Yes, you read that correctly. That advice absolutely makes me want to retch/ vomit/ puke everywhere! I know this advice comes from a good place from many senior women – they look at their spouses’ support as a critical part of their success. But the way it’s coming off is leaving so many women confused, hurt, embarrassed, afraid … and many man looking and feeling like selfish, guilty jerks. They forget that not every person out there is going to have the same situation as them, this piece of advice is not actionable for many people, and luck / personal circumstances play huge role on if it can really play out.
I know that a lot of people aren’t going to like what I say here, but I also know that there are a lot of people out there that probably will. And it has to be said – there is some terrible advice out there when it comes to how to drive your career as a working woman or working parent, and by far the worst piece, in my opinion, is “Marry the right person”. Why?
It assumes that what you want is all that matters in a couple.
If the purpose of this advice is to encourage women who are not yet married to consider how their future partner’s career goals and life goals can coalesce with their own career and life goals, then I’m all for it with the understanding that this agreement is fleeting. Life circumstances change. But this advice, more often than not, has the effect of making women who are already married or in a relationship feel pretty crappy if they don’t have a partner that’s setting it all aside or taking on the role of “lead parent” (as elegantly stated by Andrew Moravcsik in his article in the Atlantic, note – he’s Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband for those that don’t know), and it makes any man out there that has toiled for their own career feel bad that they’re not setting it all aside to help their wives achieve their dreams.
It assumes you have complete control over everything.
That means that you’ll never have an ailing parent that you’ll want to care for. It assumes that your career is going to generate enough financial security for your family that your significant other’s career can take hit after hit. It assumes that everything will be exactly the same all the time – and that by “marrying the right person” that situation of having to pit family against career won’t happen for you, because you married the right person and that means it’s all going to be taken care of… by someone else.
It means that single mothers, divorced women, or anyone else without a traditional partner is just SOL.
How can you reap the benefits of having married the right person if you’re not married?
It assumes that your life, your dreams, and your goals are static.
That means that no matter what happens in your life, your viewpoints and ideas may not change. You may hold your baby in your arms for two weeks of maternity leave and decide enough’s enough and head back to work. Or you may decide there is no way that you can separate from your baby. You may discover a new talent (like writing or baking or music) and want to pursue that. Heck, you may just decide you want to do something completely different. Your significant other may too.
So what advice would I feel comfortable sharing about “Marrying the right person”? Honestly, not that much. I think that if you can find love and connect with someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with, that is an amazing thing. But if you do want to tie it back to your career, here are my thoughts.
Marrying the right person doesn’t mean that your career will come first all the time no matter what. Be considerate, even if your partner is the lead parent. No one wants to feel like they are giving up everything (including their dreams) all the time.
Be honest with yourself. Have you thought about what you want your career to be? How about what you want it to be when you have children? There is nothing wrong with pursuing a career that doesn’t leave you so exhausted at the end of each day that you cannot enjoy your family (and there is nothing wrong with pursuing a career like that either, if that’s really what you want).
Be realistic that things may change from what you originally discussed. You never know what life will throw you. Most early “we will be totally equal” discussions are done wearing rose-colored glasses.
Love comes first. If they want to have a huge career or start their own company, that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Be open-minded about how you can reach your dreams.
Being a DINK can be really fun, but that lifestyle (and the support you get) will change. Don’t be surprised if your partner’s outlook on your career and your home commitments changes once you have children.
Even “the right person” can’t always make up for having vast economic resources. Nothing beats being able to afford to hire help when you need it.
You don’t need a significant other to make it work. But I get that having one helps (for relief, support, and finances), especially when you have kids.
Good luck to you, and next time someone talks about “marrying the right person” just remember they are trying to put a framework around why they were able to move into leadership. You’ll have to find your own way.
Have Kids, Will Work