On Being The Breadwinner

What's life like for a female breadwinner?


When you hear the term "breadwinner," you're likely to think of a dude. But the New York Times' Modern Love essay this week is penned by a former-female-breadwinner, who later scrapped breadwinning entirely for a more egalitarian set-up.

Karen Karbo reveled in a whirlwind romance with a Frenchman around whom she never opened her purse once. But then he showed up at her apartment, caught her 'unaware' in unattractive sweatpants, and informed her that he expected her to look pretty for him all the time. Mais non! Quite rightly, she dumped Monsier Jerkface.


In successive relationships, Karbo found herself in the position as breadwinner quite accidentally. The first husband chased his dreams while Karbo held a steady job; the second husband quit his job on a whim and became a househusband, but spent all day playing video games while she kept the family in milk and cookies. Resentment festered and Karbo became fed up. When she divorced him, he tried to shake her down for alimony, child support and the house. The third relationship seems to have been the charm: each half of the couple pays his or her own way.

But you won't find Karbo complaining. She remembers the sexpot expectations of her French ex and she's happy to be financially independent in a strict egalitarian relationship. Or happy enough. Would her romances have been more, um, romantic if she were taken care of by her hubbies? She wonders:


I still would love to experience life as a pampered princess, at least once. I’d love to be the kind of woman you see in jewelry commercials around the holidays who sits before a fire, a cashmere throw over her knees. Suddenly, her beloved swoops in with a velvet-covered box, bearing some hideous pendant that nevertheless cost real money. I envy this woman because she is so taken with her beloved’s generosity. She never says, “Honey, why did you buy me this piece of crap when you know I need a new crown on my back molar?” I would love to be a woman who can forget — if only for the time it takes to buy a tube of $250 eye cream — that the money I spend is money I made by the proverbial sweat of my own brow. I would love to be a woman who is able to indulge in the magical thinking that romance always matters more than money.

But the harsh reality? Being taken care of by a man all of our lives without having to make any compromises is a fairytale that few of us enjoy in 21st century relationships. Maybe we'd have to compromise how we spend our time, or how we behave, or like Karbo, how we are expected to look.  Of course, there's the risk of being divorced and abandoned with no money and nothing recent on the resume. A lot of us probably wouldn't want to be taken care of for all these reasons!

Another harsh relaity? Karbo's problems are particular to a certain social class: many women in low-income and/or single-parent households don't have the luxury of fretting over money and romance. It is not necessarily blue skys for middle- and upper-class women, either. Of course, there is inequity in the workplace which makes working women's lives particlarly rough: women earn less than men do and are constantly anxious of being 'mommy-tracked.' Being a "pampered princess" sounds lovely, but a level playing field to let us be a pampered prince and princess sounds lovelier.

Oh, love and money...is there a better recipe for bitterment resentment? And yet...is there a better recipe for romance and bliss? (And, of course, Bliss?)