How my fiancé used economics as a cover for sexism
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Washington - The first thing my best friend from college ever gave me was a card with a glittery ring on the cover. "Can't wait until we marry the loves of our lives!" she'd said to me. We were 18.
That year, she also told me she was at MIT to find her "person" - romantically speaking - and that her goal was to be a housewife. A decade and a law degree later, she married someone she'd met during her junior year of college. She now spends her days taking care of their two adorable children in a Manhattan apartment.
At her wedding, standing next to her, I also had a glittery engagement ring on my left hand.
I'd met Craig by chance at a sushi restaurant in Boston. Two days later, we had dinner. Two months later, we moved in together. I fell for him because he was the first person who didn't seem threatened by my personality or my career (and its earnings).
"I love that you're this Type A, ambitious woman," he'd said early on. Craig was accomplished himself: He had an undergrad degree from Harvard, worked at a hedge fund and was about to go to Harvard Business School. To borrow a line from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain - not only that, the first boy I knew who wanted me to use it.
Or so I'd thought.
I was in the throes of a quarter-life crisis, dropping out of a Wharton MBA because I didn't want to stay in finance. Craig had told me he'd support me in whatever I wanted to be - author, cheese monger, stationery shop owner, portfolio manager.
So when I told him I was thinking of graduate school, perhaps doing an MFA in creative writing, the last thing I expected him to say was: "But who's going to cook dinner?"
Craig tried hard to convince me that I could be happy at home. Although circumstances are different for every couple - and he and I were both blessed with a bucket of privileges - the logic of some of his arguments was interesting.
First, an appeal to comparative advantage: Because I make more money than you, I will work and make our living; all you have to do is take care of our lives and make our home.
Second, an appeal to home production: We need a cozy home more than we need your pay. You're so much better at taking care of the house.
Craig was using economics as a cover for sexism. I was thinking more about the long term. As women take themselves out of the workforce, economist Marina Adshade told me in a phone interview, "they forgo not only income from the years out of work, but they also forgo accumulated-on-the-job training, skills and years of work experience, which is a big determinant of future wages," Moreover, the skills they have accrued will depreciate - and because money is power, Adshade said, their bargaining power within their relationship will erode. It's not a one-time decision; it's a lifetime decision.
I entertained Craig's proposal because I loved him. At my best friend's wedding, standing next to her, it was suddenly obvious I couldn't give up my career for love. Some people do, like my friend floating down the aisle in her traditional white gown - and that's great, if that's what a woman truly wants.
But it wasn't what I wanted. I spent the next few months interviewing and found a dream job in New York that I could not imagine turning down. When I told Craig, excitedly, that I'd gotten the offer, he gave me an ultimatum: "It's the job, or me."
By then, it was an easy decision. I packed my bags, left the ring, and moved out of our shared townhouse and into a cozy studio - making a home all my own.