I had no idea I married down until I read about it in the newspaper I work for.
Before that, I thought I married my best friend, my ultimate partner in crime, and the only person I want to see at the end of the day.
But in an article about how more women with bachelor’s degrees are marrying men without them, I learned that my marriage was “down.” Social scientists have recently noticed the “slow but steady trend” and gave it that charming name.
Doesn’t that feel lovely? To learn that the love of your life is beneath you. Or rather, to have someone who’s never met you or your husband imply that.
Because that’s what the term marrying down implies: different, less than, other.
Jesse is a lot of things, but less than is not one of them.
Jesse grew up in the Northeast and Abington. I’m a Main Line girl. Jesse entered food service right out of high school. I went to NYU.
Jesse’s favorite joke is that he waited so long to ask me out because he thought I was too smart for him. He then immediately adds, that notion was quickly dispelled.
(I do not think this joke is as funny as he thinks it is.)
But he’s right. I’m not too smart for him. I’ve paid for more schooling, but that doesn’t mean he’s not intellectually curious, that he stopped learning because he tends bar instead of passed one. He’s the only partner I’ve ever had who reads for pleasure, he’s passionate about (and very good at) his job, and he feeds my curiosity too.
Since I read about “marrying down,” I’ve been thinking about why I was so offended by this study and the vocabulary. Was I ashamed that Jesse doesn’t have a college degree? That he works behind a bar?
Nope. That’s not it.
Was my irritation tied to my family? My dad went to Harvard. He’s the kind of guy who is no fun to watch Jeopardy! with, and he will destroy any argument by pointing out a logical fallacy.
But he loves Jesse. They talk, which is weird because my dad is a guy who would rather replay old Phillies games in his head than make small talk. He speaks more words to Jesse in the first hour of an average visit than he did any of my previous boyfriends. Combined.
No, it was my mom who made me so pissed off about this idea of marrying down.
I grew up steeped in second-wave feminism, where gender norms were questioned and injustices parsed and discussed constantly. I was expected to do everything my brother did, with the acknowledgment that it would be more difficult for me because, you know, patriarchy.
You know who I was taught is expected to provide for me? Me. You should have seen the argument that occurred when Jesse tried to pay for our first date. He had to sneak a waiter friend his credit card on the second date so I wouldn’t make a scene.
I don’t expect Jesse — who makes an excellent living — to pay my bills, because I expect us to our pay our bills — together.
Jesse’s job is not to cloister me from some harsh world while I live in ignorance. His job is to make me laugh when I’m sad, to listen to me talk for hours about the importance of a minor sitcom character, to contribute a verse to whatever song I’m making up about the cat.
The trend of “marrying down” for women is only notable because nobody bothered to track how many men with bachelor’s degrees married women without them. It’s implicit in this idea, then, that men, with higher educations, were expected to provide professionally for women who couldn’t provide for themselves.
Marrying down implies that I was forced to marry less than because there wasn’t enough “up” out there.
But I’m not limited, I’m liberated. I didn’t have to look for a provider. I already had that in myself. Instead, I could look for someone whom I loved.
Call me naive. We don’t have kids, we’re both healthy, we have disposable income. Tell me that things will change when our responsibilities change, or when we change.
But don’t tell me I married less than. Because that’s not true.
There are some things I’d like to change about Jesse, namely his horrific taste in music, his abject refusal to empty the dishwasher, and his constant stealing of the covers.
His level of education is not one of those things.
I didn’t marry down. I married right.
Molly Eichel is the lifestyle and arts editor at Philadelphia Media Network. Reach her on Twitter @mollyeichel.