THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Wage dilemma: When you make more money than he does

On my first date with Tano, I said, "You didn't tell me we're getting dinner."

"I'm hungry," he said.

So we went to dinner. He ordered a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake. I was broke. I ordered water and watched him eat.

Months later, when it looked like the relationship was serious, I told Tano, "You were a sociopath for not offering to pay for me that night."

He said, "You didn't ask."

"Ask?!?! Are you kidding me? I just left graduate school because I ran out of money, and you just got promoted to a video game producer! You should pay!" I was screaming.

He didn't scream back. And he couldn't understand why I didn't ask for what I wanted at dinner. Those were two reasons that I stayed with him. Another reason was that he was doing video art that was shown in New York art museums. I was a grad-school dork. He was an art-crowd hipster. I felt like my ship had come in.

I got a job writing for a large company and after watching Tano project-manage, I convinced my company that I could do that, too. After a few years together, our finances were on par and we found ourselves applying to similar jobs.

One week, we both applied for the same job at GeoCities. The company was hot at the time and a little unreasonable given the fact that employees were harder to come by than jobs. (Ahh, those were the days!)

In order to get through the interview process, I put up with a lot of corporate BS. Not only did Tano refuse to put up with it, he wrote a letter to GeoCities explaining that they asked for so much information from prospective employees that he should get paid to go through the interview process.

That was the turning point in our careers. I started making more money than him. I got funding for my own company. He got laid off and spent his unemployment money funding a new video project.

He became more and more successful as a video artist (read: no money, exciting parties), and I became more successful as an executive (read: lots of money, boring parties). The income disparity became larger and larger until it was clear that I would be supporting us long-term.

We started planning our future so that Tano would stay home with our kids and his video editing equipment, and I would continue working as a software executive.

Then September 11 hit us. I was a block away from the World Trade Center when it fell, and weeks later my company went bankrupt. My then husband's way to deal with the trauma was to volunteer at human-rights organizations (read: Save the world). My way to deal was to get pregnant (read: Save my eggs).

I never planned to stay home with the baby. It just happened. First there were no jobs in the software industry. Then Tano landed his dream job at a nonprofit. And then I fell in love with being a mom.

So we took a huge risk: We decided to give up my large earning potential as corporate climber, cut back our expenses drastically, and live off his entry-level nonprofit salary.

My friends said, "He's finally making more than you. Doesn't it feel good?" My mom said, "When will he get a raise?" As usual, I ignored the comments.

But I got bored. I wanted to be in business again. So I took a small freelance writing job I had and got a babysitter for a few hours a day so I could grow my freelance writing. After a few months, I was making more money than Tano, again.

Now I understand that I am inherently good at making money and he is not. When I first met him I needed money, and he had enough for a hamburger, which made him a good guy for me to date.

Now that I have confidence in the workforce, I need the things money can't buy. Tano is interesting, kind, and a great dad, and I felt lucky to have him. Sure, we all wish we could marry a millionaire, but you can't have everything in a spouse, so I made sure to get the important things.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column in 2003, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.