I was on my way into my secret blogging spot (Panera) when I had a random thought about money – more specifically what would I do if I suddenly found myself without any? My husband is the major breadwinner for our home, and considering that last year I brought in a net $2,000 from my earnings from my part time job, it’s fair to say he is the ONLY breadwinner for our home. $1800 of that $2,000 I earned was spent on shoes and Chic-fil-a.
As I drove to my destination, ducking Holcomb Bridge’s numerous potholes and a goose carcass, I found myself wondering what life would be like if my husband lost his job and we became destitute. I took comfort in the knowledge that we would never truly be destitute. We are blessed with enough good friends and family that they would never allow that to happen to our children. At the very least, they would offer us their floor to sleep on if that was all they could spare.
But then I wondered: Would my husband accept that help? Men are terribly proud when it comes to accepting help, and more so when there is the perception that they have failed their family in their role as a provider. Of course, this is an extreme example. Anyone would feel a sense of failure if they suddenly found themselves entangled in the tentacles of poverty. How about in a familiar scenario involving one spouse makes more than the other? What if the higher earning spouse is the woman?
My husband and I actually lived this scenario for about a year. He wanted to try his hand at entrepreneurship and I had a steady job in human resources. With my blessing, he quit his regular 9 -5 and went into real estate. We’re both very frugal as a rule (except where my purchase of shoes is in question course), so our standard of living did not suffer much when there was no longer a second paycheck coming in every two weeks. When he did get a check, it was in exorbitant lump sums, and those were always happy days for us, of course. Still, I was the only one earning a steady and reliable check. Eventually the housing market came crashing down around us all, the checks stopped, and the liabilities came rolling in. Fortunately, he was recruited by a web company within weeks of getting out of real estate.
I think the only reason this worked for us is because we have the same attitudes towards money. I have never judged an individual –a man in particular – by how much money he makes. As far as I’m concerned, having a lot of money is not an indicator of how generous you are, and I value generosity more than I do wealth. My husband is a very hardworking and generous man, which is why I didn’t mind shouldering a little extra weight of our financial burden for that brief amount of time.
Sometimes, I wonder if my husband is in the minority, though. I know several men who tie their self-worth directly to a dollar figure, and if that dollar figure does no line up with their expectations, they fall to pieces. Their coming unglued is sometimes exacerbated when their partner or spouse makes more than they do, even if that amount is as miniscule as a dollar more on the hour.
I asked a gentleman at Panera what his attitude was on the whole matter. Wearing a black shirt and tie, and Kenneth Cole slip-ons, he said that as far as he was concerned, there is nothing wrong with a woman having greater earning potential than a man. In fact, it was to be expected, given how much education women have these days. He said as a man, his value lays in how hard he works for his family.
“Do you think your view is a result of the age bracket you’re in?” I asked.
He looked around, as though pulling out a memory. Finally, he shook his head.
“No. I have an uncle who has been married 30 years and his wife has always earned more money than he has. At the same time, there are some cats in their 20s who absolutely won’t stand for their woman to earn more money than they do. It really depends on how you see yourself.”
I thanked him for his time.
So here’s an open question to both sexes: Do men’s and women’s attitudes towards money and earning power vary based on their sex, or as individuals? From what I’ve seen in popular culture, the answer lies in the former. Pop culture tells us that a man is defined by what he does and how much he makes. Is this a fair and accurate way to sum up the value of a person?
I’ve got my coffee. Over to you.