Modern American Marriages

There are suckers, and then there’s this guy:

Before I married my wife two years ago, she had huge amounts of debt to her name, including large amounts of student loans. After we married, we diligently almost paid everything off, helped by my salary being three times that of my wife.

That was nice of him.

She recently asked for a divorce, saying she was taking the house and my retirement.

We’ve only been married a few years, and frankly I can’t help feeling taken advantage of. The only advice I can find discusses whose responsibility the student loans would be, but now it just seems that she got me to pay all of her debts, and got some new stuff, while I threw away years of my life.

There’s nothing wrong with splitting household bills and other ongoing expenses in a ratio commensurate with each person’s respective income, but paying off some woman’s historical student loans is just stupid. I assume she couldn’t pay her own debts because the degree she obtained was worthless. That should have served as a warning sign all by itself. I’m sure there were red flags flapping noisily in the breeze from the moment he met this woman, but he ignored them all. Hopefully he’s young enough to bounce back having learned some very valuable lessons.

Another article gives us an insight into how these sort of marriages come about. Let’s start with this line:

We had a baby before we even got married…

Anyone want to guess how this story ends?

…and from that point on, we were mostly trying hard not to drown in debt, which left no time and no money for swimming with the dolphins somewhere in the Caribbean. We did manage to take exactly one weeklong vacation a year—the time off my husband’s sales job allotted. And because we only got one, we took it as a family.

Each cherished family trip got put on a credit card that won’t be paid off anytime soon.

Starting a family when young is expensive and requires work, eh? Who knew?

Annoying as it may be, there is truth to the implication that my husband and I didn’t cater to our marriage enough. The fact is, we couldn’t afford to. We live paycheck to paycheck. My husband also works long hours, including many nights. Often, he wasn’t home until I was in bed.

The author, one Sarah Bregel, is a freelance writer. Put another way, the reason why the family is skint is because one party would rather indulge in a hobby rather than demean herself by getting a job that pays a regular income. I notice they live in Baltimore. Is this cheap? I doubt it. The husband works in sales, and she’s a hobby-writer. Couldn’t they have lived somewhere cheaper? Something I’ve noticed about “artists” and freelance writers in the US sharing sob stories about poverty is that most live in New York or around San Francisco. You never hear any of them moving out to Wyoming or Mississippi to save on living costs.

For eight years, I’ve worked from home while taking care of kids to avoid the massive and crushing costs of child care, which typically meant pulling double duty. I spent all day with kids, then worked after they went to bed, or on weekends, or with a kid on my lap to meet deadlines. I’ve swapped kids with neighbors, worked in cafes with play areas. My mother and stepfather, who both still work full time, watched my daughter one day a week from the time she could walk until she was in school full time. Now they do the same with my son, for which I am eternally grateful. Still, time away from my kids has seldom been free time or time spent on my marriage. It’s spent working, typing away so I can make ends meet.

Yes, this is what’s known as “parenting”. Only nowadays you’re not required to work ten hours per day in the fields or in a factory, and you have such things as washing machines and vacuum cleaners at your disposal. Honestly, I think the world would be a far better place if lefty writers were compelled to have their grandmothers review their work before publication.

Date nights were rare. We were lucky to have one quiet dinner together every several months, if that. And during the last year of our marriage, I can only think of two occasions where we went on actual dates.

What is she, a teenager? They’re trying to raise two kids on a tight budget and she’s bleating about not going on “dates”.

The reality was, if my husband wasn’t working late, then I was. Or we were child rearing. Or making dinner. Or doing massive piles of laundry and dishes before collapsing. Because when you’re a paycheck-to-paycheck family, staying ahead of the bills never ends. And neither do household chores (especially if there are children lighting fires in your home throughout the day).

What did she think getting married and having children entailed? Lolling about the house watching TV and going on dates?

While it seems like the stuff of fantasy to me, the ability to outsource chores such as these can have massively positive impacts on relationship satisfaction, says new research out of Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia. Well, go figure. I never really thought cleaning up potty accidents and pet stains and folding clothes on such a constant basis were necessarily good for my marriage, really.

Ah yes. Never mind raising children to be functional adults and providing a safe, stable home, what’s important is your happiness.

It’s been fairly well-documented that lower-income couples split up more frequently than couples who earn more.

It does? Here’s what the linked article actually says (emphasis mine):

[By] estimating the relationships among marriage, divorce, work effort, and wage rates, researchers found that being married and having high earnings reinforce each other over time. Others looked at the how income affects the marriage and divorce decisions of young Americans; they found that high earnings capacity increases the probability of marriage and decreases the probability of divorce for young men, but decreases the probability of marriage for young women and has no effect on the likelihood of divorce. A different study used the NLSY79 to identify causal effects of marriage and cohabitation on total family income. This study found that women who enter a cohabiting relationship gain roughly 55 percent in needs-adjusted family income, defined as income per adult equivalent, regardless of whether or not they marry; for men, the level of needs-adjusted family income does not change when they make the same transitions. In addition, a 2009 study found that marriage lowers female wages by 2 to 4 percent in the year of marriage and lowers the wage growth of men by 2 percentage points and of women by about 4 percentage points.

In other words, when a freelance writer shacks up with a hardworking salesman, she gains approximately 55%. Kerr-ching!

Plain and simple, fewer bucks in the bank means more financial stress. It also means fewer dollars to put into keeping your marriage afloat. If you aren’t making deposits, literally and figuratively, pretty soon you’ll be coming up empty. Sure, there are at-home dates to be had. A few precious moments of chatter once the kids are in bed before you drift off to sleep yourself. Yes, there are ways of maintaining a marriage that cost nothing. But even those require time to connect, and for working parents, time is money.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to this woman that for centuries pretty much all men and women lived in absolute, utter, grinding poverty yet still managed to keep their marriages together and raise children. Here she is, living in the richest country on the planet in an era of unprecedented wealth, claiming her marriage can’t work because they’re too poor.

Still, I know there are things my partner and I could’ve done better or differently.

He could have married someone less selfish, perhaps?

The truth is, our financial difficulties were only one issue among many. It just made all the rest harder to navigate. Having financial struggle doesn’t mean your marriage is automatically doomed, of course. It just means you need to work harder to stay connected and maybe get content with a little less marital bliss than you envisioned.

Which explains why divorces are so rare among billionaires like Donald Trump and Hollywood celebrities.

What’s not said enough is that becoming passing ships doesn’t just happen out of sheer negligence, though. Romantic dinners and getaways might be one helpful component to a lasting marriage. But imagining everyone has that kind of freedom is a certain kind of privilege. No, money might not buy happiness, but it does buy more date nights, therapy, and those ever-loving adults-only vacations I keep hearing about.

She’s complaining her husband didn’t earn enough to pay for her therapy; I fear even Roman Abramovich would struggle to fund the amount this woman needs.

I missed the boat on that one, but you go ahead and sip that piña colada at your all-inclusive resort. I’ll be over here babysitting all the neighborhood kids and writing about fitness gear at 4 a.m. so I can finance my divorce.

Meaning, she needs to hire a lawyer who will clean her husband out leaving him homeless and with limited access to the kids. Welcome to modern marriage in America, folks.

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38 thoughts on “Modern American Marriages

  1. Date nights were rare. We were lucky to have one quiet dinner together every several months, if that. And during the last year of our marriage, I can only think of two occasions where we went on actual dates.

    Err, is this not an entirely normal state of affairs when married with kids?

    Each cherished family trip got put on a credit card that won’t be paid off anytime soon.

    Me me me me me! But I waaaaaaahhhhhhnnnnnttttt a foreign holiday!

    In other news, woman complaining of crushing level of debt insists on racking up even more, entirely unnecessary, high-APR debt…

    Hope he gets out of it relatively unscathed and doesn’t have to sub Ms. Selfishbitch’s mememe lifestyle for the rest of his life.

  2. You’re mostly spot-on, as usual. But in your insistence that she find a “regular” job, you’ve missed her point about childcare. Choosing to work as a freelance writer saves her a fortune on childcare. I have no idea about costs in Baltimore, but round my way, nurseries charge £1400/mo per child. She has two kids, so she’s fortunate to have a job she can do from home around the kids, even if it’s only freelance. A better option would be for her to work weekends or evenings, leaving her husband to do the day shift; but those kinds of jobs might not pay any better than freelance writing.

    Also, Baltimore is a very affordable city by east coast standards (albeit beset by high crime rates), so I doubt moving to Mississippi would solve anything.

    The rest is accurate. The experience of “ships passing in the night” is common amongst parents of preschool children; and her expectations of regular date nights are just childish.

    The part I really don’t get is why they’re struggling in the first place. He has a decent job in sales; she brings in some money too; and they live in a cheap area. Where’s the shortfall?

  3. The lefty destruction of family life marches on apace. And with it, ultimately, our culture and identity.

  4. The part I really don’t get is why they’re struggling in the first place. He has a decent job in sales; she brings in some money too; and they live in a cheap area. Where’s the shortfall?

    Aside from the foreign holidays and occasional nights out funded by debt?

    I suspect that, as always, there’s a piece of the puzzle which is being concealed. I’d imagine that since it’s entirely unmentioned, they’ve rented or bought a place that was really beyond their means so that she could live in some cool neighbourhood or something.

  5. Choosing to work as a freelance writer saves her a fortune on childcare.

    Yes, that is true. However, if somebody gave her free childcare would she go and get a better paying job? No, she’d stick with her hobby-writing and wouldn’t be much better off monetary wise.

    Also, Baltimore is a very affordable city by east coast standards (albeit beset by high crime rates)

    Yeah, but I heard parts of it (those with lower crime rates) are pretty expensive. I wonder which part of town she’s in?

    Where’s the shortfall?

    Her expectations, mostly.

  6. I find it very heard to believe if he is working in sales and she self employeed, they can’t socialise on the weekend.

    Unless he is going into work to avoid being home rather than to generate sales.

    Which is my experience, often people who work long hours are doing because they a driven. Sometimes by ambition but often by avoiding whats at home.

  7. I’d imagine that since it’s entirely unmentioned, they’ve rented or bought a place that was really beyond their means so that she could live in some cool neighbourhood or something.

    Yes, that would be my guess, and ties in with Andrew’s comment about Baltimore being cheap. I bet they’re not living in the ghetto.

  8. Which is my experience, often people who work long hours are doing because they a driven. Sometimes by ambition but often by avoiding whats at home.

    Absolutely. Every office has at least one guy who’s working late because he doesn’t want to go home.

  9. We (i.e, myself and Ms Bannister) are only in a position now, after 25 years of marriage, where we can have weekends and short breaks without the kids. No.1 son has graduated and has a really good job in London and No 2 daughter is almost finished college and is at an age where leaving her home alone with the dog is not a worry.

    Until now, life has centred around the children and holidays were always family holidays and money was tight some years, paying the mortgage, feeding and clothing the family etc. However, I never felt the need to bleat about it or write articles in The Grauniad and similar publications. It’s life, and we just got on with it.

  10. Baltimore in general is a fucking dump, but at least their Mayor has the foresight to gives their criminals their rightful space to destroy places when things get hot, and you need to do things like that what with their sky high and still rising murder rates!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_5KQC7k8Lc

  11. Baltimore is a very affordable city by east coast standards (albeit beset by high crime rates)

    I’m always just assumed The Wire was a totally accurate portrayal of daily life.

    (Yes, I’ve read The Corner too)

    Where’s the shortfall?

    It doesn’t read to me like there is a shortfall. The article says ‘saying ahead of the bills never ends’: ie, they are staying ahead (even if only just), not falling behind. It sounds like their income is just enough to cover their outgoings.

    What there isn’t, is enough spare cash for ‘the ability to outsource chores’: ie, they can’t afford to hire a maid or a nanny.

    What is it they call that these days? Not being able to afford household staff? Oh yes, I remember. A first-world problem.

  12. I find it very heard to believe if he is working in sales and she self employeed, they can’t socialise on the weekend.

    They have children.

  13. These online sob stories, to @abacab’s point, are written as broadcasts not discussions.

    There will be thousands of important and relevant factors not divulged that played a part in the failure of the relationships.

    To paraphrase Nietzsche, happy families are similarly happy, unhappy families are uniquely unhappy.

  14. To paraphrase Nietzsche, happy families are similarly happy, unhappy families are uniquely unhappy

    Gosh, in addition to all his other faults, Nietzsche was a shameless Tolstoy plagiarist?!

  15. I have no personal experience of raising children but even my richest mates go on hols with theirs.

    I do have personal experience of freelance journalism though and there has never been a better time to make money at it.

    Obviously it helps if you are a specialist. And if you’re good.

  16. I do have personal experience of freelance journalism though and there has never been a better time to make money at it.

    Obviously it helps if you are a specialist. And if you’re good.

    Is she a “writer” in the way that Tim’s old anecdote spoke of a lady who was an “artist”?

  17. …those ever-loving adults-only vacations I keep hearing about.

    Honestly, I do wonder why some people have children. They’re only children once, you miss it and it’s gone forever.

    I think we should petition Elon Musk to start working on a time machine. Hear me out…

    We bring a married couple from say, circa 1850 forward in time. After the shock has worn off we have them do marriage counseling with selfish morons like this bint and her no-doubt benighted husband. I would not rule out letting them use hickory sticks as part of the ‘therapy’.

    Or he could keep shooting electric cars into space, that’s fine too.

  18. I do feel sorry for the poor fool being fleeced by his wife.

    Still, as the Moneyist says “The best thing you have going for you right now is your honest intentions going into this marriage and your (good) behavior throughout. Having examined all the details, the judge may not be able to say the same thing about your wife.”

  19. “We bring a married couple from say, circa 1850 forward in time …”

    No need to invent a time machine. Just import a couple from the third world. Whenever I fret that I’m failing to keep up with the Joneses, I consider the fact that my cleaner / bus driver / etc all get by on far less than I do, and often with larger families to boot.

  20. Remind me again why any man with assets/income/future earning power gets married in Western Society?

  21. And women wonder why men are seeing marriage as a game not worth the (very expensive) candle.

  22. Just import a couple from the third world.

    You don’t even need to do that: just hang around some lower-middle or working class women, see how they’re getting by. I know a few here in Paris, they live on a different planet to the expats I know.

  23. Just import a couple from the third world.

    You don’t even need to do that:

    Both good points but they lack the fun of spending really large sums of money (and given I nominated Musk that would be public money) on a grand project that would change the world! And really impact marriage counselling.

  24. “writing about fitness gear at 4 a.m”

    Writing blog posts for commercial blogs. No wonder she’s got no money. It’s vilely paid work.

  25. It’s vilely paid work.

    Doesn’t surprise me. I presume the market is flooded by lots of people semi-hobby-writing for a bit of extra beer-money. Doesn’t seem sensible to try to make a career / living doing what zillions of others are doing more or less for fun.

  26. Jim…Remind me again why any man with assets/income/future earning power gets married in Western Society?…….. perhaps because some of us dearly love our wives and enjoy the whole experience of marriage and child rearing?

  27. perhaps because some of us dearly love our wives and enjoy the whole experience of marriage and child rearing?

    And that’s a laudable goal. But after multiple generations of women being told toxic lies about what they should do to make themselves happy, and the concomitant changes in family law, the likelihood of finding a wife who shares your commitment to the whole ideal is vanishingly small. And even if you do, there is virtually no disincentive for her to end the marriage and take the family home and the children away from you; your entire financial and emotional future is held hostage to her good faith.

  28. The problem is her, clearly.
    First off, Baltimore is marginally cheaper than the DC area, and one can do it in the DC area. I know, because I did it. After kid #2 it didn’t take my wife long to figure out she was working to pay daycare and a car note and if things went well, she’d net a few hundred bucks at the end of the month.

    So we did what we had to do. Traded the newish SUV on an older car, with cash back. She went into business for herself, easily making the difference working 1/2 the time. It means that you shop swap meets for kids clothing. It means maybe that “cherished” family vacation is a trip to Ocean City, and maybe teaming up with family to share expense. Or you go camping in the blue ridge. It also means that maybe you move to a part of the country with a higher ROI, like we did.

    In the process of it all, my kids (all grown now) became exceptionally frugal and well rounded.

    I can also say I’ve had more than a few friends in a situation like this- the old lady feels as if she’s missing out on life somehow. To a man, the wife left and is still a single shrew. They all found more accommodating (and often prettier) women. I’m guessing her kids are at least 8 years old, from the timespan she’s shared. They will grow to hate her. Nearly all my friends that divorced wound up with the kids – either as part of the settlement or when they hit teenage years and couldn’t stand their shrew mom. Marriage takes work – on both partners parts. And you have periods like this that are transitional.

    Luckily for us, her mug is right up there on the page. I”ll go out on a limb and say when all is said and done, she’ll be doing a piece lamenting how hard it is to find a guy. Divorced yentas like her are a dime a dozen up there. Any given time there were 3-4 such women in our social circles.

    No guy worth anything is going to pick up with an ingrate, post wall cow.

  29. “There will be thousands of important and relevant factors not divulged that played a part in the failure of the relationships.”

    I’m guessing what’s not being told is centered around this line:

    “Each cherished family trip got put on a credit card that won’t be paid off anytime soon.”

    The husband is working long hours. And yet they go on vacations they can’t afford. How is this decision being made? Now, I’ve met salesmen who always had to have the latest flashy gadget, but from her description it doesn’t sound like this is something he forced on her, or a fait accompli which he presented to her. “Cherished family trip”? It sounds like something she decided she deserved, and was therefore going to get. The poor man probably wore himself out paring it down to one week.

    I’m guessing a lot of their expenses were decided on the same way. She couldn’t control her spending, he couldn’t control her, he worked long hours to compensate, until she decided it wasn’t enough. Or maybe he decided that he’d had enough. And now she explains that the fault lies with the economy, for making mirrors so expensive that she had no means of identifying the source of her problems.

  30. Surely I’m not the only one here happily (long time) married with the complete expectation of staying so? My own family and friends all seem to be in the same position with the odd exception.

  31. “perhaps because some of us dearly love our wives and enjoy the whole experience of marriage and child rearing?”

    I never said you can’t have relationships or children, just don’t sign a marriage contract that’s utterly biased against men. Live with the object of your affections, make as many long term emotional commitments as you see fit, just don’t sign on the dotted line. If you do you’re leaving yourself open to being financially raped. Now you may indeed have found a good woman, lots of other men thought exactly the same, and still got their arses handed to them by the divorce courts. As a married man you have no more rights over your children than you do as a co-habitee, yet you have massively more financial liabilities.

    “Surely I’m not the only one here happily (long time) married with the complete expectation of staying so? My own family and friends all seem to be in the same position with the odd exception.”

    Its not a case of ‘everyone gets divorced and screwed by the courts’ its a case of ‘the chances of getting screwed over are massively increased by signing a marriage contract’. Given cohabitation gives you no less rights than marriage, and far less financial risk, why do it? Put it this way, if shopping at Tesco meant there was a 1 in 10000 chance you’d buy some food that was poisonous and would kill you, would you shop at Tesco?

  32. Stepping back a bit and looking at the tenor of the article, it seems she has swallowed the fiction that she can be the successful CEO, having kids, a big house, a new luxury car and three holidays a year and a fulfilling career and life while still being a mother to whom “Her children are the most important thing in her life”.

    When reality fails to match up the the hype, then it MUST be external to her and/or her sap of a husband who isn’t earning enough to pay for childcare, holidays and all the other trappings of the glossy magazine articles that promise “Yes, you CAN have it all”.

    Reality is a bitch like that – always biting you in the arse when your expectations don’t match up with real life. Divorce, of course, will solve ALL her problems.

    Gentlemen, don’t marry and I would advise against cohabitation. here in NZ, if a woman cohabits for 2 years then she has the same rights and financial benefits as a married woman if a split occurs. Kids just guarantee the payments and financial rape that the man will undergo. Many people before marriage put their property into a trust so in the event of divorce, the trust owns the property (house, cars, household and personal goods) so when the split occurs, the man can keep his possessions that he benefits from under the terms of the trust.

  33. @phil

    In Australia you will find that family law can cut through the protection of a trust when it comes to dividing assets following a split marriage. Also by putting say the family home in a trust you may well lose some of the taxation benefits that apply to your principal place of residence such as no capital gains tax on a sale. Trusts are good for asset protection, tax and succession planning, I have a couple of active ones but alas it may protect your assets from being seized by the King but they can’t protect you from the all pervading family law.

  34. @Bardon

    Yes, the laws of the country will intrude on that advice but it is a sad state of affairs when, before getting married, you need to draw up a contract and financially protect yourself with such an arrangement before committing because the woman can unilaterally decide she isn’t happy and benefit greatly from divorce.

    Kids are the jackpot for the woman – she will have you by the short and curlys once they are on the scene.

    Treat any woman in the same way a millionaire would a beautiful, young and penniless 19 year old that finds him inexplicably sexy and attractive. >};o)

  35. I have told a number of young men who are intending to marry, seek legal counsel first. The fact of the matter is most people labor under huge misconceptions about what the law actually is as opposed to what they think it is. Know before you go.

    Like the young man who was married for two years. If he lives in a community property state, such as California, she’s not going to get much of anything. It just doesn’t work that way when there are no children and it’s less than 10 years. She had a plan from day one, marry him, score some coin and then try to frighten him into a quick divorce settlement. If I were him I’d litigate everything including custody of the dog. Make it last, she’ll walk.

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