My parents first met on their wedding day.
My mom was 13; my dad had just turned 14. My grandparents had brokered an arranged marriage between the pair.
My dad, the son of a tenant farmer, couldn’t afford a car, so he pedaled a bicycle to his wedding. When he arrived, he said, he saw dozens of well-dressed women milling around. He wondered which of these would become his wife.
In Nepal, where my parents lived until age 35, marriage is part-job interview and part-Game of Thrones. Personality is irrelevant; pedigree is paramount. Marriages merge families: the Lannisters and the Baratheans; the Pants and the Pants.
(Yes, my parents had the same surname before they married. Small community.)
In 1977, my parents set sail (er, boarded an airplane) for America, two tiny suitcases in tow. Six years later, I appeared on the scene.
Throughout my childhood, my parents discussed arranging my marriage. As a teenager, I wasn’t allowed to date or even speak to boys on the phone, and I fought for permission to attend school dances and football games, places where boys and girls mingle with minimal supervision.
Shortly after I graduated from college, my parents informed me that that a prominent Nepalese couple in Chicago approached them with an offer to wed me to their son. They emailed me a dossier detailing his family.
They divulged a single detail about the potential husband himself:
“He’s a doctor,” my dad told me over the phone.
I hung up.
I had adopted a revolutionary idea: That a woman should forge her own way in the world. She should advance her own career, pay her own bills, and establish her own savings and retirement accounts.
Furthermore, if she chooses to marry, she should have the freedom to pick her own partner, and she should base her choice on love, rather than economic advantage.
In short, I refused to marry a stranger just because he earned a high income and came from a respectable family.
Two years later, I began dating Will, a man as All-American as Archie Andrews: green eyes, freckles, skin that turns beet-red when exposed to sunlight.
At the time we started dating, Will was renting a small house with several roommates and hadn’t owned a car in years. I didn’t care. I loved him anyway.
Love Above Reason
American society, at least on the surface, offers a two-part dictum on relationships: Not only are people supposed to choose their own partner, they’re also supposed to base their decision on love rather than stature.
Our society – at least publicly — condemns the Anna Nicole Smiths in our midst.
“Love marriage” is a revolutionary idea. It elevates the individual above the collective. It prizes freedom and choice over duty and obligation. And perhaps most importantly, it vouches for love above reason.
Sounds great, in theory.
But what happens when love really does trump economic self-interest?
What happens when a woman becomes so self-sufficient that she feels free to select a lower-earning boyfriend or husband?
When women make decisions that appear economically irrational — such as when they choose boyfriends or husbands who earn less — the situation takes a complicated twist.
Why would a woman choose the renter-with-roommates over the owner of a sprawling suburban mansion?
… unless, of course, she’s confident in her ability to provide as the chief breadwinner?
Iranian-American journalist Farnoosh Torabi experienced these complications firsthand.
Like me, Torabi comes from a culture steeped in traditional gender roles. Yet she took the radical step of choosing a husband who earns (substantially) less than she does.
Her mom was concerned.
“Mom knew that my soon-to-be-husband Tim wasn’t going to be wealthy in the near future,” Torabi writes in her new book, When She Makes More.
“He wasn’t on the road to becoming a doctor, lawyer or investment banker.”
“… She assumed we might have trouble making ends meet if Tim didn’t bring in enough income,” Torabi says. “Never did she imagine that I’d make enough money to support us both, a role reversal that would bear its own challenges.”
Women from traditional cultures aren’t the only ones who face this dilemma.
Americans may outwardly adhere to premises and philosophies behind “love marriage,” yet they hesitate when a woman out-earns her man.
“Can’t she do better?” they might whisper in closed quarters. Their subtext is clear: even in a relatively progressive society like the U.S., a woman is still expected to “marry up.”
Data supports this observation: Almost 3 in 10 survey respondents said they believe that it’s “generally better for a marriage if the husband earns more than his wife,” according to a 2013 Pew survey.
The same survey also found that 50 percent of respondents said that children are better off by having a full-time, stay-at-home mother.
Yet only 8 percent of the same respondents advocated that the children would be better off with a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
Despite these double-standards, society is shifting. More woman are out-earning their boyfriends and husbands. In fact, 30 percent of new marriages in 2011 featured a wife who earns more than her husband.
As Torabi explains, it’s no surprise that the women who excel in the classroom will continue onto high-paying careers.
Yet these women find themselves “in for a rude awakening” when, despite their breadwinning status, they remain expected to cook, clean and raise the children. In fact, researchers have discovered that high-income women are more likely to tackle the lion’s share of domestic duties.
Perhaps that’s one reason why a 2012 study discovered that women with the capacity to out-earn their husbands are also more likely to quit working entirely.
What challenges do breadwinning women face?
How do the growing ranks of women who out-earn their men handle this untapped frontier?
How can single women benefit from this advice? What advice can help the men who love high-performing women?
Torabi shares 10 tips in her new book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.
This throughly-researched and beautifully-written book examines the cultural phenomenon of breadwinning women from every angle. It offers helpful tips to families dealing with this new reality.
It’s a must-read for all people — both men and women alike — as we navigate the murky and ever-changing world of relationships, careers, and gender roles.
“When a woman makes more than her man, the game is totally different,” Torabi writes. Her book helps couples navigate the new rules of the game.
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