Stay-at-home girlfriends are being glamorized on TikTok
Sarah Allison spends most of her days doing Pilates, getting facials and shopping in Malibu, Calif. The 31-year-old affords her daily green juice habit and other expensive trappings of her upper-class life mostly thanks to her wealthy boyfriend.
Allison is just one of many women in committed relationships with well-to-do men who broadcast their highly-coveted lives of grandeur online. Known as stay-at-home girlfriends on TikTok, the imbalanced power dynamics of these relationships are glossed over in get-ready-with-me videos featuring Hermés bags and Chanel shoes and travel vlogs of spontaneous trips to Paris on private jets.
Yet here’s what most don’t see: the woman’s financial dependence on a man, the lack of legal protections and living in a home she can get kicked out of should the relationship sour. And what’s worse? The SAHGF life is being packaged up as covetable to young and impressionable viewers.
What is a stay-at-home girlfriend?
"I first became a stay-at-home girlfriend at 27," Allison tells Yahoo Life. "I just didn't work and my boyfriend at the time was very wealthy, very age appropriate. He was only a few years older than me." Initially, Allison referred to herself as a trophy girlfriend. Stay-at-home girlfriend and trophy girlfriend are one and the same, but Allison credits TikTok with exposing “a relationship dynamic that has existed for quite a long time” — and giving it a rebrand.
"It wasn't really ever socially acceptable like it is [now]. It was very taboo," she says. "And it's an unwritten rule [but] a lot of women have been living lives like this for a long time and people knew, but it wasn't so transparent.”
What makes stay-at-home girlfriends (SAHGF) unique — and different from stay-at-home wives — is that the former has virtually no legal protections in the event of a breakup and are often left to the mercy of their ex — a less than ideal place to be, say experts.
Randi Karmel, a matrimonial, divorce and family law lawyer, notes that in marriage, spouses are building equity together. But boyfriend-girlfriend relationships typically don't get those same protections. "There's no real recourse for somebody who's a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend," Karmel tells Yahoo Life.
The SAHGF to content creator pipeline
Allison leveraged her penchant for dating rich men into a side hustle as a content creator who currently has 160,000 followers on TikTok. "First and foremost, I'm a content creator and stay-at-home girlfriend is my niche," insists Allison, who believes her followers come to her for all things luxury, not just her wealthy partner.
But she’s not the only one profiting off of being a SAHGF. The content as a whole has raked in over 72 million views on the platform.
These videos usually start out with a young, usually thin and white woman waking up in the morning wearing a matching pajama set. Next, we'll see her make her bed before heading to the bathroom to perform an extensive skincare routine. This is usually followed by a kitchen montage of her preparing a cup of coffee that could get her hired as a Starbucks barista or a nutrient-packed smoothie, oftentimes delivered to her male partner who is either in his home office or heading out the door to his corporate job.
In a TikTok titled "Things I do as a stay-at-home girlfriend," Rose Davis shares that she cooks her boyfriend's breakfast, lunch and dinner, cleans a lot, takes care of her appearance, plans trips and make their home a nice and organized place to live. Kendel Kay starts her day with an aloe shot and making coffee with a side pastry for her partner. Ashley Garcia, who goes by asshliciouss on TikTok, shared a stack of cash that her partner left her so she can pay off her credit cards also. She then went to "Starbies," Zara, H&M, Apple for a new iPhone, HomeGoods, Trader Joe's and Ulta.
What's the problem with SAHGFs?
While living off the proverbial land of your partner makes for great content, many viewers don't realize that for a lot of women, posting about the luxurious lives they live without having a job is their job.
"There's a reason that they're sharing their lifestyle and claiming that they don't work. But yet, they're still putting hours and hours every day into social media," Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, tells Yahoo Life.
Young viewers may consume this content without fully understanding that there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to luxury content vlogging.
Whether outwardly expressed or not, these women's livelihoods often depend on their allure as a partner. Their appearance and homemaking capabilities are their anchors to economic prosperity. The endless primping and high-end exercise classes are more than just a benefit of this lifestyle; but a requirement in maintaining their financial security. This can surmount pressures to maintain a certain look and disposition regardless of the mental and physical toll it can take on their life, lest not they risk losing their primary source of fiscal stability.
The majority of these content creators do not share their bad days or talk about the multitude of uncertainties that can come with living this lifestyle. This can be dangerous for impressionable followers who aspire to these curated lifestyles without knowing the risks that come with it.
And while we can't regulate what others post, acknowledging that people will always put their best-pedicured foot forward on social media is a critical part of healthy media consumption, says Morin.
"If we just start helping young people understand that what they're seeing isn't actually somebody's lifestyle. It's not a reality show where there's a camera literally following them around 24/7. This is curated content that's heavily edited, and it's a highlight reel of the very best of the best," Morin says.
And since many of these women are not disclosing if and how much money they are making on the backend from showcasing this lifestyle by doing sponsored or other paid content, the messages of luxury and leisure can appear deceptive.
"A lot of times certain brands [are] being incorporated into their videos. So it's selling this idea that you can live with a partner and have them pay for everything. And that's totally fine [but] without them being very transparent that they have alternate income sources," says Cara Nicole, a financial freedom content creator.
Allison notes that she became more conscious about what she posted after a young follower expressed interest in living in a similar manner.
"A 14-year-old girl reached out to me and told me she wanted to be exactly like me. Initially, I was horrified because I had no idea that anyone that young was consuming my content. And that made me a little bit more cautious about the stuff that I post online. And so I told this young girl, like, 'If you want to be like me, you need to be a dynamic and interesting person.' I don't think the focus should ever be about 'How do I get a wealthy man?' That is something that organically evolves from being the best version of yourself," says Allison.
Because of where the content is being promulgated, SAHGF has many young girls eager to pursue similar lifestyles. Cyber-fueled career ambitions are nothing new but the SAHGF trend is turning the "girl boss"-era aspirations of yesteryear right on their head.
This could lead young women who are seeking similar lifestyles to prioritize wealth in a partner over other factors such as compatibility, safety or attraction. And once these women have "secured the bag," they may find themselves putting up with less-than-ideal behavior in order to maintain financial stability.
"It might be self-imposed, where somebody's thinking, 'OK, if I'm getting all of these benefits, I can't do anything that would upset the other person,' or 'I don't want to do anything that would potentially endanger the relationship, because what would that mean for me?" says Morin.
How the SAHGF life can be dangerous for the SAHGF
Total financial dependence on a man can land women in any number of unsafe situations but the risk-to-reward analysis is often skewed by the promise of exuberant gifts and pampering.
"A woman's power is lost in that place. And she's opening herself up to not only be financially controlled but also emotionally and even physically controlled as well," says Cindy Stibbard, a certified divorce and relationship specialist. "A man's use of their finances can be very powerful. And when you're in the throes of being in love, you sometimes don't see the financial constraints, and even potentially financial abuse that kind of can come from this."
Carrie Rattle, a financial therapist and coach, explains that financial abuse occurs when someone uses finances to take control and hold power over their partner and make the abused fully dependent on them
"The abused ultimately has no safety nets, or influence on how they live, spend or provide for themselves," says Rattle, adding that extravagant gifts and luxury purchases are common early-stage tactics for abusers looking to lure in and eventually isolate a partner.
Heather Welch, who was in a stay-at-home girlfriend type relationship, had to start over from scratch after splitting up with her partner.
"In my early 20s, I met a guy who was financially stable at the time. He was about seven years older than me but things started to take off and before I knew it, he asked me to move in with him. At the time, I was studying and he advised me not to work, but rather focus on my studies. He was extremely supportive and we didn’t even have fights too often," she recalls. "Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out like we thought. At one point in the relationship, things just didn’t feel right anymore. We ended up going our separate ways and due to my financial dependence on him, I had to move back in with my parents and build up from there again."
In terms of recognizing signs of financial abuse early on, experts say excessive questioning, isolation and "too" much "too" soon are all signs to look out for.
"If the boyfriend is providing all the money, it's fair for him to know where the money is going in general. But asking for specifics on every penny spent, every dollar starts to get extreme, that's when the control starts showing. And if a stay-at-home girlfriend is encouraged to see her friends less, to be involved in activities less and is encouraged to be more at home, on call, available, then that's another form of control that is coming out. Because the abuser is using their money as their power, 'If you don't do what I say, I will take the money away,'" says Rattle.
But rather than going to extremes in hopes of obtaining a partner who can financially support you, experts say building your own foundation can be more rewarding in the long run.
"There is something wonderful and romantic and pride-inducing about starting with living with roommates and scraping by and then building up your emergency fund for the first time and then maxing out your 401K and eventually reaching financial independence," says Cara.
For anyone affected by abuse and needing support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or if you're unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
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