Things I Know About Marriage & Careers After 15 Years

This should be a two word post.

Not much.

I don’t know much about marriage and careers even though I’ve been married for over 15 years. I suspect many things and I know a lot about my marriage but I don’t know a lot about other people’s marriages. I ask about them and certainly I observe them but if success or failure is marked by marriage or divorce then none of us know much. There are marriages I knew were doomed. I went to weddings and decided to not bring a gift because no part of me thought they’d be together at the end of the year. Some couples are unable to make a clean break and they need to get married so they can get divorced. It’s like it’s the only way they know to get away from each other.

Other marriages I simply don’t want for myself. I suspect they’re happy (perhaps in the way people with Stockholm Syndrome are happy) poking and prodding and making fun of each other. Others seem sexless and one in particular has me thinking that they’re both gay and closeted (even to themselves), to be fair Mr. G says that I think everyone is gay, maybe I spent too much time in West Hollywood selling tanning packages to “straight men” who had an inordinate number of gay male friends and a penchant for body building, hair waxing and tanning nude. Maybe I just see the world differently.

My friend Cassie is starting a new relationship and as everyone who is married or living with someone knows, the first year is really tough. It’s not tough in a way that folks understand when they’re in it, it’s difficult in hindsight. My husband and I were strangers sharing a home, a cubbyhole really in the hillside. We had to figure out how we saved money (hah! there was none), how we earned money, who got the computer, who scooped the cat shit and who our friends were. We had to decide on bedtimes, morning routines, food and newspaper sections. Everything was a negotiation the first year and it was easy because we were madly in love and really couldn’t get enough of each other. When people date for 5 and 7 years before marrying or cohabiting I wonder if it’s more difficult having some of the bloom off the rose?

So Cassie and I were talking about Penelope’s post where she talks about the different ways to be married to someone successful and I sort of bristled. I didn’t say it out loud (because I’m trying to develop tact) but hasn’t Penelope been divorced? More than once? She’s crazy, right? Or maybe she’s just crazy smart. I don’t know, I haven’t read enough to make that judgement but something tells me there’s a bit of mania involved with her ascent to the top. I say that without judgement, with slight reverence even. I’ve become a bit of a slug in the winter months I could use a dose of mania.

So there’s this post where Penelope Trunk outlines the kind of marriage you can have if you want kids. According to her there are the following scenarios for women:

Be the breadwinner

  • Marry a Stay at home dad
  • Use nannies

Be home with your kids

  • Work part time
  • Don’t bother earning money

I’ve read and re-read that post a dozen times and I’m wanting to pick it apart and be able to say, with authority, “This is insane, there are more options for mothers than this. There is balance, there’s a way to have a career that doesn’t dip into your personal life. It’s all possible.”

I can’t say that. If you’re thinking of marriage and you know you want to be someone’s mother these are discussions to have before conception. I’d argue that this is a decision to make while dating, before getting serious.

No matter which route you go it’s tough to adjust to marriage and to parenting. I cannot begin to comprehend what it’s like to adjust to parenting someone else’s child. My mother married when I was 15 or so and our stepfather had to walk a fine line. I think he did it gracefully as teenage years are not imbued with grace.

There’s a particular challenge in being the non-earner. It’s been difficult to give up control of our future and basically bet it all on one man that I met at a boozy party when I was 25. Obviously we’re the thing movies are made of. We still like each other, we haven’t filed bankruptcy and the kids seem to be well adjusted. I’m only minimally jealous of my husband.

Yes. I am often envious of my husband. Which makes ZERO sense because when I go to pilates today he will be meeting that will likely wring him out and use every bit of energy he has. But he’s doing it in a luxury hotel so I convince myself that it’s all fabulousness and luxe and there’s no actual work involved and then I feel sorry for myself that I’m home.

And then I start arguing with myself (maybe Penelope and I have a little bit of The Crazy in common) and I remind myself that the man works long hours and I don’t. I should stop being petty and jealous of his amazing dinners. Then I remind myself again that we are different people and he doesn’t actually love fancy dinners with strangers. He doesn’t thrive on it. This is actually work for him. So I start feeling grateful and not at all put out that I have to rush to FedEx to get a tie that he forgot sent overnight. In fact I hoped to myself that he would be as generous with me and my pending trip to Australia.

Then we got to chatting a little more and I found out that someone booked his flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans via Minneapolis. No. I cannot explain why. I can’t even get a slightly slow 8 year old to look at a map of the US and explain how that happened. I chatted with him about ways to fix the return flight (which has similar idiocy built into it) and joked with him about needing a private jet.

Which is when I began to resemble this lady.

green with envy


Mr. G explained that his trip in late February would indeed involve a private jet to the east coast. I love that man and I want wonderful things for him but sometimes the perks of being the one who works leave me feeling a little left behind.

And it’s just a feeling. We don’t cater to feelings here. We cater to actions.


Facebook Comments

  • Penelope Trunk

    Hi, Jessica. I loved reading your post. I liked hearing your perspective married to the breadwinner. It seems like the important thing is to see than any decision is hard. Each thing we get to have means we give up something big. Then we could all feel better about having to make hard choices.

    It’s still a difficult topic for me to face. I had to eat a package of my son’s gummy bears while I read this post because I was scared I’d end up being upset that I’m not married to a breadwinner.


    • JessicaGottlieb

      Thanks Penelope. If you decide to have kids you’ll have to sacrifice on either end. But really… who could blame me for the jet jealousy? No one.

  • The JackB

    I had grandparents who met when they were 11 and got married at 20. They celebrated 76 anniversaries. They are the only people I ever considered experts on marriage and even they couldn’t tell people how to make it work because it just does or doesn’t.

    Obviously there is more to it than that, but for every bit of “science” I still say there is luck thrown in too.

  • kristibug

    I kept this post in my Reader as I read it several times. I kept wanting to comment, or reblog about it myself but I’m lazy lately. I feel like it hits a lot of good points. The grass is always greener. I think the important point here is that you can realize that he’s doing (what you think) is fun but that he hates it. I’m happy I can recognize that as well. I’m a terribly empathetic person but I try sometimes. I feel like that is how we make it work too.


    I think Penelope forgot the full time stay at home full time working mom..LIKE US :) great article BTW

  • avflox

    Kudos to Penepole for being a power blogger and turning her passion into revenue, but let’s not forget that everyone is fallible. She did leave out options. There are ways to provide and to be around for your kids — and there are ways to make it work even if both parents are working without the nannies, too.

    As for the jealousy, though — I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just stay home while my husband worked. You need a source of stimulation beyond the connections you make in your schedule. You need connections with people who will work with you to achieve things and give you a sense of well-being. You also need opportunities to change the setting, get out of town, get the responsibilities shaken up with something interesting.

    That’s the biggest hurdle, I think, to the joy of staying home. People on the other side think it’s amazing, you get to stay home and go to the spa and manage your own time. They’re not wrong, but you do need a bit of the uncertainty of new, exciting challenges, varied locales and alliances with new people, and that aspect is lacking. The key, I think, is finding a way to make it so you get a little of both worlds.

    You work, so you have some challenges and options for achievement and working with other people, but I think you may need to look into varied locales and some of those perks that corporate life affords, too — beyond conferences. Something like a retreat with people in your line of work that is both motivating and deeply satisfying.

    That or a spa day the next time I’m in town. I don’t have a private jet, but I have been told I am slightly amusing.