A reader sent me an article from the The Guardian in which an anonymous guy (let’s call him Tim) writes an open letter to his wife, pleading with her to get a job.
The reader thought the article might be interesting to others, particularly those that had read How not to be a Walking Wallet.
Below is Tim’s letter to his wife (shortened for space) followed by some suggestions as to how Tim might make some changes.
I remember the thrill of first seeing you at law school. You were radiant in a sea of dour, nervous faces. You were kind, down-to-earth, intelligent and loyal. By graduation, we were inseparable. We took the bar exam and were married. The future looked bright.
I started my career with the gruelling hours and high stress traditional for young lawyers. You were unexpectedly ambivalent about finding a job…eventually puttering around in some low paid, non-legal positions.
Pregnancy – something we both wanted – diverted you to the most important job in the world. You never returned to work, although both kids have been at school full-time for years, and our firstborn is heading to college soon.
We have the trappings of middle-class success – a nice house in a safe, quiet neighborhood; holidays; healthy children; money saved for their college years. But it has come at enormous personal cost to me. My stress has increased dramatically and my health has deteriorated. People who haven’t seen me for years flinch when we meet again. I’ve overheard people at events remarking on how much I’ve aged.
I don’t think I can do this for another 25 years. I dream of leaving my firm for a less demanding position, with you making up any financial deficit with a job – even a modest one – of your own. I’ve asked, and sometimes pleaded, for years with you to get a job, any job. Many of my free hours are spent helping with the house and the kids. I would feel less used and alone if you pitched in financially, even a little.
That’s not going to happen. It has become clear that you are OK with my working myself to death at a high-stress career that I increasingly hate, as long as you don’t have to return to the workforce.
You keep busy volunteering, exercising and pursuing a variety of hobbies. You socialise with similar women who also choose to remain outside the paid workforce. You all complain about financial pressures, but never seem to consider earning some money yourselves.
I know all too well that work can be unpleasant. But I don’t want you to work so I can buy a Jaguar or a holiday home. I want you to work so I can get a different position and we can still maintain a similar standard of living.
I want you to get a job so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying that my career is the only one between us and financial ruin. I want you to work so our marriage can feel more like a partnership and I feel less like your financial beast of burden. I want our daughter to see you in the workforce and pursue a career so she is never as dependent on a man as you are on me, no matter how much he loves her (and he will).
But mostly I want you to get a job because I want to feel loved.
I was sorry to hear about your situation which was brought to my attention by a reader of my blog. The Escape Artist takes all allegations of slavery very seriously, even those involving white middle class males.
I think your situation may be relevant for other guys. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on here because I’d like to suggest some changes to help you (and them).
The Escape Artist knows this stuff from making my own mistakes. So, if it seems like I’m being a bit hard on you, I’m only saying to you what I’d have wanted someone to say to me.
No blame, no shame
Firstly, I don’t blame your wife for your current predicament. She’s playing the hand she was dealt and, to be honest, it looks like she’s doing a better job of that than you are.
Blame and shame are unhelpful emotional reactions here, they are just distractions from getting on with the business of improving your reality. So I don’t want you to blame her…or yourself. I just want you to focus on fixing the problem.
I could say you’ve been let down by society. And there’s some truth in that: we don’t really train boys to be men. And men don’t really have a good equivalent to feminism.
Let’s face it, many of us guys are emotionally…ahem…unskilled and lack a support network to help us when we’ve lost perspective. It would be nice if society laid on some free training for us guys in these areas. But, even if it did, most blokes probably wouldn’t bother showing up.
So we are where we are and you need to start by taking ownership of the problem. The cavalry are not coming, so it’s up to you to start making changes. Focus on what you can control: your own actions.
What is a Walking Wallet?
If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone. There are millions of other guys that have this problem across the western world, where many men seem to have lost their way. It’s so common that, in his excellent book Manhood Steve Biddulph invented a phrase for it: Walking Wallets.
In Feminism for Guys, I explained what Walking Wallets are:
These guys have ceased to be men that balance different roles (father, son, breadwinner, friend, warrior, farmer, athlete, craftsman, lover, hunter, artist, husband etc) and have become only The Payer of the Bills.
Their economic habitat is the professions (law, finance, IT, medicine etc.) and their geographic habitat is the suburbs where they shuttle in SUVs between commuter stations and homes during the week. At weekends they go to shopping centres, out of town DIY stores and ferry Jemima to her clarinet lesson.
They are good people and not stupid but have been emasculated by an unfortunate combination of social conformity, wives, bosses, debt and consumerism. They often lose track of their own friends in their relentless focus on being good salarymen. They typically let their fitness slide. Their sense of humour atrophies, along with their abs and lower back. They often self-medicate.
Is this ringing any bells Tim??
On the positive side, you have realised that there is a problem. Awareness is always the first step required for change. It’s a good start but it’s not enough. You have to take action. The good news is there is a world of resources out there to help you.
You sound like a nice guy Tim, but it’s not enough just to be nice. Pleading, neediness and approval seeking behaviours are all great ways to repel your wife and increase the chances of her…how shall I put this?…“spending more time” with her tennis coach.
I know women often say they are looking for a nice guy. Or a provider. But they like lots of other things as well…and no one single attribute is enough. You have to balance different traits in relationships and in life.
Have you seen the film The War of The Roses? It’s one of the top films on financial independence and it’s about a nice couple that meet at college, after which the guy becomes a workaholic lawyer and the wife a pampered but bored stay at home mother. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.
Guys in your situation are like frogs getting boiled in a pan. It starts harmlessly enough: getting a good job, getting married, seeing less of your male friends, asking for pink tickets before being allowed out for a beer.
Once you are in the pan, there is no single “tipping point”. But, unless you escape, its not gonna end well for you. Like the frog, you have lost sight of the bigger picture. You’re describing the problems with the inside of the pan. And, yes it is hot. But how are you going to fix this?
Your limiting beliefs
I want to help you see your blind spots and your limiting beliefs.
A limiting belief is something that you believe about yourself and the world that isn’t true. But even though it isn’t actually true, the fact that you think it is holds you back from trying and succeeding.
Limiting beliefs are like your own mental icebergs. Remember The Titanic? Icebergs are big, important things. But they are mostly below the surface hidden from view, especially when conditions are unclear. Sometimes you glimpse them amidst the gloom.
Here are some limiting beliefs you seem to have absorbed:
- You assume its enough to be a nice guy. It’s not. You think that by putting your wife, boss and children’s needs and wants ahead of your own, they (or someone) will automatically take care of your needs and wants. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Relationships involve negotiations and you are currently doing a lousy job negotiating on your own behalf.
- You assume you are powerless. You’re not. This is called learned helplessness in the literature. In your letter you talk about being a financial beast of burden, like a shire horse or plough oxen. Good analogy. These animals are much stronger than the farmer. If they refuse to pull the plough, the farmer can’t make them.
- You assume that you are on your own in this. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you act like you are isolated, you risk creating your own reality. What happened to those male friends you used to have? There are plenty of guys out there that have been through the same thing and much, much worse. And they can help you. So reach out to others.
- You equate standard of living with spending. But spending does not equal happiness. You may have a high income but your standard of living is terrible. I know lab rats and smoking beagles that have a better quality of life than you, my friend. You need to rethink your whole idea of standard of living. Take the example of that Tennis Coach. You may earn more money than him. But you need to factor in his ability to choose his hours, work outdoors and the other perks, if you know what I mean.
Once you break the assumption that spending equals happiness, all sorts of positive changes can flow from that. There is a whole new world waiting for you, the world of financial independence, where you get to design your own life around what makes you happy.
Limiting beliefs come from our social programming. We all get conditioned by what we see and experience growing up. This is why I talk about money blueprints. What was your father’s job? And did your wife’s mother work?
Childhood paradigms get reinforced by advertising, by peer pressure and by social convention. Your wife is surrounded by people that are reinforcing her view of the world. Not only are you outnumbered and outgunned, you’re not even at the debate….you are too busy at work marking up those legal contracts.
Those 4 limiting beliefs leapt off the page in your letter. You may have others. That’s OK, you can fix them all over time. You must unlearn what you have learned. Once you start addressing your core beliefs (your Inner Game) the detailed implementation (your outer Game) becomes just…well, detail.
At some stage you need to have a serious talk with your wife. But if you did that right now, it probably wouldn’t go well.
Before you go into that negotiation, you need to equip yourself with some knowledge. After all, you wouldn’t send a new law student into the Supreme Court as the lead lawyer on a major case. They need some training first. Otherwise they are, as the Americans say, gonna get their ass handed to them.
So here are your next steps, Tim.
- Read the book Manhood by Steve Biddulph. This might just change the way you see the world.
- Learn about emotional intelligence. You could take some classes at The School of Life. You could listen to The Art of Charm podcast, maybe starting with this one. But you first need to understand that there are a few basic differences between men and women that flow from evolution. Men and women are equal but not the same. I recommend The Mating Grounds podcast and any books by Geoffrey Miller.
- Reconnect with your physical side. Your body matters: its not just a life support system for a computer (your brain). If your body is weak and flabby, your thinking and your mood are likely to reflect that. This will affect how you perceive the world. Do some exercise that includes cardio and some strength training. Run. Cycle. Do Press Ups.
- Find a mentor / role model. This is the single most powerful thing you can do. You may need to go outside of your current social circle for this. It needs to be a guy who you can relate to. A guy that’s married and a few years older than you. Maybe a former lawyer where you can see they’ve successfully made changes.
- Learn about financial independence. Subscribing to this blog is a good place to start. Read The 3 numbers that can make you a millionaire and Why cutting spending won’t harm your love life.
- Make room by subtraction. Lots of people say they’re too busy to add new stuff into their life. You’re probably already sleep deprived. You need to make room for the good stuff by first removing some of the timesucks from your life: e.g. TV, internet surfing, pleading with your wife…stuff like that.
Some of this needs some new ways of thinking. Some of this might require you to spend some money upfront to save money in future. But let’s face it, it’s your current thinking that has got you into this mess. And no doubt you’re currently spending liberally on alcohol, petrol for your SUV and future landfill. You need to invest in yourself.
The steps above are just the start of The Path. There isn’t space in one article to cover everything. There is no quick fix here. It’s going to take some time, patience and work…with no guarantee of the outcome.
But you shouldn’t give up. You’re right to recognise that your situation will set a blueprint for your own children. You owe it to them (as well as to yourself) to make some changes.
So treat this like it’s an emergency. You can not only survive this, you can come through it stronger. But you must stop procrastinating and take action. You are on a jumbo jet where the cabin windows are starting to crack.
Like they say in the safety briefing: Apply own oxygen mask before helping others.