Modern Love: Deadbeats Or Sugar Daddies, Our Only Choices!

"I still would love to experience life as a pampered princess, at least once." Alas, for "the accidental breadwinner," it's not to be!

This week's "Modern Love" essay comes to us from one Karen Karbo, a writer who manages to trivialize very real issues of money, identity and power with the narcissistic lens of her own experience! Karen's a woman who, while she took education and a career as her due, never envisioned herself supporting a family, and unwittingly fell into this role. It's actually a fascinating topic, the unconscious double-standard that exist for a lot of women who, while they admit it or not, actually want to have it all in a way the women's movement never conceived of — the career, the opportunities, but also the security of the traditional gender breakdown, and the secret resentment this has bred.

"While I couldn’t imagine being my mother, vacuuming on Monday, dusting on Tuesday, etc., neither did I see myself as a high-powered earner. I switched majors from journalism to physical therapy to film. I got good grades, which was something I knew how to do, but beyond that ... well, there was no beyond that.

Treated sensitively, this is actually something I'd love to see addressed.

"Treated sensitively" are the operative words. Instead we get Karbo's relationship with a chauvinistic sugar daddy type, then her two marriages, all reduced to blithe caricature. First there's an aimless deadbeat hubby who lets her run the show while he finds himself. Karbo resents this, but recognizes the benefits.

If I had been dependent on James financially, would I have walked out so easily? It brings up a question that can only be posed uneasily: Is it better for the longevity of a marriage if one party (usually the woman) feels financially trapped?

While this is an interesting line of inquiry, it's couched in such myopic terms that it's hard to move beyond the specifics. You're left thinking, in theory? Maybe. In your case? I don't care. She deems her next husband, a blue-collar exotic, "the cuddle bum." When he quits his job, her breadwinning role is made official; he becomes a house husband. But he's crap at it.

When we divorced, he wanted alimony, child support and the house — the house that was purchased with my money, in my name. During one of our last conversations, I wept with incomprehension. He wanted my house? Whatever happened to the way people divorce in the movies, where the husband packs a bag and moves into a sad hotel, leaving his wife (whom he supported) in the house?

Ultimately, Karbo learns (because, despite the incredibly specific nature of her experience, she seems to tacitly feel that there's a universality to them) that "for those of us predetermined to be breadwinners, it’s more fun to date a man than to marry him. We understand that the more people we have under our roof, the more it costs us. I am appalled by how unromantic this sounds, but there you have it." There you have it! Karbo has taken on some very complex issues, given them a cursory and highly personal treatment, and come to a flippant conclusion that a lot of people — ie, anyone who's managed to make a marriage with all its financial complexities and power struggles, work — might find both facile and inaccurate. In her world, guys are apparently total deadbeats or archaic chauvinists - and so, nothing more exists. Is it more fun for you, Karen Karbo, to date than marry? I daresay. A good personal essay should illuminate a larger truth through a specific story. A poor one is just a narcissist assuming her experience applies to the whole world. This exercise in disappointment most certainly falls into the latter category.

The Accidental Breadwinner [NY Times]