The Checklist of the Wife

09/21/2012 11:44 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2012

Of course a modern wife, raised on fairy tales and practicality, has always had a checklist, a set of requirements for her husband. But this checklist, like the wife herself, has evolved over the years. In the mid-twentieth century it was enough to nab a husband who was 'a provider', the perks being that he was pleasant enough, a decent father, maybe even really handsome. The wife, in exchange, was accommodating, housebound and grateful. It was a fine trade, because both parties knew what to expect. This sort of checklist lasted until the mid-sixties -- think of the cookie cutter world of early "Mad Men" episodes, where marrying up or marrying someone like-minded sufficed. Yet in the late sixties, women were bra-burning and popping birth control pills as they geared up for the seventies and their march to the workplace. The old paradigm of the husband wasn't as riveting. Nor was the wife quite the same.

By the early eighties, working wives had become heady with earning their own money. The checklist now detailed a husband who was attentive, a breadwinner (even when women made money), and would, in theory, divvy up the responsibilities of home and childcare. Plenty of husbands didn't measure up and the divorce rate soared to an all time high. By the time that "Sex and the City" aired on HBO in the nineties, women were marrying later and in search of a soul mate for a husband. He had to be 'the right guy' with whom she could communicate, share and be understood. The checklist emphasized that the wife and husband be equal partners in the marriage. Alas, the progress on this front was slow and uneven.

Enter the wife of the twenty-first century with a checklist honed by looking back at her predecessors' lists and deciding what came up short. For the millennium, requisites became imperative, wives were now strident about it. They demanded that husbands be romantic, sexy, ambitious, successful, devoted, child-loving, flexible, and eager to share the demands of life. Twelve years into this way of thinking, the sky is the limit, especially for Gen Y/ Millennial wives. This faction of young wives subscribes to a husband who goes with the flow when it comes to her career. If she works, great, if she doesn't, that's okay too - no matter that based on the stats she probably has an undergraduate and a graduate degree.

Consider Anastasia Steele, the young woman who falls for Christian Grey in "Fifty Shades of Grey," a man so dashing and damaged that we just keep reading. Anastasia might not have had her checklist completed when she initially meets Christian and becomes his 'submissive'. But by book three, when she marries him, he appears a new template for a fairy tale. And when I asked young wives today if their updated checklist includes someone who is filthy rich, kind (in a sort of twisted way) and gorgeous, they say, why not. It's a brave new world where wives are filled with self confidence and a strong sense of what they want and how to go about it.