I Make More Money Than My Partner; Is That Emasculating?

I make twice what Ed does. Does that make me the dude in this relationship?
Publish date:
January 9, 2013
money, feminism, marriage, income, fiscal responsibility

Ed is an amazing guy. He can take things that don't work apart and then put them back together so they work again. That reeks of high magic to me, because when I take things apart, I turn the pieces into earrings.

This ability to fix things serves him well professionally, too. His day job is as a technician for a theatrical lighting company. He gets frustrated sometimes, because fixing things seems like a frustrating business, but he works with tangible things, as a physical product to show for his efforts.

In contrast, I work with words. And people. Sometimes I guage how productive any given day was by how many meetings I have attended.

Both of our jobs involve a lot of skill. But because our culture generally values white collar work over blue, when payday comes around, my checks are larger than his. In fact, at this point in my career (which, hey, could change at any moment given the world we live in), I make about twice what Ed does.

I've mentioned here before that I am the technical head of our household when it comes to things like figuring our fiscal shit out. And that hasn't changed since I last wrote about it. I make sure our bills get paid and figure out what to sock away into savings (and, increasingly, I'm actually budgeting instead of just paying bills and letting us spend what's left over).

That would probably be true even if Ed were bringing home the bank, just because I am better at putting money where it needs to go in a fairly timely fashion. But when you combine that role with my larger paycheck, sometimes things get a little tricky to navigate. Interpersonally speaking.

That's not to say that Ed is a seething mass of resentment; Ed enjoys eating out and having our electricity on as a constant thing. Me making more than him affords us a comfortable lifestyle, especially since we've got pets but no kids. But there are definitely times where I can tell it is wearing on his idea of what a man is supposed to do and be.

I joke with him sometimes, though it happened more when he was unemployed and I'd come home to find him folding laundry, that I feel like one of those 1950s husbands who only sees the kids (or, you know, the dog) after they have been put to bed and on weekends. I work my 8-10 hours a day and then I just need a little while to unwind. Rather than a drink delivered to me by a wife in pearls and heels (Ed refuses to wear the pearls and heels), I go for a quick round of video games -- before I do more work, because a part-time freelancer's work is never done.

This sense that I am always working also complicates things -- because then I want to reward myself. But if it's our money, is it really fair when I buy myself an expensive pair of shoes or splurge at Sephora? I feel torn, probably more than he does most of the time. Because on the one hand, he and I are in this together, no matter who is bringing home the bulk of the organic bacon from the local butcher. But on the other hand, I worked my ass off for that extra money and I feel a little possessive of it.

That's most of the time; there are also times when he does actually resent that I have more spending power than he does.

Figuring out a balance so that neither of us resents the other is a work in progress. And I suspect it always will be, actually. We don't really have social models -- or a definition of successful, positive masculinity -- to lean on in this kind of scenario, no matter how common it is and no matter how much Ed and I look at each other and say it just shouldn't matter.

A friend of mine is also the primary breadwinner for her family, too. When I asked Tanya for her thoughts on the matter, without any sort of context or coaching because surprise questions are the best questions, this is what she said:

I've made more money than my husband for the past decade, and still do. We're pulling close to even now, although I have taken on the bulk of the hit in pre-taxed bills, like insurance. I am pretty philosophical, though. Perhaps my cancer will one day make it impossible for me to carry this workload, and then my husband will be the sole earner. We'll see, right? It's more complicated than just "omg make more money." It's more about feeling like we agree with our common monetary goals, and that is sometimes the really tough part. I want to spend every extra cent on travel, while he would like to SAVE it or some ridiculous responsible thing like that. (I guess with cancer priorities shift.) Talks are still in progress!

I think Tanya is right about the importance of negotiating common goals -- because no matter who makes the most money right now, change is the natural order of things. And maybe, in talking it out with each other and with friends, we'll wind up making our own model that leaves everyone feeling good.

Feminism has helped open up the workforce to women (though it's far from equal yet, and even further from equal if you are a woman of color). I wish there were more productive and positive discussion floating about what that means for everyone -- including and sometimes especially the men who might have to find a new way of defining their own success. I make twice the money that Ed does -- but that doesn't make him less of a man (or less of an awesome, productive person).

(Though that probably means I should relax and not spend that extra money on shoes after all.)

Do you make more money than your partner? How do you negotiate that? And, seriously, this seems like such a hetero-relationship problem since it's based on gender expectations.