I was listening to NPR on the way into work this morning — primarily because my $%*@! Zune keeps acting up. (Breathe) Anyway, I tuned in near the beginning of a piece about the burgeoning new paradigm of women making more money than their significant others, and the attendant issues with this reality. Perhaps in tandem, there is also an article in today’s New York Times on the same topic.
As I listened the piece, and subsequently read the Times article, I started to think about how this is such a non-issue for me. Of course, I had to think if I could say for sure that I felt this way because, to date, I have always made more money than my significant other and/or spouse. I didn’t have to travel far to reach the answer. No…I honestly don’t care.
What came next were some thoughts about the different sides of this issue. My knee-jerk reaction was thinking that a lot of these guys belly aching about feeling emasculated need to get over themselves. I have long since tired of the centuries-old edict that a man must make more — read “provide” — than his significant other. (Of course I couldn’t help but take a mental sidebar to ponder about how gay male couples handle this dilemma.) However, being a man, and spending a good amount of time over the years around other men, I can understand the pressure to be the provider.
On the flip side of the gender coin, though, I’ve heard more than my share of women add the “he must make more than me” caveat when describing an ideal mate, or supplying the justification for why they had to pass on a decent prospective mate. Further, I’ve known and heard a substantial number of women, of all races, bemoan that they are having a hard time finding a mate because “there are no good men out there.” That is often code for, “that fool works at Target.”
Let me be honest and real here. While I am sure many people have legitimate life experiences that make them reticent to 1) attempt to date a more economically-successful woman; or 2) date a man who earns less; I think there’s something else at play here. I think at the root of this is a simple matter of control. Let me attempt to break this down, from my perspective, based on gender lines.
Listen to the NPR piece. Read the NY Times article. Have an honest talk with male friends and they will tell you that they don’t want a woman trying to boss them around. They don’t want to feel emasculated. I fear that a lot of this is merely projection. We, as men, have been brought up to feel that we need to lead and provide. Even our parents would reinforce this construct. “Man up!” “Be a man!” The upside of this constant admonishment is that a lot of men are very aggressive, in terms of their careers. We are dogged by the little voice that urges us to make that money. Climb that ladder. Make that money. Get a higher position. Make that money. Though many of us want to shout “Stop the world! I want to get off!” we keep toiling away trying to make…that…money.
I have more a few friends who got tripped up, on their own accord, pursuing the women they loved because they felt their finances were not in order. What the…? Now, in fairness, I think it’s responsible to think about your financial condition, generally. Further, if you’re planning to have kids in the near future, it’s a smart to engage in some financial planning. That’s not really what gets me to head-scratching. It’s the wholesale notion that they cannot enter into a relationship until they have all their “ducks in a row.” Some of this can be chalked up to commitment issues, but most of the time it’s because we have been pounded since a young age to make that money. No man is supposed to have a woman taking care of him. Right?
Now, my female friends escape some culpability in this funky dynamic in which we found ourselves. Women were right there as the boys were taught to be providers. I would conjecture that that notion of man as provider gets reinforced into a woman’s psyche just as much as it does into ours. What’s particularly interesting is the duality, if I can call it that, of expectations from women who aggressively pursue their careers. By duality, I mean, the same women who (rightfully) expect to advance and be paid accordingly, have an expectation that their significant other or spouse will/should out earn them. I get the idea of wanting someone who “complements” you, but enough all ready with income litmus tests. Otherwise, the notion of someone complementing you is reduced to one thing…make that money!
Again, I feel strongly that an issue of control is at play, because generally the person who makes the larger salary tends to control the relationship dynamic. The person who makes less tends to be somewhat beholden to the larger salary earner–be it the man or the woman. Sure, sure…we can all pull out examples of egalitarian relationships; but, be honest, how many relationships can you point to where the person who makes less money is the more dominant person when it comes to financial decisions?
There was a guy in the NPR piece who shared that he didn’t feel he could interject in conversations about money because he earned less than his wife. I heard two things in that. One, he ceded control to his wife because he believes in the “(s)he who has the money has the power.” Further, between the lines, I could hear regret and resentment that he didn’t hold that position or role in the family.
I hear women say, “he can’t handle it,” referring to their significant others having issues with them being the larger wage earner. I won’t attempt to waive that away, because there’s plenty of truth in that statement; however, there’s a back story here. There are some women who make more than their mate, and like a lot of men, will constantly remind their partner of that fact–whether in implicit or explicit ways. Irrespective of how much sugar was coated on the statement, being reminded that you’re the lesser because your paycheck is small is a bitter pill to swallow.
I didn’t write this piece to tear anyone down or to stir the pot. I am simply releasing something that I actually think about often. As my wife gains notoriety and her income increases (make that money baby!), I am fully prepared to support her and do everything I can to see that she meets exceeds her goals. I couldn’t care less if she makes ten times more than me, because I didn’t marry her for money. Add to that, my dream is to go full-time with my photography and writing, which will, at least initially, produce less income than I currently make. My wife is all on board for that. There is no threat to my masculinity. She holds no design to reign over me. Maybe I’m just a new age kind of guy, but my manhood is not defined by the ratio of my income to that of my wife’s. In fact, I’ve got issues with this whole “manhood” paradigm and gender roles, generally, but I’ll write about that in another piece.
What do you think about this issue? I would love if I could get some real candid comments and conversation about this topic.