My husband isn’t unattractive, but he also isn’t exactly Brad Pitt, if you catch my drift. His looks didn’t really matter — as a 22-year-old recent fashion school graduate, I thought marriage would bring me one step closer to my dream of becoming the next Donatella Versace.
We had only been dating for about six months, but my life had already undergone a 180-degree transformation. I attended more galas, brunches, and cocktail parties in that six months than I can recount, and my contact list had been elevated from college friends to world-renowned designers, photographers, business owners, and celebrities. And then there were the vacations — every other weekend, he would surprise me with a little getaway, sometimes to Tahoe, other times Honolulu, no expense spared.
I easily overlooked the offbeat beginnings to our courtship-turned-16-year-marriage, and overnight, I went from drowning in debt to an eight-figure net worth, all by signing one simple contract. Well, one contract and a bunch of other legal papers and NDAs to ensure our union wouldn’t negatively impact his business dealings. Either way, it was the best return I’d ever gotten on a six-month investment, and I couldn’t wait for my new life to begin.
Unfortunately, my parents hated him — but we’ll get there shortly.
Creepy guy, aisle one
I didn’t have to marry ugly — or poor — to disappoint my parents. They had already begun to question my life choices years prior, when I transitioned from an esteemed four-year university to a two-year fashion school. My entire family viewed it as a step down, as noted by their decision to pull my tuition funding for those remaining years of schooling. They didn’t owe me a fully-funded education, though it would have been nice if they notified me of their decision before my tuition bills came due…
Thus, it’s no surprise that a charismatic older man inviting me to join his table at one of Hollywood’s most exclusive hot spots might pique my fancy. He was a welcome distraction, a free dinner, and an open bar — what could go wrong?
At the end of the night, he handed me the keys to his Bentley and said “It’s yours if you come home with me.”
Okay, I know how creepy that sounds these days — psycho alert, aisle one. Lucky for me, this was long before dating apps and the plethora of headline horror stories of “first dates gone wrong”, so I wasn’t too worried. I doubted he was serious about the whole car thing, but at 22, you’ll do almost anything for a chance at a free Bentley — and I did.
The most awkward conversation
The most awkward conversation of my life didn’t occur when he asked me to sign a precautionary “NDA” as a condition of our marriage. It wasn’t even the morning after our first date, when he tried to gift me his Bentley, 100% stone-faced and serious. Instead, it occurred when my mid-thirties husband started convincing my father I’d make a wonderful mother (at 22). It didn’t help when he added that his publicist had suggested “settling down” could be a “good look” for his professional image and might help the business.
My parents hated him for very different reasons:
- My mom was jealous — plain and simple. She had married my father with the illusion of future riches and early retirement and had grown bitter that despite putting up with two decades of a mind-numbing job and a mediocre marriage, retirement in her fifties wasn’t looking feasible.
- My father was fearful of losing financial control over me. Up until they pulled the plug on my tuition funds, he had been the financial savior of my life. While we were definitely middle-class — which, in our wealthy enclave of Southern California automatically made us “poor” in comparison — I had never felt lacking. That said, my father had always hung the “money” card over my head to exert control into my adult life. With rich hubby on my arm, daddy dearest fell out of the picture — at least, financially speaking.
If hubby-to-be wanted me to agree to regular gala attendances and popping out a few kids down the line in exchange for bankrolling my fashion designer dreams, I wouldn’t object — at least not at 22.
He’s not in the mob — I don’t think…
I promise you I’m not a part of the “Mob Wives” franchise, but by the looks of our wedding, you might think otherwise. It was a strangely coordinated evening that felt more like a business charade and covert networking event for which I was keenly left out of the loop.
All I remember is shaking hands with older, rotund men with greased back hair and Robert De Niro-esque faces. Don’t get me wrong — I love Robert De Niro — I just didn’t expect fifty-odd clones of him at my wedding.
I’ll be honest: The day I got married, I still didn’t quite understand what my husband “did” for work. I guess I didn’t need to, but it always felt strange. The stranger part was that it seemed the wives of all his friends were kept similarly in the dark. Perhaps that’s why they clung to each other so closely — who else could they confide in about this unusual marital dynamic and hush-hush business dealings that had them jet-setting around the world and relocating on a moment’s notice?
My pregnant model neighbors aren’t helping
I don’t hate my husband for cheating — I might not even divorce him after the recent scandal I uncovered. I couldn’t possibly hate him for that — this was a business arrangement, after all — not one rooted in love. I do, however, hate him for believing the dissolution of my hopes and dreams was worth a Bentley and an eight-figure bank account mired in strings and stipulations.
Apparently, giving me the keys to a $350k Bentley is a lot easier than giving me the reins to follow my dreams if they lead anywhere but a Neiman Marcus checkout line. The sad thing is, he thinks this is normal — he thinks he bought the silent, aspirationless, “well-behaved” wife. That’s the danger of living life in our country club bubble, where fake tans and faker boobs abound.
In case you haven’t been, here’s a snapshot: Perfectly manicured flowers and smartly trimmed hedges line our gated entrance, and the picturesque fairy tale you’d expect lies behind. Every pregnant neighbor looks like a shredded bikini model who’s suffering the mild effects of evening bloating after one too many grapes in her salad. Her hair is a flawless platinum blonde with no roots in sight — is peroxide even okay for a growing fetus? Her days are spent at her pool, the spa, the mall, an outdoor workout class on an oceanfront lawn, or perhaps throwing some frivolous party for her kids or dogs.
Every rich wife in my neighborhood married for money and promptly shelved any dreams that didn’t align with motherhood and cosmetic enhancements.
Prenups are lifesavers, even if you’re the broke one
Wealth is kind of like dating, I assume — it’s only fun in the beginning. Then, you ask “what’s in it for you?” Dating a rich guy was a lot more exciting than being married to a wealthy business owner and father of two. Instead of liberating, it’s constricting.
Perhaps if my husband and I had something in common other than our mutual preference for my pre-pregnancy body (that dream died 15 years ago), I wouldn’t feel so antsy and discontent. Yet, here we are — stretch marks, resentment, and a seething desire to take back what’s mine. That’s the beauty of a cheating husband and a prenup with an infidelity clause — you never know who may end up in the driver’s seat. Surprise — it’s me! But, shhh — he doesn’t know it yet.
At 22, marrying rich seemed like the magic bullet to all my hopes and dreams. I thought I would have been Donatella Versace ten times over by now. Not so. If I could go back, I’d probably still marry rich, but I wouldn’t let a free Bentley sidetrack my strategy.
A few tips for the not-yet-married:
- Make your dreams a priority — and get that in writing
- Know your aspirations are worth far more than a $350k car and a fat bank account that isn’t fully yours
- Make him buy you a surrogate or a personal trainer or else agree to stop complaining when three kids adds a few inches and pounds
- Marry someone you like or someone you like doing business with (or both)
- If your neighbors look cosmetically enhanced — and you live in California — they probably are; don’t be ashamed that you don’t fit their mold
- If you want to retain your autonomy and independence, maintain a separate bank account and side projects or businesses in which your hubby doesn’t have a say. If he isn’t telling you about every business deal he makes, you’re allowed to keep some things for yourself as well.
Marriage is kind of like war, I suppose — or maybe chess. Each player — or country — has some short-term and long-term goals, but the pursuit of those goals requires a strange dance of secrecy. Some cards you put out on the table, many more you conceal. And then one day, somebody says “checkmate” — or stabs the last opponent standing — and it’s all over. I’m not quite at the “checkmate” point, but I think I’m inching eerily close, and I can’t wait for you to come along for the ride and see for yourselves.