Jerry is 38, makes $120,000/year, and wants to be a husband and father. Jerry’s a man’s man. It’s not that he’s insensitive, per se. It’s that he’s far more comfortable building a deck in his backyard, tinkering with his car, and playing golf than he is talking about his feelings. Still, for all his Marlboro Man demeanor, he’s good-hearted, generous and loyal. He may never be emotive, but he will be a good partner for a woman who doesn’t expect a man to express himself verbally. He shows his love through acts of service.
Problem is that Jerry’s had a hard time falling in love. Women love his manly side, his innate nobility, his serve and protect ethos. What they struggle with is his view of women.
He wants a traditional homemaker as a wife, and in his city, he’s had a devil of a time finding any attractive woman who shared his worldview.
Jerry wants a stay-at-home wife. One who handles the household and takes care of the kids and has dinner on the table for him when he gets home from work. For most of his thirties, he’s been dating attractive women who respond to his masculine energy, and yet each of those relationships has imploded. Because when push comes to shove, Jerry believes in traditional marital roles. It’s not that he thinks women are inferior. Nor does he feel that women don’t have the right to work hard and make equal money as their male counterparts. This is simply about him and his needs. He wants a traditional homemaker as a wife, and in his city, he’s had a devil of a time finding any attractive woman who shared his worldview. Simply put, Jerry likes smart women. They’re more stimulating. And it just seems that all the smart women are so busy juggling career, friends, travel, the gym, book club, and a side business, that he’s not sure about what to do. Should he keep dating the smart women who are out of alignment with his life goals? Should he hold out for Suzy Homemaker, although, after ten years, he’s beginning to doubt her very existence? Or is there a third, middle path – some form of possible compromise?
I don’t know about you, but it would seem to me that options 1 and 2 are out. If he continues to date career women, Jerry’ll be unhappy in the long run. If he hopes to organically meet a stay-at-home Mom type at bars and business functions, he may be single forever. Thus, it would seem that the third option – compromise – would be Jerry’s most prudent choice. But what does that compromise look like? How can Jerry find what he’s looking for?
Hold that thought.
Now I’d like you to meet Shari. Shari is 36 and wants to be a wife and mother. Shari is a smart, strong, successful woman. It’s not that she’s masculine, per se. It’s that she’s far more comfortable talking to venture capital firms and planning to summit Mt. Whitney than she is with cooking dinner for her husband. Still, despite her Hillary Clinton exterior, she’s good-hearted, generous and loyal. She may never be domestic, but she will be a good partner for a man who doesn’t expect his wife to perform traditionally feminine roles. She shows her love by working hard, achieving her dreams, planning and taking care of business. Not that different from Jerry, actually.
Problem is that Shari also has had a hard time falling in love. Men love her brainy side, her intellectual curiosity, and the way she seems to have it all under control. What they struggle with is her view of marital roles. The men that she wants to marry want a more traditional wife. And that’s just not who Shari is.
While Shari is succeeding in a “man’s world”, at home, she still wants to be the woman. Apart from the housework. And the dinner on the table.
Shari makes $250,000/year and lives a life consistent with her salary. She has season tickets to the theater, takes at least one international vacation every year, and never skimps out on good restaurants and spa treatments. She’s looking for a man who makes at least what she does, so she can quit her job, be a stay at home mom for as long as she wants, and not sacrifice her lifestyle at all. While Shari is succeeding in a “man’s world”, at home, she still wants to be the woman. Apart from the housework. And the dinner on the table. When she really stops and thinks about it, Shari wants to raise kids, do yoga and have playdates with her friends until she goes back to work. While this feels like a reasonable expectation – she’s seen the Real Housewives! – Shari’s struggled, consistently dating attractive men who always fall short. If her boyfriend makes more than Shari, he’s inevitably self-involved. Whether he’s working 60 hour weeks, traveling all the time, or only communicating by text, Shari never feels like a priority. And if her boyfriend makes less than Shari, she discovers he’s either threatened by her success, or, just as likely, Shari doesn’t see him as husband material.
Why wouldn’t a man who accepts Shari’s success and appreciates her ambition be qualified to be her husband?
Good question. Well, as Shari sees it, there’s no way she can quit her job and maintain her $250,000 lifestyle with a guy who makes anything less than $250,000.
Because of this self-imposed restriction, Shari remains single. It’s not that she really believes there are no good men out there. It’s that the men she’s most attracted to – the captains of industry – just aren’t that into her. The men she works with all married “normal” women – high school teachers, nurses, graphic designers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t seem fair that an amazing woman like Shari should have to “settle” for a man who makes less. So far, she still holds out hope that she can get the man of her dreams, but she’s starting to waver. In Shari’s mind, she sees only two options: 1) Ignore men who make less than her, and keep dating charismatic successful men who have no interest in dating the female version of themselves, and 2) Remain single for the rest of her life. A third option, involving compromise, never occurs to her.
I think it’s very clear that both Shari and Jerry need to compromise. But I’m guessing that if you’re a woman reading this, you have a lot more sympathy for Shari holding out for her George Clooney than for Jerry holding out for his June Cleaver. That says a lot more about you than it does about the situations, which are completely parallel.
You may find Jerry frustrating, but, like Shari, he wants what he wants. He’s just not getting it. If you were to point out to Jerry that only 14% of women are stay at home moms (and a majority of them were economically disadvantaged, not privileged), you may raise his eyebrows a bit. But nothing will change. Facts are rarely strong enough to change feelings. So even though Jerry’s spent ten years chasing a unicorn, he will not let go. He wants what he wants. Even though he’d be happier expanding his search. Maybe then he finds a woman who will stay at home until the kids are in school and then return to work part-time. Maybe he finds a woman who will take the lead on child-rearing and household chores, but asks him to help out with the cooking (or bring home take-out). But until Jerry comes toward the center, his mythical smart, stay-at-home housewife fantasies may never be realized. And if this is the case for Jerry, wouldn’t your advice to Shari be the same?
Sure, Shari can go out with another hedge fund guy, only to discover his work comes first, he’s looking for a younger women, and he’s not ready to settle down. Sure, Shari can continue to scroll through men online who list their incomes as $150,000+. But isn’t she guilty of the same all-or-nothing thinking as Jerry? Isn’t she holding out for 2-3% of men – men who have largely proven themselves indifferent to her as a partner? So how can Shari compromise the way Jerry did? How can she come towards the center and stumble her way to happiness?
Shari sees men who make less money as leeches.
Well, one thing Shari hasn’t fully contemplated is that whatever her future husband’s salary, it’s additional income. It doesn’t take money out of her pocket. This is a revelation, since Shari sees men who make less money as leeches. For example, if she wants to go to Bali, she has to pay for her husband’s plane ticket, and that’s not fair (even though husbands do it for their wives all the time). This hypocrisy restricts her from seeing the potential in the 97% of men who make less than she does. While Shari works, if she makes $250,000 and her husband makes $120,000, together they’re making $370,000, which, quite objectively, is more than the $250,000 she was bringing in without her husband.
Why Shari sees him as a drain is beyond me.
Next, if Shari decides to quit her job when she has kids, she will still have a husband who is financially solvent and then some. Remember, Shari wants a man who makes MORE than she does. $100K is not enough. $125K is not enough. $150K is not enough. $175K is not enough. $200K is not enough. $225K is not enough. This is Shari’s big blind spot. As long as her husband is not in debt, is happy at his job, and can pay the rent and support the family on his salary, then everything will be okay. Plenty of families live on less than $125,000/year. Plus, Shari will not be going for spa weekends, safaris in South Africa, or to her personal trainer three times a week. She will be up in the middle of the night breastfeeding, lugging her baby to Mommy and Me class, strolling around the park, and wondering how any Mom gets anything done during the day. Yes, $125K will do just fine, until the kids are off to school and Shari can resume her career part-time or full-time.
I’ve written about this subject before, namely here and here, but in presenting the case of Jerry, the man who wants something he cannot have, I think the solution is obvious: compromise. Find a woman who gives you most of what you need, instead of holding out for your fantasy woman whom you have never been able to land.
For some reason, that same compromise seems a little less obvious to many of the smart, strong, successful women who read this blog.
Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.