As a freelancer/struggling novelist/auntie to the Catholic Singles of the world, I do not make a lot of money. If my husband hated his job, I would live in a puddle of guilt. But fortunately my husband loves his job. And fortunately I make enough money for some of our extras. For example, half one of my paycheques bought us our new refrigerator. I love that refrigerator. It stands in the kitchen as testament that I, Seraphic, am not, financially speaking, a slug.
My mother has been a housewife for almost forty years, as was her mother before her. Both my mother and grandmother occasionally worked part-time jobs, usually behind the counter of a shop. My father's mother, who had only two children, worked full-time, from about 1929 to retirement. But I didn't know her before she retired, so my primary model of family life is Man Works Outside House for Money/Woman Works Inside House for Free. This is very old-fashioned, as is the fact my father has worked for the same employer for 40 years.
I don't know how to put this nicely, so here goes: our generation (meaning everyone born after 1965) was ripped off. We are often thousands and thousands of dollars in debt by the time we leave college, and we do not have the employment opportunities the Baby Boom had. In 1969, MAs could walk into their pick of academic jobs while they completed their doctorates. Compare that to 1999. (Shudder.) And in 1949, a skilled labourer--a joiner, say--could support himself, his wife and four children on his salary, as long as he handed his pay packet to his wife before he went to the pub. There was no question of Mrs Joiner putting the four kids in daycare and commuting to a grey-carpeted office to work eight stultifying hours. The contrast to today makes me want to weep, it really does.
Now, as usual, the Nice Catholic Girls and Boys of the western world (but, I suspect, particularly of the USA) wish to be a sign of contradiction to the world. Many Nice Catholic Girls do not want to put their children in daycare. They want to stay at home and teach them to read and watch them grub about in the backyard. They want to make nourishing dinners that have to simmer for an hour. They (quite reasonably) baulk at the idea of rising at 6 AM to drive their kids to daycare before driving to some jill-job (or even career) before rushing back to the daycare at 5:15 PM and then home to do in five hours the things housewives have all day to do. And many Nice Catholic Boys (especially in the USA) don't want their wives to "have to work." They gamely volunteer to shoulder all the financial responsibility themselves. God bless them.
However, let's be real about this. Let's look at the dollars and cents. Let's look at the pounds and pennies. Let's look at the mound of debt with which too many of us leave college. In today's world, not working--or working at a poorly paid job, however glam or interesting--means a serious financial sacrifice. On television, artists and musicians and whatnot have these marvellous, hip clothes. Columnist Carrie wears Prada. Well, let me tell you, columnist Seraphic wears charity shop. Buying new shoes is a big, big deal. The most interesting men I know, real artists, real musicians and whatnot, stand around in frayed trousers, battered shoes, ancient shirts, sipping gin and debating the merits of Mahler. In some glorious ways we are rich, but in others, we are poor.
"But you're married," I hear someone say. It is a tiny, soprano voice, coming from somewhere in the American southwest. And I say, "So what? I didn't marry the man for his culture-worker's pay. I married him for his quirky eyebrows and his beaux yeux bleus. That way, even if we have nothing to eat, I'll have something to look at."
In short, very few of us are going to live like people on TV. The men/women we meet are probably going to be burdened with student loans. We are probably burdened with student loans. We, we women, are usually going to have the choice of working or of being poor, of working or of seeing our husbands' faces go grey from the responsibility of carrying the entire financial burden.
Marriage is not a meal-ticket. It rarely was before (housewives worked from sun to sun), and it usually isn't now. Even if you do marry a man with a big salary, and no debts to pay off, he could get ill. You could have eight children. You could have two children and then one child with very expensive special needs. You could get ill. All kinds of things could happen. As some poor office mate, a single mother who married a man she met on a beach in the Dominican Republic, wailed, "I thought marriage would make my life easier."
In the 19th century, most people worked and scrimped and saved before they got married. There were long engagements and, no doubt, quickie weddings when the almost-inevitable happened. In the novels of Louisa May Alcott, lovelorn couples are constantly delaying marriage until they have "enough to live on," which either means growing a nest egg or that the man has got far enough in his career for a good salary.
I'm not sure this is the solution for our 21st century woes. I'm not a fan, for example, of long engagements. However, I would encourage all Single people who feel a tug towards the married life to use their current freedom wisely. Work hard to clear debts and to save money instead of just backpacking around Europe or spinning out your days in one expensive MA program after another. And the advantage to not finding the Perfect Man for You until you are over 30 is that--and please remember that I love and obey Humanae Vitae--you are going to have fewer (or no) children and therefore less financial pressure.
Anyway, having got a letter today from a NCB who is worried that his student-loan debt and moderate salary would "disappoint" any NCG he might meet, I want to make it clear that NCGs who feel called to the married life are on the same page: we want men, not meal tickets.