Stay-at-home girlfriends are the new trad wives

TikTok is modernizing a retro gender trope.

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Please don’t ask me if being a stay-at-home girlfriend is good or bad, it’s hurting my brain to decide. —Kate

It’s hard to talk about money on TikTok. Or show too much of your apartment. Or do a skincare tutorial that involves products over $30. Inevitably, commenters will ask the woman in the video (no #girlboss, but it’s always a woman) to answer for how she affords xyz, or they’ll jump straight to accusing her of being a privileged transplant living off her family’s money. On TikTok, anyone can demand the details of someone’s income. 

I understand the call for transparency, especially for influencers in NYC who glamorize the lifestyle, and maybe even acknowledge their privilege, but don’t do anything to contribute to the community they’re gentrifying (this TikTok does a great job explaining it). However, there appears to be a loophole in which all is forgiven: stay-at-home girlfriends. 

The stay-at-home girlfriend (as in, not a mom, nor a wife, just a committed partner) is a modernization of the trad wife phenomenon I got really into last year. Instead of growing their own vegetables and knitting their own sweaters, stay-at-home girlfriends are living in their partner’s high-rise apartments with nothing on their calendars except pilates class at 3pm. The first time I saw one of these TikToks, I went straight to the comments, expecting a deluge of criticism. Instead:

“How does it feel to live my dream,” reads a comment on a recent TikTok from user @septoctnov.

“Tell us how please,” another commenter asks.

“This will be me,” another declares. “I manifest it. I’m speaking it into existence.” 

In many of the videos, the story seems to be the same. The woman was working, but their partner’s financial situation allowed her to quit. Until now, this trajectory was framed as a step back, or worse, a failure on the woman’s part. But TikTok has rearranged it—you haven’t failed, you’ve achieved the ultimate success. 

This has a lot to do with our changing attitudes towards work. With the great resignation and subsequent labor shortage, it’s become permissible to speak the unspoken: working isn’t fun and we don’t want to do it. At least, not the all-consuming, rise-and-grind, earn-your-dues kind of work that fueled so much of my own career path. It’s okay not to dream of labor, and if you’ve found a situation that allows you to opt out, then hell yeah. 

Obviously, give it a few more seconds of thought and you see the problems, the main one being if the couple decides to break up, the girlfriend is potentially left with nothing. Some commenters warned that this dynamic could cause resentment in the relationship. Others straight up recoiled at the concept of a 2021 woman relying on her partner and not earning and spending her own money. As my therapist asked me when I was talking nonstop about fantasizing about becoming a trad wife, is it really freedom if it’s earned by sacrificing my independence? 

However, I don’t think this is as much of a phenomenon as it appears. I’d venture a guess that there are a lot more people dreaming of being a stay-at-home girlfriend than there are stay-at-home girlfriends documenting their lifestyle on TikTok. Even those who do only share up to a minute’s worth of their day, so it’s hard to say if it really is all manicures and dinner dates. Instead, I imagine this is just another symptom of society thinking out loud about how to rearrange its relationship to work. We can’t just all stop working—but what if some of us could? What would that look like? And where do we apply for someone to pay for it?