Someone Please Explain What’s Going On Here Before This Question Kills Me


Once again, I have read something in print that I don’t understand at all, and I’m concerned that, like comedian Lewis Black’s routine about over-hearing someone say, “if it wasn’t for that horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college” and obsessing over what it could possibly mean, the statement will fester in my brain until, like an aneurysm, it explodes and kills me.

This time the potentially deadly passage came from Phillip Gallane’s New York Times advice column, “Social Q’s.” I stopped caring what Gallanes thought after he revealed himself to be a standard-issue left-biased, Trump Deranged social justice warrior, but a Times Sunday Styles section was just sitting there next to the toilet, and now my life is endangered.

Here is what I read as the first question in his column: “Wife” wrote,

I was remarried two years ago to a caring and considerate man. He moved into my home with my two kids (who are now away at college). When he arrived, he subtly let me know that he didn’t expect to pay any household expenses. I work part-time and have some family money, but I’m still on a budget. I didn’t mind paying for everything until the pandemic hit. Now, I’ve lost my job and my investments have taken a hit, so my finances are tight. I’ve brought up my situation several times, but my husband says things are tight for him too. (Our incomes are about the same.) I can’t help feeling hurt and resentful. He knows this, but he does nothing. Any advice?

Wait, what? The starting point for ethical analysis is a careful answer to the question, “What’s going on here?” In this case, it is more like,

These people are married, but the husband has “subtly” announced that he doesn’t intend to help pay for the expenses? I’m sorry, maybe it’s because none of the women in my life were born slugs, but I can’t imagine any husband getting away with that for a second, much less years. What is worse for my imperiled brain, the wife who relays this tale begins by saying that her husband is “caring and considerate.” On what planet? It’s early, and for some reason everything reminds me of song lyrics (guess what I was humming as soon as I wrote “born slugs”) and movies in the morning, so a second clip from the Ethics Alarms archive seems relevant here:

Never mind Gallanes’ reply: it doesn’t matter what he thinks the woman should do. The question that has to be answered to save my life is how anyone could get in this absurd situation in the first place. How could a man enter into a marriage with that attitude? How could any woman tolerate it if he did? How can a marriage include the ground rule, “You’re on your own. kid! Don’t expect any help from me!”

Please help. The clock is ticking.

28 thoughts on “Someone Please Explain What’s Going On Here Before This Question Kills Me

  1. I don’t understand this at all. Basically, the husband announced he expected to be taken care of, and keep all his own money. The wife married him with that understanding. I can’t imagine why, but she did. I don’t feel very sorry for her.

    She’s essentially whining because although she understood the deal, it’s no longer easy for her to stick to it, and she wants to renegotiate. The husband understandably does not, since the deal was pretty sweet from his perspective. Unless she has some other leverage she’s willing to use to get him to change his mind, she should likely figure out a different job. He has no obligation to change the terms of their arrangement just because it’s no longer convenient for her.

    I don’t understand this type of relationship at all. Such an odd way to demonstrate caring and commitment.

    • There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m really sorry I missed this entry when it was fresh because it’s really an excellent little lesson on the ways that feminism has transformed our culture.

      I don’t like to make this unfortunate woman representative of all modern, Western women, and for all I know, she may not be a feminist. And I don’t like to defend this man as an individual. Based on what little is revealed here, he is probably not a swell guy.

      But make no mistake, this unhappy lady is reaping the consequences of the 60s and 70s, and so are countless others like her. This is what feminism wanted.

      If you put a gun to my head and made me guess how they ended up this way: Desperate woman. Middle aged. Lonely. Suddenly no longer as attractive as she once was; secretly afraid that she can no longer attract a good man. Possibly drove off or left her first husband, thinking she could trade up.

      Man has lots of options. Possibly talking to, if not in relationship with, at least one other woman. Will likely leave if he finds someone “better” (that is, younger and prettier.) He doesn’t want kids. Neither he nor her likely believes in the sanctity of marriage or any other such “antiquated” notions. He is holding all the cards here and probably wouldn’t take it too hard if the relationship ended tomorrow. He probably has some cash saved up in expectation of this. She, however, would take it very hard. This is what gender equality looks like.

      Those are just shots in the dark but I’d bet a good number of them hit the mark.

  2. Whole lotta men out there like that. And a whole lotta women desperate enough to take them in.

    Sorry ’bout your head.

  3. So this woman has been married before, and thinks her current husband is caring and considerate, notwithstanding he refuses to contribute financially to the household. What sort of man must her first husband have been?

    I’m rather reminded of Monty Python’s “Vocational Guidance Counselor” sketch, where an accountant describes his desire to be a lion tamer. When asked to describe a lion, he describes them as “lively brown furry things with short stumpy legs and great long noses”, about one foot high, which eat ants.

    • To be fair, this is how countless, “normal” marriages/living arrangements look, only with the genders reversed, and no one thinks much of it. That’s usually the case when the woman is young and beautiful and the young man is afraid to lose her.

      In a less “modern” clime, a “good” man marries her, treats her royally, no one cheats, and, ideally, when her looks fade and his fortune increases, he wouldn’t dare to wrong her, because she is the loved, faithful, and dignified matron of the family and mother of his children. All of that is completely off the table now, and the new norm is going to be young women exploiting young men, and men exploiting lonely older women. No one is really happy, although the small subset of attractive and wealthy men clearly make out the best in this new system.

  4. It seems pretty simple, and pretty common. Sometimes the woman is an American heiress and the man is arguably a European aristocrat. Other times the woman has a good, steady welfare check and the man does this and that. “Caring and considerate” is just her ego talking – he must be because she picked him.

    Don’t worry about these people. Unanimously, when trust fund babies say money is tight, they mean they’re in danger of dipping into the principle.

  5. My question is rhetorical… Why or why is that scrap by your toilet or in your house?
    Just like “wife”, you deserve what you get!!!
    “Caring and Considerate”

    • I have New York Times editions all over the house, and try to scan them for ethics issues very time I have a break in work, research, teaching, family, blog and dog. For some reason, only one section was available this time—usually “Sunday Style” goes out with the Food section, unread.

    • Yeah, there’s no shortage of people willing to be sugar babies, male or female. Clearly, she never got the lesson about prenups or preserving your own assets. To quote advice from EY era: DTMF. I’ve seen leeching in multiple income levels and it never ends well for the non-leech. And it’s not a matter of job loss or recession, its that the leech is unwilling to contribute when income shifts due to outside issues, be it by getting a job or drastically redoing expenses.

  6. I’m trying to think of a way that this would make sense…. Maybe if the husband was shoveling himself out of an inordinate amount of debt, and he said in advance: “Look, I’m going to be financially useless for X years, while I shovel myself out of this hole I’m in.”? Although… That’s not exactly subtle… If the situation is exactly like presented… Who agrees to that?

    • If I were her, I suppose I’d start canceling services, starting with TV & Internet to ensure that if he wanted those things, he’d be the subscriber and payer. Then she cancels her cell phone and he can’t reach her reliably and she keeps an irregular schedule. (Ideally, she gets a prepaid phone for only business & emergency use that he doesn’t have the number.) If needed, she sells her home and moves onto a friend’s couch and recommends he do the same. When he asks why he has to do that, she can explain expenses to him and what she’s going through so she has to do what’s best for financial well-being.

      Ultimately, “What’s going on here?” is probably most easily explained by the wife’s ignorance. What she probably doesn’t know is that he maintains a bachelor pad for retreats and escapes, or to house a side-piece. Worse yet, it might be some type of dungeon where he holds people against their will and have been missing for years. Seriously folks. If you don’t know a person’s finances, you don’t know the person and they can be absolutely anyone!

    • It didn’t make sense as late as, say, the 80s, but it’s where we are now.

      Men peak at an older age than women, in terms of what each gender finds most desirable. Decent-looking guys with some money have more options at 40 than they did at 20. I find that as creepy as you all probably do, but it’s true. There’s been research and stuff.

      But a single older woman with kids who wants a husband, to be harsh, has no market for her services. Men her age are not interested. At some level this woman knows she is “lucky” to have this “caring and considerate” husband.

      And I know I sound unromantic and cynical, but keep in mind that religion and tradition aren’t a thing here anymore, for most people. Love is an idea not bound by any objective criteria. It really is just a meat market now.

  7. Caring and considerate probably means the way he sweet talks her and does all the nice romantic things without putting forth any real effort in what amounts to the nitty gritty of the relationship.

    She thinks he treats her like a queen without realizing that he’s taking advantage of her. I think she didn’t take enough time after the end of the her first marriage to pull herself together and decide what she wanted in a husband before Hot Stuff came along.

    • Agreed.

      Also, this is a natural result of the revision in marriage roles demanded by feminists. They made the modern marriage bed, society is suffering a divorce epidemic, and boo hoo, this guy isn’t ignorant of the new rules of equality.

    • My ex-girlfriend was like this. Always wanting to spend time together, offering to pay for every other meal, basically putting on a big show of being the “perfect girlfriend”. However she had put most of her energy into social skills and very little into independent living skills.

      To be fair, she had medium/high functioning autism, which might partially explain this guy’s issue, but I’ve always believed that if you aren’t ready to function independently, you aren’t ready for marriage.

  8. The woman stated initially that she remarried 2 years ago, but gave no info as to why the need. She also said there were 2 kids in college.

    Here is what I see. She and first hubby (kids father) split up, leaving her and the kids. Kids go off to college and she is alone. She is uncomfortable in this. So, like standing on the corner in the rain, one grabs the first bus that comes along rather than waiting for the one that will take you where you want to go. I imagine that, at the time 2 years ago, she accepted the ground rules he set forth, thinking “how bad can that be, at least I won’t be alone?” And here we are.

    • As I’ve heard it reported gay guys say of Jane Austen’s novels: “I’ve heard stories like that in every gay bar I’ve ever been to.”

  9. Has it occurred to anyone that the question, along with all the others ever published in this …… amazing advise column, is probably as genuine as a ‘Reality’ TV program?

    • The scenario here is perfectly plausible, I’ve seen other letters to advice columnists that seem much more fake, either made up by the columnist or sent in by trolls. Best (or worst) I’ve seen was a guy who started his new job, only to learn he looked exactly like a former, now deceased employee and was wondering if he should ask his parents if he had a twin.

  10. What if the story is true, but the roles reversed? What if this is a man and he is talking about his second wife? There are a lot of women who think this is the way it should be.

    Alternately, I wonder if by ‘household expenses’, she means the expenses of the two kids. Most men I know who have stepchildren are expected to pay out a lot of money for their stepkids, even if the children’s fathers are financially well-off. This is pretty well established. When my stepson was filling out his FAFSA, it asked for father’s income. My wife wanted to put down MY income. I said “No, that is his father’s income, not mine”. When we asked the school, they confirmed that, on the FAFSA form, the stepfather’s income in to be used if the child doesn’t live with the father.

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