I was a 'trad wife' who got married on an 11th date. Influencers make this life look idyllic, but I had no money and no control.

I was a 'trad wife' who got married on an 11th date. Influencers make this life look idyllic, but I had no money and no control.
  • Jennie Gage, 49, who was raised Mormon, was a stay-at-home mom for over two decades.

  • She's a former "trad wife," social-media shorthand for a woman who adopts traditional gender roles.

  • Gage said the lifestyle looks idyllic but left her financially vulnerable when her marriage ended.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jennie Gage, who used to be what social media users have dubbed a traditional wife, or a "trad wife." Trad wife influencers including Ballerina Farm have exploded in popularity on TikTok and Instagram.

Gage, 49, posts on TikTok about her experiences first conforming to traditional gender roles, then leaving the Mormon community. This essay, which also incorporates quotes from emails between Gage and BI, has been edited for length and clarity.

I grew up in a big Mormon family and spent most of my life in Arizona, Oregon, and Utah — all of the big Mormon states.

As a child, my life was hot bread coming out of the oven with home-churned butter, and my mom sewing our clothes. After school, she would load us all in the station wagon and take us on a picnic to the lake.

It was the best and the worst of times. There were no working women in my family. Most of the women married between the ages of 18 and 20. There was also a lot of reinforcement from the church.

Gage married her ex-husband on their 11th date.
Gage married her ex-husband in 1995 on their 11th date.Courtesy of Jennie Gage

I was 17 when I went to a Mormon college. I wanted to be an international trade attorney. When I told my college guidance counselor, he said, "You know you're going to be a wife and mom. I can't let you have a schedule that would keep you from fulfilling that divine purpose."

My college was a crock-pot where they cooked marriages. I got absorbed into that culture. I met Jake, my ex-husband, during a break from college. I was introduced on a blind date. Our 11th date was our wedding.

As soon as we were married, Jake gave me a specific verbal ultimatum: "If you want to continue being married to me, then you will not go to college. If you want to go to college, then we can get divorced, and you can move on with your life."

I remember thinking, "If I divorce him, then I'm breaking a temple covenant, and then I'll go to hell."

Being a 'trad wife' involved endless housework

My first son was born in 1998 when I'd just turned 23.

We'd bought a windshield business. I ran the whole company, and Jake did all the installs for me. We had a brand-new house. We were making six figures. That was my golden era.

It ended when I went to talk to my priesthood leader and told him that I worked. He said, "Women are supposed to stay home, and the family proclamation clearly says that your divine role is to be a mother.'

The next week I stopped working full-time. I would continue to work one or two days a week, but I never got paid.

I went on to have three more biological children, and we also adopted a child.

Gage's life comprised of endless cooking and cleaning.
Gage was strongly discouraged from working and spent her time cooking and cleaning.Courtesy of Jennie Gage

Watching Ballerina Farm, that was my life.

It was cooking and cleaning. Everything was homemade. I had these waffle recipes where you would grind the wheat to make the waffles. I'd go into the chicken coop and grab the eggs from under the chickens. I'd have to drive to the dairy to get the raw milk. Sometimes, we actually slaughtered our own chickens for food.

It would take until noon to get all the blinds open, all of the beds made, the floors swept, all of the dinner dishes or breakfast dishes put away. After lunchtime, when babies and toddlers were in quiet time and down to bed, that's when I would start prepping dinner.

My kids didn't even know what store-bought bread was. Their life was magic; my life was a gilded cage.

I lost any financial independence

Jake and I shared a bank account in the first couple of years of our marriage. But when my first son was around two years old, Jake got mad at me. He drove to the bank and opened up an account for himself.

Then I didn't have a debit card. I didn't have anything. For most of my married life, Jake would give me cash envelopes. I wasn't on the economic map at all.

After the windshield business went well, my uncle, an architect, suggested that we open a secondary business to diversify our portfolio.

We did some remodels and purchase flips. In addition to the windshield business, we were making so much money off of the homes.

The custom home side of the business was mine. On a notepad, I would sit down and write out the floor plans. I picked out every faucet in the homes. I was at the construction site daily, managing the subcontractors, ensuring all the payouts and everything was done.

But my name wasn't on the contracting company. I never had control.

My relationship was failing, but I stayed for the kids and healthcare

Our marriage was so up and down.

I was always thinking, "How can I make Jake love me?" So I never ate; I kept myself at 106 pounds. I was so hyper-focused on looking perfect. I would go to culinary classes. I never planned on being a chef or owning a restaurant — I just wanted him to have the perfect food.

I got sick in 2011. I had a tumor that was blocking my intestine. It was benign — I didn't need radiation or anything — but it made me so sick.

Jake became volatile while I was sick. I couldn't leave him because I needed him to take care of the kids, I needed him to take care of me. I didn't have money. I didn't have health insurance. Without him, I couldn't go to my doctor's appointments.

Gage sometimes documented the sadness and frustration she felt during her marriage.
Gage sometimes documented the sadness and frustration she felt during her marriage.Courtesy of Jennie Gage

In 2017, I caught Jake having extramarital affairs. It wasn't the nail in the coffin of our marriage, though.

As a trad wife, you get to a point where you have so much physically, financially, and emotionally invested in your life with your husband.

What keeps women who shouldn't be in relationships anymore is money. It's the things. It's "without this man, I don't have this home. I don't have this mattress. Nothing is in my name."

I decided I had to stay with him, and I had to make it work for my kids. But a year later, I found out that he had other extramarital affairs.

Our 24-year marriage ended years ago, but I'm still struggling

Our marriage ended in 2019, and I'm still trying to figure out life. There's a lot of shame associated with failed marriages that's put especially on women.

I was a homeless person going through a divorce. My kids and I moved into my uncle's abandoned guest house.

I had to learn life skills: Who does the electricity? How does garbage service work? And how to open a bank account.

It was a huge wake-up call. I still have financial instability. I have $400 in my savings account. I lived on food stamps for three and a half years.

Now I work seven days a week flipping thrifted furniture, doing windshield sales, running my essential oils company, and making a little money on TikTok.

I'm still underemployed. There's no minimum wage job that I can get. I'm not good with computers. I can't run the cash register, so my only real option is to be an entrepreneur. The stuff that I knew was just how to make a pancake and how to decorate a house.

The trad wives on TikTok don't show any risks. This lifestyle is so irresponsible. It's like driving a car with no seat belt, no shoes, no brakes, no windshield, and just hoping you don't crash.

I'm more broke than I ever imagined being, but am happier than ever.

Do you identify as a trad wife or former trad wife? Do you have a story to share about your experience? Contact Maria Noyen via email at mnoyen@businessinsider.com.

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