Recently, I came under fire for my open letter to my wife. If you want to see the twitter rampage caused by my post, you can find it here. It includes comments from people (that don’t know my wife or me) who think my wife should divorce or “accidentally off” me. This is the story of the time I got slaughtered on twitter.
To start, we will discuss the intent of the original post and where it went wrong. Then, I’m going to go point-by-point and respond to the three major criticisms that were vehemently thrown my way.
Note: For those who are interested, I encourage you to check out the #HeForShe Movement. I have an upcoming post dedicated to this topic, but just recently learned the name of this specific movement which helps support gender equality for the women in our lives.
P.S. Any hateful comments on this post will be deleted and your IP address will be blocked.
The Original Intent
When I sat down to write my open letter to my wife, I had a few goals in mind.
First, I wanted to encourage critical thinking for people who bear the majority of the responsibility for the technical aspects of their family’s finances (investing, refinancing, etc).
This stuff isn’t very straightforward for people who don’t have an interest in the financial nuts and bolts. For this reason, I felt my letter could encourage people to write their own in case they found themselves in a similar situation.
While I want my wife to have as much control of the finances as she is willing to take, she simply isn’t as interested as I am in knowing the in’s and out’s of 403B’s, governmental 457’s versus non-governmental 457s, IRA’s, and index fund investing.
This brings me to the second point of writing my letter. I wanted the post to produce some good conversation about a tough topic: the financial and emotional ramifications of an unexpected death.
Finally, I wanted my wife to know how I felt and what to consider doing financially if I died.
Could I have emailed it to her or stuck it in a shoe box under our bed? Yes. I also could have had a conversation with her. Likely to the surprise of most of the people who destroyed me on twitter, we actually do have these conversations.
However, this is a blog, and a private conversation alone wouldn’t have been helpful to other people who need to have tough financial conversations, too.
The Original Response Turns Ugly
The original response to my post was overwhelmingly positive.
Multiple people – both women and men – emailed me and/or commented on the post to let me know that it encouraged them to have similar conversations with their spouse.
It had the intended impact I was looking for with many of my readers.
A Shot Across the Bow
Then, a few weeks later – after it was syndicated on Kevin MD – I noticed a spike in traffic on The Physician Philosopher.
Curious to know the source of the increased traffic, I tracked down a tweet by Dr. Jen Gunter (linked at the beginning of the post) and the ensuing negative comment avalanche that followed.
Her tweet said the following about my letter,
“…is full of patriarchal condescending bullshit and is written like a sophomore.”
The lens with which some people were viewing my open letter to my wife was different than the initial audience. They felt that I was acting in a chauvinistic, condescending, and sexist manner. Multiple comments made it apparent that I was talking down to my wife and treating her like a child.
Being a proponent of using criticism to better myself, I read the post again with their lens in place.
Honestly, without the proper context, I could definitely see what they were saying.
So, for the rest of the post, I’d like to set the record straight. Here are the three major arguments made in the comments, and my response to each.
Comment #1: Flaunting Wealth
Multiple people commented that I was flaunting our wealth by saying that my wife would become immediately financially independent through my life insurance policies if I died. They made smug comments about buying furs, diamonds, and other expensive items.
Lest we forget, both my target audience and Kevin MD’s include physicians and other high-income earners. Ultimately, the people arguing that I was flaunting our wealth have two major flaws in their financial thought processes.
First, income does not equal wealth. In fact, 25-50% of physicians at the age of 60 cannot retire at their current lifestyle (read: not wealthy enough) despite their very high-income.
Similarly, the mere fact that I require a term-life insurance policy to protect my family’s future implies that we are not financially independent.
So, I was actually flaunting our lack of wealth in pointing out our need for life insurance.
Second, if you are a physician or another high-income earner who is married or with children and you have not insured your family’s future with life insurance, why are you casting stones in my direction?
Comment #2: Patriarchal, Paternalistic, and Condescending
If I am being honest, the comments about me being condescending and patriarchal to my wife bothered me the most.
In the world outside of the internet – where real life actually happens – I empower my wife (and all of the other women in my life) as much as possible. Just like they empower me.
A Part of the #HeForShe Movement
Anytime I am around a female physician who is not called “doctor” by someone else while in front of a patient, I correct them and make sure that they address them as “doctor.” I do the same for my resident physicians in training who are women. Literally without exception.
They should be acknowledged for their hard work just as much as any other physician.
I recognize that these women can stand up for themselves. Still, I want them to know that they have my full support if they ever needed it.
This isn’t to make a big deal about me doing what is obviously right, but to point out why it bothered me so much to be cast in the opposite light in the twitter comments about my letter to my wife.
Reading My Open Letter With a Different Perspective
When I went back and read my letter again through the lens provided by the comments on twitter – I have to admit – if you didn’t know me or my wife, the letter did seem condescending.
There were really three major problems.
(1) Poor word choice was an issue (i.e. the comment about prenuptial agreements and her “awesome financial situation” if I died are examples – yes, those were both meant for satire given my obvious infatuation with personal finance).
(2) Part of the issue involved inside jokes that only my wife would understand (i.e. the math comments).
(3) And the other comment that upset people is the truth (my wife doesn’t want a lot to do with the technical aspect of our financial plan).
Let’s discuss these last two items a little further.
For the last few years my wife has worked as a reading facilitator (i.e. reading teacher) at an elementary school. So, she commonly gives me a hard time about mixing up my words when I read to our kids, because I have some trouble with reading.
I can laugh at my faults, and realize it’s all in good fun. In turn, I give her a hard time about math, which isn’t her favorite subject.
My inside jokes about math are clearly not well translated in the post, because it was written for her. While she understood the jokes and laughed when she read it, I completely understand why people took issue with it after reading back through the post.
Out of context, it reads like a condescending horror novel at times.
A Misunderstanding About Our Partnership
Regarding my wife not knowing what to do with our financial accounts if I died…well, that part is the honest truth. It might sound like “mansplaining,” but hear me out.
My wife trusts me with the technical aspects of our finances. I cannot force her to be more involved in deciding which funds to invest into which account. Actually, I don’t force my wife to do anything. It’s her choice. Hopefully, people can respect that.
All of this led to a misunderstanding and wrongful characterization of our marriage.
Does my wife’s limited interaction with the technical aspects of our finances – like performing our annual backdoor Roth IRA or knowing the intricacies of the student loan landscape – mean that we don’t talk about financial goals and life aspirations? Absolutely not.
We have financial conversations regularly, and her opinions matter just as much as mine.
Still, this doesn’t dilute the fact that she trusts me to help us get to the numbers needed for the goals that we have outlined. I punch the keys on our 403B, governmental 457, taxable account, backdoor Roth IRA, and student loan payments.
In the end, though, we make our life goals together.
In all sincerity, I apologize for choosing my words poorly. The apparent condescension certainly wasn’t my intention.
Comment #3: Divorce and Murder
This is the only response where I intend to be blunt and unapologetic.
Divorce and murder were the first comment thrown out by many people on Dr. Gunter’s tweet.
I admit that my open letter could have been written more eloquently and with a whole lot better tone given that I put it out there for the world to see. However, it was an honest mistake.
Calling for my wife to divorce or murder me and make it “look like an accident” is pretty low – even for social media standards. Particularly, given that many of those commenting were physicians responsible for peoples’ lives.
Do we think this lowly of every patient we take care of with whom we disagree?
While the divorce comments were meant to harm me, they actually encouraged me. See, my wife loves and forgives me when I don’t say things as well as I should or, God forbid, when I say the wrong thing entirely.
In fact, there is a lot that we can learn from her example.
We teach our kids that they don’t need to be perfect, because we all make mistakes. It’s part of being human.
Hopefully, the people who attempted to crucify me on social media can recognize that they too have made mistakes with their words. We don’t always get it right the first time.
In the end, if this whole ordeal serves to highlight my failures so that more focus can be placed on respecting the women in our lives, I am fine with that. But, you should know that’s where my heart was the entire time, even if my words failed to reflect that in my original open letter to my wife.
Have your words ever failed you? Have you ever had an experience similar to mine? What do you think of the initial reaction and my response? Leave a comment below.