If you aren’t on TikTok, well first of all good for you. There is this sound where a woman talks about how her mom tells her “honey, I want you to grow up and marry a nice rich man,” and then she responds with “but mom, I am a rich man.” The idea is that this woman doesn’t need to marry a rich man because she can fill that role herself.
I love this sound because it is the perfect way to phrase how I’ve tried to live my life forever. My mom always tells me this story of some other mom she talked to when I was in grade school who was remodeling a room and was at a stuck point because she was waiting for her husband to hang the curtain valances. My mom said that that was eye opening to her and jump- started her desire to learn how to use more advanced power tools so wouldn’t have to press pause on a project because she was waiting for someone to do something she couldn’t. For as long as I can remember, she’s told me this as a way to emphasize that I should be self-sufficient and independent so that I am never in a situation where I am unhappy, or unsafe, in a relationship because I am dependent on it. It’s good advice, great even, but being the overachiever I am I choose to take it a step further.
When I look at the phrase “rich man” I take it to be less about money in a quantitative sense and more about how a rich man can take care of a woman. When money is no object, a rich man could make sure that a woman has everything she needs and can feel secure in her lifestyle. I think the assumed power and confidence that comes with a rich man in a well tailored and matching suit goes along with this. Rich men are assumed to be respected men and thus individuals worthy of that respect even if we know that this is not always the case. I live my life with the goal of attaining the respect that is assumed for “rich men.”
I think I’ve done this for a long time, but in the last year I’ve been able to use this TikTok as an example when trying to explain it to others. Most people respond with encouragement or a “good for you” but I’ve had one reaction that not only surprised me but has stuck with me.
A friend of mine had said “Erika, why would you want to be a rich man?” and I wondered what he meant, maybe he didn’t understand the reference or misinterpreted my use of the word “man” and assumed it was a gender thing. I asked him to elaborate and he explained that rich men don’t do anything for themselves. He explained that the “I can do anything I set my mind to” is less consistent with a “rich man” and more in alignment with a poor man. He explained that the things I choose to learn, like changing my own oil in my car, fixing the chain of my bike, using power tools, are things that poor men do regularly just to get by when, in fact, rich men would just hire it done. Thus, he suggested that what I really want to be is a “poor man that has money.”
So this is how I live my life. I want to be able to do anything and everything on my own, partially because why would you want to depend on another person if you don’t have to? Partially because I enjoy being capable and independent, and also because I love being able to do things that people would just assume I can’t do because I’m a woman.
I will take each and every opportunity presented to me to show not only that I am capable but that women are capable and breaking the glass ceiling of gender expectations is something I am proud to do. As I write this I am sitting in a hotel lobby facing the ocean, the tables around me are filled with others working as well and in this room, I am the only woman. There’s an intense internal feeling of pride that I get when I succeed in areas that the world doesn’t expect me, a woman, to succeed in. Leading my group in male-dominated math courses, teaching a lab to my physics class with a teacher who essentially brushed me aside, assembling dining room chairs and taking apart a sofa, scheduling estimates with contractors, changing the oil in my car, building a bookcase, small and big are places where women aren’t expected to succeed and I strive to change that expectation by not just succeeding but excelling. I don’t know everything and I’ll be honest, I don’t really like cars, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from learning so I can do more and be better in the future.
I strive to earn the respect so freely given to rich men and obtain the skills that will help me in my life because I love learning and I like being able to do things for myself. I’m becoming the man the world expects me to marry so that when I do choose to settle down, it will be because I want to, because I’ve found someone who makes my life better, not because I need someone else to do the things I can’t. So, Mom, I’m not a rich man but I am going to be a poor man that has money.