Musing on Money and Marriage

Photo: stockimages,

Photo: stockimages,

“That’s it?” I want to crumple up my 1099 forms in disgust every January when I see, glaring at me in black and white, how little I get paid for pouring my heart and soul onto the page (and increasingly the computer screen) as a freelance writer.

“This year it’s actually good that you didn’t make much money,” says my husband, Zak, looking at me over a half-full bottle of beer. “In fact, go back to last year and make even less, and then make a whole lot more this year.” This is his version of financial planning. Apparently we neglected to make estimated tax payments, so the less money I make the less we’ll have to pay up in April.

Oh the unexpected joys of being underemployed.

It wasn’t always like this.

When we first started dating, Zak was the underemployed one. While I was bringing in the relatively big-ish bucks as a marketing executive, he was a struggling screenwriter. He always made enough to pay his own way, but barely. If we wanted to go out to a restaurant with real silverware and cloth napkins, it was definitely on me.

This went on for years-six to be exact, but who’s counting? I wasn’t making that much money but compared to him I was rolling in it, and if there were any luxuries I wanted (like Charmin toilet paper and something besides Top Ramen for dinner) we both understood that I would have to foot the bill.

Then, in a flash of Hollywood’s magic wand, Zak’s income gained an extra digit. My left hand gained a great big diamond and we started planning a ridiculously expensive wedding, which I decided to devote the next several months of my life to planning. Who needs a day job when your husband-to-be makes enough to make your paycheck look like a pittance?

And so it went for a few years. Sure, I did some writing, but mostly I enjoyed myself. It’s amazing all of the fun things you can find to fill your days when you don’t have that pesky burden of the nine to five lifestyle.

For better or for worse, it didn’t last.

Zak’s Hollywood trajectory plummeted almost as suddenly as it rose, and before I knew it I was back working fulltime as the main breadwinner, and Zak was the one who was underemployed and mostly stayed home with our son. For the last ten years we’ve flip-flopped, both taking turns with making the primary income and being the on-call parent.

I knew this was unusual, but didn’t quite realize how un-mainstream it was until the Pew Center came out with a study recently, that found wives were the dominant income-provider in one of five marriages, and more notably, that this was big news. The New York Times ran five freaking stories about this trend.

A trend which is, frankly, no big surprise: Men are still the major contributors of household income — with 78 percent making at least as much or more than their wives — but the percentage of women whose income has outpaced their husband’s has jumped from just 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent now.

That’s what they call coming a long way, baby?

I asked my friends to see if many of them made more money than their husbands do. The vast majority said something to the effect of, “No, but I’d sure love to-and believe me he’d be thrilled about it.”

No kidding.

Among those who did make more money than their husbands, it seemed to be something they took in stride. For the most part, their respective career paths and earning potential were predictable at the time they got married. Although my friend Inez said she was surprised-and angry-to find out she made less than her husband when they got married, as she was better educated and clearly had a job with more responsibility.

“Honestly, it fired me up to ask for-and eventually receive-a long overdue promotion. My husband was cheering me on the entire time.”

As Allie said, “Having a good salary was one of my main goals coming out of college. I was never counting on marrying someone rich. I wasn’t really counting on getting married in the first place.”

“It has definitely been something we have had to work on together and it has often been with resentment and bad feelings,” said Carla. “If you had asked me about making more money five, ten or 15 years ago, my responses would have been different. It’s something we continue to work at and even change roles sometimes. It’s all good and part of the process. Money is hard, but not what drives the love, and certainly not the marriage.”

I’ll be thinking of that while I travel back to last year in order to work less. And while I’m there, maybe I’ll pick up some shares of Apple. Now that’s sound financial planning.

Share your musings on money and marriage with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 29, 2010.

Dear Scumbag

Dear-Old-Love-cover-artThe limitless wisdom of the broken heart can only be surpassed by its vindictiveness.

Andy Selsberg captures both aspects of love gone bad in his new book, “Dear Old Love: Anonymous Notes to Former Crushes, Sweethearts, Husbands, Wives and Ones That Got Away,” which caught my eye at Chaucer’s this week.

For those of us who have wasted months, and possibly years, of their lives crafting the perfect zinger we woulda shoulda coulda come up with decades ago, this book is a revenge fantasy come true.

It’s also pretty funny.

Selsberg, curator of a website aptly titled, has been collecting short missives to ex-loved ones (or at least ex-liked-a-lot ones) and put them together in a collection that made me laugh out loud, with just a bit of bitterness for good measure.

Think about it. What would you say to an ex if he-or she-didn’t know it was you?

Ranging from bitter to flirtatious and sometimes downright disturbing, these confessional tidbits – “Your underwear is the only thing I remember from eighth-grade Spanish” and “I may have exaggerated my devotion to sports to win you, but my love of sitting, eating and watching things was genuine” – provide even more proof than the ongoing sales of Celine Dion records that “Breaking up is Hard to Do” and “There Must be 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”

People rarely move on completely when it comes to matters of the heart, and this book, which the publisher calls a “toxic fusion of bittersweet memories, unforgettable heartache, and saccharine nostalgia that have plagued all of us at some point in our lives,” is a great way to laugh the melancholy away.

Some of my favorites had to do with family: “I didn’t want to have children with you, because I saw how you micromanaged your cat.”

“I really did want to be a grandparent with you. It’s just that getting to that point would have been an interminable slog.”

“Love’s not a competition, but I’m winning. Your mom took my side, your best friend talks to me more than he does you, and your brothers still support me. But I still want you back.”

Fame: “I’ll be waiting for you after your mild fame evaporates.”

And grammar: “I knew we wouldn’t last because you used the wrong version of ‘you’re’ in almost every one of your emails.”

Grooming was also an issue for many, with contributions like, “I’m consoled by the fact that the two of you will have very hairy children,” “I guess I have a thing for Jewfros now,” and “Even though the last time we saw each other you were in handcuffs and shackles, it was the fact that your hair looked terrible that made me laugh,” making me laugh out loud.

“I don’t care that we broke up, I only want you to still want me” was a common, bittersweet theme, in entries like, “When I ran into you at the coffee shop, your hair looked more gray. I like to believe that means you can’t live without me,” and, “I’m fine without you. I just can’t stand the idea that you can get along without me”-both sentiments that I can relate to.

But my favorite entry of all was more bitter than sweet: “Every day, I check the paper for your obituary.”

Talk about getting the last word. All in all it’s a satisfying journey to see disgruntled lovers have their final say-even if it’s only strangers who are actually listening.

In case you need help crafting your submission to check out and don’t forget to share your letter with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 22, 2010.

Fly on the Wall

Photo: Jeroen van Oostrom,

Photo: Jeroen van Oostrom,

If eavesdropping were an Olympic sport, I would have a gold medal and a sponsorship deal with Verizon. Can you hear me now? I sure hope so! From the time I was very young I’ve been ridiculously fascinated by other people’s conversations.

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the hallway (after being sent to bed) and snooping on the adult conversation at my parent’s dinner parties. I didn’t understand half of what they were talking about-Harvey Wallbangers, Mia Farrow, Dick and Liz-but that didn’t stop me from wanting to listen.

When I read the Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew books I started keeping an eavesdropping notebook, dotting my i’s with little hearts and writing down interesting snippets of conversation I overheard. Despite my lack of skill in martial arts and Mandarin, I think I would have been a great CIA Agent. Going on stakeouts, drinking stale coffee, cracking wise with colleagues and writing things down sounds like great fun to me. I absolutely love to observe and report.

I was once sure I had uncovered a huge murder-suicide-extortion plot at the Good Earth Restaurant, where I overheard a couple of guys in an adjacent booth talking about babes, blood and bribes-until I saw the movie on Lifetime Television. So much for my spy skills; that’s probably why I became a journalist.

I always ask people what they would want to do if they could be invisible. It floors me when people say they’ve never thought about this. Seriously? Never. I think about invisibility several times a day. It’s always been my preferred superpower and I often imagine how much fun it would be to be a fly on the wall in other people’s lives. An invisible fly with big ears.

I just like to listen to other people. Their voices, their slang, what they say and what they don’t say but so clearly communicate with their body language. I can’t get enough of it. At heart I’m a peeper, a lurker, a voyeur.

Reuters writer Christinne Muschi complains about “the social media arms race,” and bemoans that “Somehow, somewhere, we all want to know, minute by minute, what each other is doing … Do we? I can understand some of the occasional useful aspects of networking and canvassing large amounts of people instantly, but to me most twittering is voyeurism cloaked as social networking, navel gazing re-cast as information gathering.”

Where’s the downside? I find much of it fascinating.

It’s not always the content of the communication that interesting to me-I can only handle so many stories about pets and mean bosses, and most Reality TV talk bores me to tears-sometimes it’s the context. Like when members of Congress were tweeting during the middle of the President’s last State of the Union address-apparently they need to have that movie theater reminder posted: “Please refrain from the use of cell phones during the following presidential presentation.”

The new-ish phenomenon of paying for tweeting puts this kind of communication in another light entirely. The Daily Beast reported that Kim Kardashian (who is famous for being uh, famous I guess) commands $10,000 per post on Twitter. At 71 bucks a character I would think she’d be able to come up with something more interesting than, “Have u guys ever tried Popchips? They are kind of amazing!” and “Look who joined me for my Carls Jr Facebook lunch!!!”

That’s almost enough to make me swear off Twitter the same way I did live television, since now I can time shift via DVR and skip through commercials with my TV remote.

I guess I’m saying they need to invent a social media where people don’t know that they’re posting bits of their lives. And I’m exempt from participating, but still get to watch and listen. And I’m an invisible fly who dots her i’s with hearts. And there’s a gold medal for me. That’s all I’m saying.

Do you think Twitter’s only for twits? Share your thoughts with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 15, 2010.

Playing to Win

© Amysuem | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Amysuem | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

When did playing to win become politically incorrect? While there are certainly buckets full of residual benefits from playing sports, THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN.

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

The object of basketball is to score the most baskets. The object of football is to score the most touchdowns. The object of baseball is to bring the most batters in. THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN.

Which is precisely why the steam bursting out of my ears is enough to propel my entire body through a series of hoops every time I hear a phrase like “the score is fun to fun.”

The game should be fun, but the score is supposed to be a number! And part of learning to play a game, possibly the most important part for many kids, is learning to lose-which is something you can’t do when “the score is fun to fun.”

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to go to a scorekeeper’s clinic for my son’s basketball league this week. It wasn’t that the three-point play of tapping my foot, doing the homework handoff and my buzzer-beater run out of the house the instant my husband got home from work was particularly elegant. Nor was the explanation of when to hit the buzzer, and why fouls require a slash and free throws a circle all that scintillating. I was just happy to see that in basketball you keep score and the results are right up there on the light board for all to see.

Believe me, I’m not advocating bad sportsmanship, but I think they’re missing an important point when the youth basketball league sends out a beginning of season letter to parents saying we should redefine the word “winner.”

Merriam-Webster defines a winner as “one that wins; one that is successful especially through praiseworthy ability and hard work; a victor especially in games and sports.”

There is nothing wrong with that definition, but the league insists-with the best of intentions I am sure-on redefining the word “winner.”

“To help our children get the most out of competitive sports, we need to redefine what it means to be a ‘winner,'” the letter states. “Winners are people who make maximum effort, continue to learn and improve, refuse to let mistakes (or fear of making mistakes) stop them.”

These are all certainly worthy goals to teach our children, and definitely a good reminder to the coaches. But losing graciously is also an important part of life that I fear may get lost on the playing field when winners are defined as people who try hard, persist in their efforts and ultimately improve.

I’m a huge fan of good sportsmanship (which is what our league is really defining), fair play, improvement, effort, and learning – but none of those things have anything to do with winning and losing. I’d be the first to tell you that I’ve had plenty of “moral victories” against bad sports, but that’s not always what the win/loss column looks like.

In our house (and not coincidentally the houses that both my husband and I grew up in) the rule is that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose-it’s all part of playing the game-and if you can’t be a considerate winner or a gracious loser then you don’t get to play at all.

When our son was very young it wasn’t unusual for a game to be called on account of tears or tantrums, but he learned quickly that if you can’t behave like a good sport then you don’t get to play at all. It seems to me that rather than redefining winning, this is a much better lesson for youth sports to be teaching our kids.

What’s so bad about playing to win? Share your thoughts with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 8, 2010.