I'm Officially Calling It: Straight Marriage Is a Scam

Sarah Hudson photography

Sarah Hudson photography

When it comes to marriage, there are three things I believe to be true: I love my husband, I’m glad to be married to him, and I’m growing increasingly certain that straight marriage is a scam. In every scam, there are winners and losers and when it comes to marriage, men are almost always getting the better end of the bargain. In fact, I would argue that after marriage, men’s lives get easier and women’s lives get more challenging. 

This might sound harsh but let’s look at the evidence. In households where both parents work full-time, women still end up doing more of the housework. Women are also more likely to be responsible for managing a million unseen details that come with having a family: buying birthday cards, managing the family calendar, signing kids up for activities, keeping track of who needs a dentist appointment and so on. In fact, according to some estimates, over the course of a year married women will work the equivalent of a month of a full-time job doing all the work it takes to make a family functional. Interestingly, in same sex couples, household work is generally divided in a much more egalitarian way.

  • I know I'm not alone in feeling like marriage is a better deal for men.

    A few weeks ago, I ask a question on a Facebook group for moms. I asked them who was getting the better end of the deal when it comes to their marriage. The group was a mix of stay-at-home moms and working moms and yet the answer was still clear: a full 99 percent of them said their husband was the one who benefited most from being married. The common theme that emerged was that women feel the weight and responsibility for family tasks in a way that they don’t think their husbands do.

    The hard thing about this realization is that, for many of them, they never expected to feel this way. This isn’t the 1950s anymore. Decades after the women’s movement started, it feels frustrating to know that the social conditioning about gender roles is still so pervasive, even in couples where both people would identify as feminists. When I met and fell in love with my husband, one of the things that I most liked about him was that he was totally on board with us putting my career first. He had been a stay-at-home dad with his sons from his first marriage and was totally up for doing it again when the time came. I went into our relationship and marriage filled with big expectations that we would be a partnership of equals. I’d never have to worry about being the nagging wife, because we’d totally share the burden of running a household and a family. 

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  • The reality is more complicated than I expected.

    Sarah Hudson Photography

    When I compare myself to some of my friends, I’m actually pretty “lucky” in terms of the division of labor in my marriage. Due to the nature of our work, my husband is often the primary care giver for the kids and handles a lot of the day-to-day chores, like washing dishes and doing laundry. But I still find that, even though my job is more demanding than his, I’m responsible for a lot of the behind-the-scenes work of our family, like keeping track of when the kids need dentist appointments or which kid is about to outgrow all his pants. There are some jobs I’ve taken on because I like doing them, liking managing our finances and planning our family vacations. But there are other things that I think I end up doing because I’m the one who notices it needs to get done.  And even though he does more of the daily housework than I do, I still sometimes get frustrated with getting household stuff done. For example, a while back I started noticing that our bathroom was looking really gross and needed a thorough scrub down. 

    My husband, who works from home, either didn’t notice it or didn’t care. I was left with the following choices: do it myself (either on the weekend or after I get home from a 10+ hour day at work), ask him to do it (which makes me feel like I’m asking him for a favor, which feels gross), or wait for him to notice and do it himself (and try not to get annoyed on a daily basis until that happens). All of my options suck and even having to think through the options is a kind of emotional labor that men don’t have to do.
  • Sometimes I look at my 6-year-old daughter and wonder if this will be any easier for her generation.    

    Sarah Hudson Photography

    Assuming she is straight, she’ll probably want to get married someday, which makes me feel keenly aware of the modeling that I am doing now. Am I doing enough to make my own marriage a more equitable partnership? Am I demonstrating a good work/life/family balance? Are there ways that I just take on more responsibilities around the house because it seems easier than having to ask my husband to do them instead? Maybe even asking these questions just another example of emotional labor.

    I’ve been married for 13 years now, and my husband is still my favorite person, so I know I’m lucky. I do hope my daughter finds a partner some day who loves her as much as my husband loves me. But I also hope, if she decides to get married, that we'll finally have gotten to the place as a culture where she doesn't end up living out the same gender expectations that my generation can't seem to shake. She deserves better than that -- and so do we. 

relationships feminism