Liza Mundy’s “The Richer Sex: How Women Became the New Breadwinners” has stirred up a lot of discussion about how men feel about their wives making more money than they do (and a lot of justifiable claims that Liza Mundy is a sensationalistic math monster).
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the larger trends, but I can tell you with authority that I have zero problem being the impoverished hanger-on in my relationship
I think I can date this attitude back to 2000, when an email from Dr. Phil, of Dr. Phil fame, showed up in my inbox.
He was sad to report, the letter said, that my problem wasn’t sufficiently interesting to get me on his show, but he could recommend some marriage counselors in my area.
I hadn’t written to Dr. Phil. I never would, because I hate him as much as I can hate any self-important hypocrite I’ve never met. But when I ran a search in my outbox for email bearing his address, I got a hit.
Dear Dr. Phil, my husband is an asshole, sincerely, my wife.
Apparently I had infuriated her so much she didn’t notice she was logged into my account when she sent her plea for help.
At the time I was in writing heaven. The tech bubble was still an endless trampoline-o-bliss, where an intrepid freelancer like myself could get work as effortlessly as Burl Ives plucks smokes from the cigarette tree on Big Rock Candy Mountain. It was the golden age before rates plunged to pennies per word and bloggers ruled, when magazines thrived alongside websites and even retailers like Amazon handed out bags of money for balanced editorial reviews.
Six figure incomes for folks like me were not unheard of, and I bellied up to the gravy train, writing all night and sleeping all day. This took a toll. Laundry went unlaundered. Dishes went unwashed. An sizeable chunk of our budget was spent on going on to eat because I never cooked anything.
Meanwhile, my wife was doing her medical residency, designed to extract the most work out of her for the least amount of money. She would come home from an overnight shift where she got a few minutes of sleep to find my monkey ass passed out on the couch clutching a Dreamcast controller in my hand and using a half-eaten burrito for a pillow.
I can see now why she thought a celebrity intervention (celebrevention?) was the only sensible option, but when I found that letter I was livid.
I was raking it in, after all, making the car payments and building up a down payment for our future house. Those big numbers I saw on my paychecks granted me moral superiority. Let me call the shots. Gave me justification to do what I wanted to during my downtime. Right?
Ha. I forgave my wife for attempting to drag Dr. Phil into it, and she forgave me for being, for the first time in my life, a dude. I am thankful for her clemency every day.
Eventually, we got that house we were saving for, and she finished her training. The writing market collapsed like a court jester having a massive coronary. The other freelancers I knew fled to careers that let you keep the lights on and the kids in college. I soldiered on, thanks to the fact that my wife now often makes more in a day than I make in a month. The difference is that she didn’t turn it into a hostage situation.
I like things this way. I like that my wife is being rewarded financially for being intelligent and responsible. I’m glad she can buy shit without having to beg me for money, and I'm alright with her driving the Lexus while I get the minivan.
I’m perfectly fine with the fact that whatever I’m working on is secondary to her career because if she has to take a day off patients go unseen, overhead goes up and bills go unpaid. I’ll happily (OK, that’s not entirely true) do the laundry, attend to the kids, cook, clean, and whatever if it makes her job easier. If that makes me an unmanly bitch, get me a collar. I don’t care.
And as long as she never acts the way I did when I was a self-appointed sugar daddy, I never will.