Discover more from Men Yell at Me
The truth about the ‘marriageability gap’
Stop telling women to marry 'down'
This newsletter and my writing are only possible with your support. Because of paying subscribers, I can pay an editor to edit these weekly newsletters. I can pay a producer to help me with a podcast that will be launching this November. I live and work in a red state, where there are no media jobs that pay a living wage. Supporting this newsletter means I can stay and write about the people and places I love, without becoming a flyover journalist. Paying subscribers get access to the Sunday link round-up, Discord, weekly discussions, and other perks. This week, we talked about our riskiest moves. The conversation was beautiful, heartfelt, and surprisingly moving.
Last year, I sat in a booth at a restaurant with a sinking feeling in my stomach as my date, a cisgender man1 who worked as a lawyer bragged about how much money he made and how, he believed, women only wanted to date him for his money. I assured him that wasn’t why I wanted to date.
He seemed confused. I was a writer and a single mother, he pointed out — what was I looking for if not stability?
I should have just left. He’d asked me out, hadn’t he? We had mutual friends and he’d slipped into my DMs. I was trying not to be rude. So I talked about companionship and relationships and being open to the universe and life and friendship. I talked about this book I’d read, Lost and Found, that had made me think of dating not as a means to an end, but part of a journey of discovery of humans. And isn’t the world wonderful? Maybe I babbled.
He seemed unconvinced. So I just said it. I made more money than him.
I knew this because he’d dropped a hint to his salary in the first few messages and he had one of those jobs where the salary was posted online.
After the date, as I sat in the car wondering whether I should tell our mutual friend about the disaster, I got a text from him: This wasn’t going to work out. I replied with a “thumbs up.”
I’ve created a life and a business where I out-earn most of the people I date. This is just a reality of living in a red state where there are not a lot of creative jobs, and where salaries for all jobs are low. But I’m also ambitious. I have plans and goals and hopes and dreams. For so many years, I pushed aside my plans to support someone else’s dreams, and when it was supposed to be my turn, the game was already over.
Now, I’m patently ambitious. A climber. A seeker. An achiever. I’m hungry. And I am tired of hiding my ambition under a cloak of smiles and “oh shucks geez” smiles.
But it’s created a tension in my dating life. A quiet buzzing that’s hard to put my finger on. No one will say, “I don’t like you because you are ambitious or make more than me.” Out loud. Not exactly. But the implications are there. The quiet cruelties. One person I was dating, when he found out about my book advance, accused me of being “too commercial” in my approach to writing. Another accused me of using him and when I asked “for what?” he stopped speaking to me altogether.
Right now there is a cultural conversation around marriage as the solution to society's ills — conservative thinkers and economists are putting out book after book, and article after article, arguing that if people would only get married they could stop being poor and unhappy.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey asks, “Why has marriage declined so much? Hard-to-quantify cultural factors are surely at work, but so are easy-to-quantify economic factors. Earnings for men without a college degree have not just stagnated, but fallen in real terms. At the same time, women have become more likely than men to go to college or graduate school, and their incomes have risen regardless of educational attainment. The economist Na’ama Shenhav has shown that a 10 percent increase in women’s wages relative to men’s wages produces a three-percentage-point increase in the share of never-married women and a two-percentage-point increase in the share of divorced women.”
She calls this the marriageability gap, pointing out that men like to date women who earn less than they do. And women like to date men who earn more. And Gen Z wants to partner and marry, but its members are having a hard time finding people with a stable income to partner with. In another article on Bari Weiss’s The Free Press, a writer speculates that women should date down — that their standards are simply too high.
The message seems to be that women need to get off their high horses and into marriages. These stuck-up feminist broads simply are demanding too much of men.
But the reality is a lot more complex.
We’ve heard this message before. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, writers encouraged women to settle for Mr. Good Enough. It was part of a backlash to the new freedoms and divorces that came out of the second wave movement. But that backlash seems not to have stuck. So here we are again, in another cycle of thinkers and writers, saying, “Just get married!” while ignoring the sociopolitical realities of relationships that make marriage so fraught.
But let’s talk about what it means to be a woman who is partnered with a man who out-earns her. Like what does it really mean?
While doing research for my book This American Ex-Wife, I stumbled upon a study that found that women who out-earned their male partners were 35 percent more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
A study by Pew Research found that in hetero couples where women out-earned their male partners, men had more leisure time and still did less housework. Even in “egalitarian” marriages where women and men earned about the same, women were still doing the bulk of the household and childcare work.
Men who are in hetero partnerships where they earn less than their wives are more likely to cheat.
A Buzzfeed article from April quoted women who out-earned their husbands on the delicate ego dance they had to do to appease them. One woman noted, “The amount of ego-stroking and making myself smaller I’ve had to do so a boyfriend doesn’t get depressed or resentful or just mean about the fact that I earn more is stomach churning.” She said her current partner is different.
Knowing this, women often deemphasize their ambition and success just to be more attractive to men. A Harvard Business Review study found that single women were more likely to downplay their achievements when they knew men would be evaluating them. The article notes, “[Single women] avoid actions that could help their careers when these actions have negative marriage market consequences.”
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom tweeted recently that the current political discourse was designed to take women out of the workforce so men didn’t have to compete anymore for a dwindling number of stable jobs.
In her book Veil & Vow, Aneeka Ayanna Henderson writes that politicians would rather, “substitute assistance from the state with seductive romantic notions of self-determination and patriarchal family.” And too many commentators and authors and thinkers are carrying that water without thinking about the bucket it’s being carried in.
The marriage market is not a place of equality. It is a place of vast and profound inequality that shames women if they don’t participate and shortchanges them if they do. Be smart and successful, we tell women — but not so smart and successful that your partner resents you.
Meanwhile, the care and maintenance of these relationships, which isolate women from community and offer no meaningful domestic help or child care, is a herculean task that consumes all of women’s labor (emotional, mental, physical, and otherwise).
Almost like it was designed that way.
In my book, which is out in February, I talk a lot about how marriage as an institution is based on inherent inequality. And how we get free from that. PRE-ORDER MY BOOK TODAY!
I love. She writes a lot about the pressures single people face. Her Instagram is full of life-affirming gems.
And once again, don’t make me tap the sign — divorce isn’t bad for kids, poverty is.
I realize these conversations tend to be VERY heteronormative. And a lot of you are not. I WELCOME your insight and feedback. Anyway to queer up this conversation is good by me.