LP: My divorce left me homeless with a 4-year-old in tow—I needed to figure out how I ended up there. I discovered that although I was a career woman who'd always paid my own way, I consciously married a man who liked to control the money, so I wouldn't have to. I started talking to other women, and I realized I wasn't alone.
O: You included anecdotes from more than 200 women. How did you get your interviewees to be so candid?
LP: Once I promised not to print their names, it all came tumbling out. It's a total burden to walk around feeling vaguely inadequate, slightly out of control, anxious because we know we could do better. Anxiety plus insecurity equals avoidance. But ask a woman confidentially if she's ever lied about the price of a lipstick or what a dress cost and you open the floodgates.
O: We've all done that—why do we feel compelled to hide our spending habits?
LP: Because we don't want to be judged for our appetites. Just the other day I bought a $350 coat. And when I showed it to my husband, I told him it cost $300. It was completely involuntary, and I just laughed.
O: Aren't there some good reasons for keeping quiet about money?
LP: Clubbing someone over the head with your net worth is different from sharing how money makes you feel. I talked to women who run corporations and moms barely hanging on to the bottom rung of the middle class. Everybody felt embarrassed. Everybody felt anxious, and rightfully so: More women will file for bankruptcy this year than will graduate from college, suffer a heart attack, or be diagnosed with cancer. Polite shouldn't enter the equation. This is about taking care of ourselves.