Marriage Is A Transaction, And Other Things I Didn't Know

What You Don’t Know About High-Profile Marriages — From A Wife Who’s In One

Celebrities posing for paparazzi on red carpet
Scary Mommy and Paul Bradbury/Getty

My husband didn’t have to win me over with a dating profile littered with strategically shirtless selfies cradling adorable furry animals. Instead, the keys to his Bentley and a scroll through his Bloomberg business profile were his gateways into my arms — and other places. While I knew he was “somebody,” I didn’t know that by association, I was becoming “somebody” too — and the repercussions of my accidental celebrity would be permanently life-altering.

Your prenup isn’t the only contract you’ll have to sign.

The fact that you can sign your life away and bind yourself legally to another person before your adult brain has fully formed still astounds me. At 22 and dazzled by shiny objects like cars and paid-for vacations, I was willing to sign almost anything to extend the fantasy bubble I’d been enjoying for the six months I dated my husband-to-be. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did.

I wasn’t put off by the prenup — he was rich, and I was scrambling to pay back my student debt as a fashion school graduate with no job prospects. However, a “simple” prenup was just the beginning. His lawyer nudged a stack of papers across the table for me to sign, as the three of us sat in the cold office with a clock ticking. Every fifteen minutes marked another $150 drained from our soon-to-be-joint bank account, directly into “our” lawyer’s pockets.

In an attempt to be a considerate future wife, I hurried through the paperwork, flipping pages, quickly initialing corners, and sloppily signing my maiden name for the very last time. After hours cooped up in that room discussing the terms of the marriage, its impact on my husband’s business, and the rights I would be waiving as his newlywed spouse, I signed:

  • Countless NDAs regarding his personal and professional activities (all of which long-survived our planned marriage, no matter the outcome)
  • Non-compete agreements, ensuring I wouldn’t venture into waters that might threaten his established businesses (even if we were to one day separate or divorce)
  • Reputation management clauses, dictating how I could and could not conduct myself to maintain the illusion of his spotless reputation
  • The prenup, of course, and so much more…

By the day of our wedding, I had legally abdicated my independence and free will. I was no longer an individual, but rather an entity and a reputational risk to be managed. Perhaps I should have seen the red flags then, when the only lawyer present was one who had represented my husband for years. Maybe our interests weren’t fully aligned as I agreed to resign from any professional or personal aspirations that didn’t fully jive with his company’s 20-year-plan.

At 22, I let a fancy car and a big fat rock on my finger cloud those doubts — and 16 years later, I’m still paying the price.

Your life just became a lot more valuable — and dangerous.

The night we left the restaurant and headed towards his Bentley, I didn’t bother to look over my shoulder or check for leering eyes or microphones in the bushes. The day we got married, that all changed.

Kim Kardashian’s hostage horror story sent shock waves of fear around the world. Most people were in disbelief: How could a celebrity with the Kardashians’ no-expense-spared security team end up hogtied in a bathtub, fearing for her life?

My reaction was far different: I felt an earthquake of fear, empathy, and total vulnerability pulsate through my veins. If Kim Kardashian wasn’t safe, none of us were. Well, none of us with a price on our heads. Back then, I was utterly clueless that the day I took my husband’s last name, I became a high-value target.

Falling short of the national importance of a president’s wife, I didn’t get the first lady treatment and guaranteed security detail. In addition to lacking a 24–7 on-call Secret Service team, I’m also not quite famous enough to warrant an out-of-pocket bodyguard for my daily trips to Starbucks. Being high-profile enough that I’d make a profitable kidnapping target, yet unglamorous enough that mainstream A-list-chasing paparazzi aren’t banging down my door, I’m somewhat of an expensive sitting duck.

The paranoia that revelation brings follows me everywhere I go, and I operate as if I’m being tailed by a deranged and violent, yet calculated stalker at all times. Letting my guard down for just a second could be the mistake that gets me stuffed into a stranger’s trunk — and that fear makes for an unsettling experience each moment I set foot outside my front door.

You’re an unpaid brand ambassador with very high stakes.

kzenon./Getty

It’s no surprise that famous performers receive coaching from seasoned choreographers, ensuring their every move is carried out flawlessly on stage. I’ve never been much of a dancer — neither has my husband — so you can imagine my confusion when a choreographer, stylist, and vocal coach were all hired to prepare me for our attendance at a local professional mixer.

Apparently, those same choreographers, stylists, and vocal coaches that got me mixer-ready work with a multitude of CEOs, politicians, and public figures to cultivate the proper brand image. I was merely caught off guard, since I couldn’t recall applying for or accepting the job as a public-facing brand ambassador. Nonetheless, it appears to be the role I’ve inherited as the wife of a public figure in business.

Being an unpaid brand ambassador tasked with the responsibility of upholding and projecting my husband’s company values, here are a few of the concerns I must consider at all times:

  • Clothing color psychology (“trustworthy” colors are encouraged)
  • Remaining a-political (I also stay away from bright reds and blues)
  • Logos are frowned upon (they imply endorsement of another brand)
  • All social posts must be approved (hence my lack of social media)
  • I must be dressed to represent his company each time I leave our house
  • I must give politically correct, benign answers to any and all questions — yet, I also must state that my opinions are independent of his company

Once you realize a competitor’s sneaky publicist may be eager to uncover your missteps and use them as ammunition for a damning smear campaign against the very business that funds your lifestyle, the stakes for your actions seem instantly higher. Despite being technically “unemployed,” it feels as if I’m always on the clock, and an accidental transgression could elicit grave and costly consequences.

Your behavior can move markets (and cost millions.)

Speaking of costly consequences, vengeful competitors and their unethical media teams aren’t the only ones who can cost you millions. Being connected to a high-profile spouse at the helm of a nationally acclaimed company, my trivial daily decisions can spark rumors, ignite controversy, and become the subject of a journalist’s interrogation at my husband’s quarterly earnings call.

A few years ago, I was photographed on a boat with a rival company’s CEO who had landed in some legal hot water. I didn’t know of his business’s shady dealings, nor of the fact that our nautical outing would become a front page story that named my husband’s company as a potential participant in the illicit activities. The investor call to follow was a prime example of damage control, as my husband threw six figures at his PR team to make the bad press disappear.

After that earnings call, one of his advisors left a message I wasn’t meant to hear. The voicemail my husband played on speaker in the car went something like this: “You’d better keep that wife of yours on a shorter leash next time. We’re just lucky she didn’t cost us millions.”

You’ll have a new catchphrase.

Back before I met my husband, I was like any normal, enthusiastic, career-bound 20-something. I was spunky, extroverted, and opinionated — at least, to some degree. After 16 years in a high-profile marriage, I’d swap those traits for soft-spoken, compliant, and indifferent.

You see, years of those business choreographers and professional etiquette coaches have taught me three things: Smile, stay silent, and walk away. The same way Paris Hilton made “that’s hot” her catch phrase, “no comment” has become mine. It’s not that I’m no longer capable of an individual opinion; it’s just not worth the publicity hurdle of ensuring my words don’t get twisted or misused.

Keeping my true opinions to myself may seem lonely or constricting, but it’s actually enabled me to carve out a tiny piece of anonymity that’s truly liberating. While people may know the version of me the media portrays, they haven’t come close to penetrating my shell and meeting the real woman underneath.

There will be a third member of your marriage.

Before my husband coaxed me into a ménage à trois with a young, perky-boobed high-class escort (she was under NDA, too, of course), he invited a very different third member into our relationship. Instead of a sex worker, she was (and is) his publicist. Aside from the women with whom he’s been cheating on me, I’d bet his publicist comprises most of his monthly call time…thank goodness for company phones and unlimited minutes.

Oh, and whether you thought you wore the pants in the relationship or he did, you’re wrong; she does. Whatever she says goes, and she says a lot.

Earlier on in our marriage, I thought her involvement was just a phase. Perhaps she was simply there to ease his transition from bachelor entrepreneur to responsible husband and CEO. Not so. Apparently, she’s been around longer than me and will likely remain long after I’m gone…

If you have to invite a third person into your marriage, I think a therapist is probably a sound choice. Or maybe a couples masseur. An instruction-wielding dictator of a publicist who has your husband trained better than a service dog probably isn’t going to spark the dying romance or resurrect the selfless love that never was. That said, maybe this marriage was just a business arrangement after all

No, you aren’t allowed to disagree.

You know the witty banter that takes place between future lovers in every romantic comedy that’s graced your screen? You can kiss those lighthearted disagreements and moments of poking fun at your partner goodbye the second you say “I do” to a reputationally-insecure public figure.

The biggest learning curve of my relationship was coming to terms with the fact that in public settings, my husband is always right — it’s non-negotiable. Sometimes, I know he’s wrong and I still have to nod and smile, affirming his entirely nonsensical, factually incorrect statement.

Why in the world wouldn’t I correct my mistaken spouse? It all comes down to two things:

  • A united front conveys trust and instills confidence
  • One contradiction discredits everything else he’s said

In other words, my spousal support of his proclamations — no matter how wrong or ridiculous — enhances their validity in a listener’s mind. The slightest contradiction or disagreement could poke a hole in that bubble and send the public down a rabbit hole of dissection, attempting to dig up every minor error in his rhetoric.

High-profile public figures like my husband know they won’t always be right. However, they’d rather the crowd buy into their BS than an insider from their circle reveal their ineptitude and question their trustworthiness.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to recall the day I was issued the handbook for marrying a high-profile CEO. Still, I’m drawing a blank. Unlike today’s instafamous influencers and pavement-pounding up-and-coming actors, I didn’t ask for this role, nor did I expect it. Despite my accidental overnight mini-celebrity, it appears the role I’ve landed is one I can’t relinquish or escape.

If you want fame, do something fame-worthy. If you’re seeking wealth, build a career or business you own and control. If you waltz right into both through a lucky association (like marriage), brace yourself for becoming an involuntary cog in someone else’s wheel. Whether or not you have an official “job,” a high-profile marriage can become the all-consuming career you never wanted. Be careful what you wish for — and what you sign…especially at 22.