Corporate Spouses

by F.

Will “corporate wives” still be part of the culture in 20 or 50 years? It’s not clear to me; the idea seems antiquated, and the gap between men’s and women’s salaries (currently about 20%) is narrowing, which may affect the marriage market. It’s probably just my bias, but I think the old-school way is dying. Vicky Ward, of Vanity Fair, describes what the median old-school corporate type wants in a corporate wife:

He wanted someone who was smart enough to read him, in the same way every top-level executive needs a personal assistant smart enough to know, instinctively, when to speak, when to stay away and when to put a call through.

He needed this person to run his life seamlessly so that his time would never be wasted with menial tasks such as looking at an electricity bill, packing a suitcase or instructing the staff.

He needed someone glossy enough to reflect his glory and power but clever enough to know to not outshine him. In other words, she needed to know when to chatter away charmingly and when to shut up. She needed to be glamorous but not high-maintenance. Emotional neediness is a big no-no.

She needed, though he didn’t quite think of it like this, to make up for his defects because he had been so focused on making money that reading people socially was not one of his natural skills. She needed to know which designers, artists, decorators, authors and media people were “in”. She had to facilitate dinner parties at his various homes for such people so that he would be au courant, not to mention part of modern culture.

She must be the kind of woman who would never embarrass him by somehow denigrating him either in conversation or by dressing or behaving wrongly. She must share his interests, taking up golf if necessary (remember how Jack Welch’s second wife, Jane, became a scratch-golfer?) and chess or even cycling. (When Michael Eisner ran Disney, he used to host an annual cycling trip that guests had to train for frantically beforehand.) She must care about his children and a bit about hers if she has them – but only to a point – and certainly not more than him and the running of his houses and staff.

This fits my experience. Note that such corporate wives are highly skilled. It is far from easy doing all these things and they should be compensated accordingly, either up front or in the form of severance package (e.g., alimony). Some will gamble and sign a pre-nup. However, I think the following is more the paradigm of the future:

I was in a taxi going up Park Avenue when I spotted a very famous financial services titan, now in his 60s, who was crossing the street with his wife, also middle-aged and a formidable careerist in her own right. They were talking as if there wasn’t enough time in the world to say everything they wanted to each other. When they had finished crossing, they turned to walk down the pavement. He gently put his arm around her and she returned the favour. They looked at each other and giggled like teenagers. I don’t want to name them because it was such an intimate moment. Suffice to say, it was a sight I shall never forget.

Which is better? Neither: de gustibus and all that. But I know which I prefer. Rich women seem to be either in front of or behind the “corporate spouse” trend, ditching their dork-ass husbands. See, e.g., K-Fed. I prefer to think they are in front.