor, and that's okay. I have my health. My children and partner love me.

I have a lot. I'm rich in love.

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Journalist and relationships expert. I write about Los Angeles as well as about dating, divorce, and family.

Los Angeles, CA
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