The Pandemic Reveals the Danger When Women Rely on Romance
When longtime journalist Leslie Bennetts published her book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? — a plea to moms that they never give up their career and become financially dependent on a romantic partner — it was met with some praise but much more criticism.
The book came out in March of 2007. Nine months later, the Great Recession hit, and 69 percent of men — many of them breadwinners — lost their jobs. and, even a decade later, many still hadn’t found work.
Now we’re deep into a global pandemic, and millions of Americans have lost their job, mostly women — approaching levels of the Great Depression nearly a century ago — and no one knows what the future is going to look like, although some predict a huge hit to women’s lives and gender equality.
Without a doubt, quarantining for weeks on end has put a huge strain on couples, and many predict divorces will spike once stay-at-home orders have been lifted. Many other women may become widows due to COVID-19 or have a spouse who is too sick to work after being intubated.
That will make women — who get paid less than men, move in and out of the workforce, and who live longer than men — even more vulnerable, especially since the share of mothers who do not work outside the home has risen over the past decade. Even the ones who do work had a much harder time finding work after the Great Recession than men.
All of which points to the necessity that women be financially independent, whether partnered or not.
As Bennetts tells me:
“That blueprint we give women isn’t working for us anymore, the blueprint that says one person can kind of resign from the responsibility of taking charge of her own life and hand that over to someone else, that is not a viable blueprint for the length and the challenges of the typical adult life in the 21st century. … The pandemic is just another version of what I was writing about. You can’t necessarily in the long run count on anybody but yourself so you need to take responsibility for your own life, you need to plan for various eventualities, some of which may not be the ones you want, and figure out how you can survive them. Because it’s a long journey and life presents a lot of challenges if you live long enough.”
When researching her book, Bennetts was astounded to learn that the average age of widowhood in America at the times was 54 years old. As of 2011, according to the census bureau, it’s 59 years old. A pandemic doesn’t pay attention to such things.
In describing how she went from being the breadwinner in her first two marriages — not by choice — to being an equal financial partner with her third husband, author Karen Karbo writes:
“I often wonder: 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? … 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 is able to indulge in the magical thinking that romance always matters more than money.”
San Francisco Bay Area cause-based documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser learned about the importance of money when she divorced in 2016. Her new film, $avvy, is all about how gender norms around money leave women particularly vulnerable and questions why many women continue to abdicate financial decisions to men in their lives.
“Having money gives you options. It also gives you peace of mind,” millennial money expert Tonya Rapley says in the film. “Your partner is not your financial plan.”
And options are what women will need as we work through this pandemic.
Mothers in heterosexual relationships who lived in areas hit hardest by the Great Recession experienced higher rates of domestic violence and controlling behavior, according to research.
The only way a woman can more easily remove herself from that situation is if she has money.
It’s not romantic to think that way, but a pandemic reveals the danger for women in relying on romance when they partner.
Want to learn how to have an equitable marriage? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.