Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Awful Wedded Wife

I just ran across this Op/Ed in the New York Times, My So Called Wife.

In it, Sandra Tsing Loh out-earned her last husband and current boyfriend (or girlfriend... she says "partner," so I can never tell), and fantasizes a little about a 50s style life where she could be the Don Draper breadwinner and come home to the BettyDraper who has a pot roast on the table and a Manhattan chilling (I don't really know if Manhattans are supposed to be cold, but she talks about bourbon, and I know that goes in a Manhattan).

It's the kind of thing I used to write about a lot in my 30s when I worked in carpetland, but not so much in my 40s, where there are probably homeless people who out-earn me, and I've actually paid a lot (of money and labor and time) for the privilege of doing a pretty costly, expensive (but generally fulfilling and rewarding) job. I may be the only person I know who plans to retire into teaching... where I'll probably make more money for vastly less stress. (And I taught college freshmen for several years, so I'm fully aware of how underpaid and over-stressful it is.)

In my 30s, I dated the Poor (grad students), the Broke (bass players), the Rich (surgeons, captains-of-the-universe types), and the In-Betweens: lawyers, architects, and a positively statistically improbable number of engineers. I still don't even know exactly what engineers do, but I think it has something to do with whether or not buildings, bridges, or roads collapse (and nothing to do with trains), and that's all the more embarrassing considering the fact that my first job out of graduate school was working for an engineering firm. (It's ok though, I was in "communications" which was a glorified title for "making coffee" and I don't think anything fell down because of me. Mostly, we worked for the Navy... so it is possible people died because of me...but not likely, unless it involved too much Maxwell House).

As my friend Tad observed back then, money wasn't an issue -- we were a tight-knit group post-college, and even though our jobs ranged from social work to trust fund babies, we all lived fairly comparably -- one house per person/or couple, one car per person, etc. There were those who picked up restaurant tabs, and there were those of us who cooked -- but that was most always based on skill set, rather than income. (And there were a few who never did either; rest assured, everyone remembers who they are. I was in charge of administering Social Probation, and I still have the List.) I started cooking Sunday Suppers as soon as I got my first college apartment -- and trust me, no one at that school had less money than I did. (I have the student loans to prove it.)

The first time I remember Income really getting to be an issue among the couples was when my grad school roommate kept trying to force her boyfriend into law school (he was the heir to a pretty sizeable old-school firm, but this kid had artsy non-profit written all over him). It created a big rift among all us womenfolk because -- as we pointed out -- she was far better suited to law school than he was (smarter, with better logic skills and grades), but she was having none of it. What she wanted was the lifestyle his dad's firm would've afforded them. She just didn't want to do any of the actual work. She was happy to consign him to that, but she wanted to toil away in her groovy little $12,000 a year arts administrator job. (They eventually split up  and last I heard, he'd gotten to the top of the artsy field he'd ended up in and even ended up making a good living at it.) She had no interest in being a Corporate Wife -- her job was way too hippie-esque for that -- but she sure wanted that Corporate Husband.

Personally, I would looooooove to have a Wife (the stereotypical kind). But I'd have to go back to working in carpetland to afford one.  In the meantime, I can do it all -- make a living; get dinner on the table; maintain a household in keeping with board of health standards; and come up with proper attire for mucking a stall and then attending an inaugural ball -- everybody just has to understand that I can NOT do it all at the same time. You can get a good meal at my house anyday -- as long as you don't mind me serving it in yoga pants. Or, you can come over to a spotless house -- but if it's spotless, that's only because I didn't cook anything in it that day.

I know I would be a better Don Draper than Betty Draper and that's a fact. I just need to take up drinking.

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