It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters
—Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice
I grew up reading Jane Austen. As a young girl, I imagined myself as one of her heroines—free-spirited and wilful. It was convenient. I’d get to keep my temperament as well as land myself a rich husband and lead a comfortable life. My parents were happy too; our dreams of the future and what constituted the ‘right guy’ were the same. As I grew up, Jane Austen was replaced by the wolf-pack: Naomi (Wolf) and Virginia (Woolf). They filled my head with ideas like I could be anyone and anything. Before I discovered writing, for a while all I wanted was to take over the family business and triple its profits. Suddenly, I wanted a career and equal pay, not pocket money. I wanted a partner, not someone who took care of me.
Last week, I met two men at a friend’s going away party. The first is someone my friend has known since she was a baby. He was her hero, one who could do no wrong. He had recently moved back to the country and was making more than what my friend and I were earning combined. While we ordered our drinks by the glass, he ordered by the bottle. And then he ordered another bottle. And another. When the time came to settle the bill, his card miraculously developed a problem. He left to withdraw money from an ATM and that was the last we saw of him that evening. My friend was visibly upset. This was not how heroes behaved.
The second guy I met was somewhat-maybe-possibly engaged. I’d been told that he was in the way of marriage, but there was no sign of his fiancée all evening. The only sign in evidence was of his inclination to take any woman who would have him to bed. At some point, he discovered that I write this column. A couple of hours and many drinks later, he asked me whether I charged by the word or by the hour. I could have punched him, but I didn’t. At the end of the evening, after our Hero pulled his disappearing act, for some reason, all the girls Somewhat Engaged had flirted with automatically turned to him to cover the difference. He excused himself to go to the washroom and turned up only once I’d signed the charge slip. To be honest, his incredulous face when he saw that a by-the-word writer had picked up the tab was worth the money. Having seen friends marry obnoxious men for financial safety, I love knowing that I can take care of not only myself but my man if need be. My parting shot to Somewhat Engaged: “So now you know my per-word fee is higher than your per-hour price.” He had the decency to look ashamed.
Last week, I also spoke to a newly married friend. We often tell her that she has secured the last honourable single man in the country. Which is why I was shocked when she said her marriage was in trouble because she’d found herself a better-paying job than his. The solution: lie to everyone about how much she was earning. So the last honourable man was okay with big money coming into the house so long as no one knew that the larger chunk came from his wife’s paycheque.
Around then, my closest friend was also in the city. A month ago, her fiancé had called off their wedding after astrologers told him that she was always going to be the more aggressive moneymaker in their relationship. And then there is my newest friend, the girl who read Between the Sheets and changed my life. Ever since the two of us realised the truth about the men we were dating, we’ve been in touch. We’re therapeutic for each other. She tells me that she was his golden goose, his access card to the right people and places.
When I look at myself and all these women, I wonder what’s gone wrong. I see two kinds of men around me: those who’ll use a woman for her wealth and those threatened by it. There exists a third kind, I’m told, the kind who celebrate a woman’s ambition and drive, but they all seem to be married to women who grace the covers of glossy magazines and have prenuptial agreements thick enough to cost the world a Brazilian rainforest. Are these secure men an urban myth? I’m beginning to think so.