It was a joke. The kind of joke that’s actually true, but you laugh about it in the hopes of deflecting that truth. A thing you bring up first, before anyone else can. “Haha, she’s my trophy wife! Aren’t we funny!”
I was in my early twenties when we met; he was already over forty, seventeen years older than me. And seventeen gazillion times wealthier. He had a nice house and a lucrative business partnership and a 401(k) and an Audi. I had student loans and a toaster oven and two cats.
Well, I soon had just one cat. It was decided that I would give away one of mine before we married. He already had two, and four cats would be just too many. One of mine had to go. I got to make a “Sophie’s choice” about it, though. I chose Grub even though I’d raised him from a newborn kitten.
(That wasn’t the first time I yielded, though it was an early one. How clear all these signposts are in the rearview mirror.)
“You’re going to miss your thirties if you marry him,” my therapist warned me. “You’re going to start being his age, hanging out with his friends, living his life.”
I protested. Wasn’t it just as likely that I would bring vibrant, young energy into his life? My creative interests and my hip friends? (Well, semi-hip, I guess. I mean, we were all young; that’s hip by definition, right? Right?)
The fact was, his life looked pretty good to me. My own life was a panicked, disorganized mess when I met him. I was in a miserable relationship, had an abusive job, and was broke and freaked out. I had no idea who I was and what I wanted or what to do about any of that. It’s why I was in therapy in the first place. And then, suddenly, here was this man with his life all figured out. He was smart and attractive and stable—such an adult.
I wanted a grown-up. I wanted to be a grown-up.
So I married him.
* * *
I’m not gonna lie: Having money makes so many things easier. If I miss anything from my trophy wife years, it’s that. The first time I walked down a grocery aisle and realized I could just put things in my cart without having to keep a running tally in my head—it was amazing.
I didn’t stop at groceries. I began to haunt malls. I loved how familiar and comfortable they felt, so bright and clean and safe—all the nice stores with all the nice clothes in them, clothes I could take home and wear and feel pretty and rich. I collected far too many pairs of boots. I started getting my hair cut at a fancy salon downtown and then frosted too. I developed a craving for jewelry. Was I filling the vast emptiness inside? No, of course not. I was just indulging in things I’d never been able to have when I was poor and lost.
My life got better in so many ways. I left the horrible, abusive job for a much gentler one. It wasn’t the job I’d really wanted, the one I’d interviewed for and was offered. That one would have had me working long hours and sometimes even weekends; it would have been challenging and paid well. But my husband wanted me around and didn’t want to lose me to work, so my gentle job was also part-time. My salary didn’t matter to us anyway; he still made many times what I did. And I was able to take care of the laundry and the grocery shopping and going to the cleaners and keeping the social calendar and always being home when he got home.
It was easy to give in to what my husband wanted. He was kind and reasonable; he told me that his first wife had made so many non-negotiable demands, and then she’d left him anyway. He’d been badly hurt, and he’d grown from it and learned how to assert his needs. Anyway, the things he wanted? They all seemed like good ideas. Didn’t they?
Like travel. My gentle, part-time job was also very flexible, and god, how we traveled. All over the U.S. and abroad as well: Paris (many times), London, Cyprus, Sydney, Geneva—it would take me half a page to list all the places we went. His job sparked a lot of the travel, and then we’d add on a week or two if the place was interesting. “You are, like, so totally loving it,” said the young woman I hired to house-sit for us during these many trips. She wasn’t wrong: I enjoyed it. Who wouldn’t? I met other pampered wives at my husband’s work meetings. We toured Buckingham Palace and met rock stars and dined in world-famous restaurants. We stayed at a resort where the swimming pool came right up to our patio and all the women swam topless. We took helicopters and river barges and safari jeeps to amazing places.
We lived plenty well when we stayed home too. The wine was always first-rate, and we were both accomplished cooks. We dined out a lot, too, in our city’s fine restaurants. All that bounty could make a person fat, so we joined the city’s premier gym and hired personal trainers to help us keep slender for our fancy clothes.
I was good at my gentle part-time job, and though I turned down one offer to move up the ranks, I accepted the next one. My husband was proud of me. The job still wasn’t high-powered or demanding; it was at a university in an interesting academic department. That’s what a trophy wife is, after all: It’s not enough that she be young and attractive; she must also be smart and accomplished.
We were living the dream. Our home was beautiful, our cars were shiny, our cats were fluffy, and our passports were up to date and full of stamps. Friends would open conversations with “So, what’s your next trip?” We were, like, so totally loving it.