Paula is an intelligent, ambitious, high-energy public relations expert who loves her work and has fairly skipped up her company's promotion ladder because, she says, "I'm good at what I do. I'm willing to work harder than anyone else. And I married the right man."
The "right man" is an affable bear with a twinkle in his eye and a soft Southern accent who's held a dozen jobs in the 15 years of their marriage and is currently thinking of going back to college (again) to take a creative writing course. Or something.
Through the years that we've been business acquaintances, Paula always smiled fondly when the subject of this slightly wayward -- but adorable -- child came up.
"He hasn't got an ambitious bone in his body, but at least he doesn't resent my career the way a lot of my friends' husbands resent theirs," she'd say. "Besides, if we both were in love with our jobs, we'd have no time left over for each other.
"He's no ball of fire," she'd add, "but he makes me laugh and he understands me. What more could I possibly want?"
As it turns out -- plenty.
She exploded after the salad and before the entree at a posh and blessedly quiet restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where, she said, she had to pick up the check or her accountant would be furious.
"How's Robert? Don't ask! He's fine, of course. Why wouldn't he be fine? He's got the best of both worlds -- a wife who'll support him and the final say over where we go and what we do and how we spend our money.
"I've never minded that he isn't ambitious -- you know that. And I've never minded that we lived on my income and spent his on the extras. But I'm beginning to feel as if wives like me have all of the disadvantages of being married and none of the advantages," she sputtered.
"We have to be self-supporting. We also have to support our 'liberat
ed' husbands. We also have to be responsible for all the usual 'women's work' -- cleaning and cooking and laundry and errand-running and picking up after everyone in the family.
"On the other hand, our husbands get the best of both worlds -- these guys who said in the '70s: 'You women want to work? You want to be liberated? Great! Go right ahead. But don't forget to clean my house and cook my dinner and raise my children, too,' " she said, banging her fork against the table for emphasis.
"And even though they aren't the major breadwinners, men like my husband still get the final say over how the money gets spent, and whether or not it's time to buy a house, and whether we're 'allowed' to accept a transfer to a better position somewhere else."
She sipped from her glass of wine and added in a low voice: "They get to question us and make demands that no wife would dare make of her husband, too. They get to say, 'What do you mean you have to work late?' and 'I want you home at night -- not entertaining clients!'
"And if I'm going to be honest, I have to admit that part of the problem is that it really isn't as OK with me that I'm to support my husband indefinitely as I thought it would be. I know this is sexist, but there's still an old-fashioned part of me that wants to be able to lean on a big, strong man.
"The truth is, I think the changes between men and women are for the better -- in the long run -- but in the meantime, even if you're one of the lucky ones and happily married, this business of changing roles and changing expectations is a lot more complicated than it sounds."
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.