The Starter Wife

October 31, 2014

A number of years ago, I heard the term “starter wife.” The definition was “The woman you meet and marry while at university or in training who helps put you through school, has your children, and runs your home and contributes financially while your career is being established, and then when you have made it career-wise, you ditch her for a younger, fresher version who coos over you and worships you.”

While the terminology was newer, the concept certainly wasn’t. I was brought up in an era where men had one job or career for life and he had one wife for the rest of his life.

Therefore, it shocked me when, about fifty years ago, I heard about a doctor whose wife had sacrificed her own education to get a job that would put him through medical school. She had his children and ran his office and his home, and then, when he had started making a substantial amount of money, he divorced her to marry a younger, blonder “trophy wife.”

In the years since then, I have seen so much of that scenario, that I could write a book about it. Instead, when I counsel women, I tell them not to get married until their boyfriend finishes his education and takes out the student loans in his own name. But, above all, stay in school and train for a career that you enjoy in case your marriage doesn’t work out.

It’s good advice considering how much the divorce laws have changed. In my day, the only way you could get a divorce in most states was by proving infidelity. The judges awarded alimony and child support to the wife and she usually got custody of the children. In short, she had a certain amount of financial stability she could depend on for life.

Nowadays, with the no-fault divorce laws, it is so much easier for men to get a divorce without losing most of their income. Women are often left without a career or the money to support themselves if the worst case scenario happens to them.

So, even though they think their love will last forever, I tell them to finish their schooling, train for a career, and put marriage plans on hold until they are both out of school. It’s not the most romantic words to tell starry-eyed women, but the most practical advice they need to hear.

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