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April 17, 2007

Why I Left My Beta Husband

Alpha Woman vs Beta Male

Photo Credit: Chris Buck

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A few years ago, my husband, Mark, and I were at one of those hip downtown restaurants sipping mojitos and nibbling on lime-spiked seviche when one of my bosses appeared from a cloud of Cuban-cigar smoke and patted my shoulder. When I introduced him to Mark, he naturally asked what he did for a living. We both froze.

"I do some freelancing," Mark said.

"He studied film at NYU," I said at the same time.
Mark looked at me and shrugged. "I stay home with our daughter," he said, as my colleague quietly balked.

"He makes it possible for me to do my job," I said, laughing. But inside, I was mortified. Technically, I had it all back then, including a gorgeous toddler and a cool job.

What I didn't have was a husband I felt proud of.

God knows I wanted to be proud of him. Mark is smart and funny and the only person I know who gets off on explaining why the Sherlock Holmes tales are more colonialist than patriarchal. And if you asked me about somebody else's stay-at-home husband, I'd be all over the subject, spouting statistics about how important the father-daughter bond is to girls' self-esteem and how limiting it is to expect women to mind the home front. But living it was completely different.

Maybe it's because the plan wasn't for Mark to be a stay-at-home dad. I went to work when he started graduate school, thinking that I'd head back for my own Ph.D. once he was done. I envisioned us as hard-core academics, reading passages from Joyce to each other while I put together a fancy dinner of organic rutabaga soup with apple crème fraîche swirls on top. Instead, I fell in love with my first job at a small food magazine, and eventually, after a few promotions, I found myself working as a staff writer for a national women's magazine.

Things went less smoothly for Mark. By the time we found out I was pregnant-three years into our marriage-he'd been looking for a job teaching film for six months with no luck. Then he began applying for any old job, but nothing panned out. Still, the minute my pregnancy test flashed its double pink lines at me, I knew I needed to put my career on hold.

I stayed home with our daughter for six months after she was born while Mark continued, yes, looking for a job. In 18 months, he got just two calls. Meanwhile, I was being pursued by headhunters. Eventually, I took an editing job at a health magazine.

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