On more than one occasion in the last few months, Austin, a 34-year-old in Chicago, has frantically tucked his phone away when he heard his wife entering the room. It’s not that he was laying on the couch casually browsing OnlyFans, though. Austin just didn’t want his wife to see him carefully studying the red, jagged lines cascading down his Robinhood account.
“I don’t really know why I haven’t told her,” he admits. “I guess it felt sort of trivial at first, and now I’ve invested $1,500 and feel the window has closed on that discussion.”
On r/WallStreetBets, where the GameStop-mania began, you’ll see a similar trend — one that includes many men in much more dire situations than Austin. Driven by the stock-market craze earlier this year, there are a number of men who gambled their entire family’s savings on single stocks without ever telling their significant other.
The subreddit is, in general, known for its overarching tone of 4chan-esque hypermasculinity. And one common theme in their discussions is how their stock-trading mania makes them undeserving of their (real or imaginary) wives. To that end, posters commonly refer to their successes and failures by debating how their “wife’s boyfriend” will react — a meme with roots in 4Chan-esque emasculating self-deprecation.
The reality of the situation, however, is much more sinister. In response to a post titled, “I Didn’t Tell the Wife I Used the Equity from the Home We Just Sold,” a member of r/WallStreetBets writes, “I know I feel terrible 😞. But it’s either that or a life in debt, slave waging for the rest of my life. I really really like the stock. I promised to tell her as soon as I made some real gains so that she can be part of it.”
In the same forum, another redditor posted an apparent loss of over $16,000 after buying GameStop stock while admitting, “I’m an idiot. Wife doesn’t know yet.” He hasn’t posted since, but given that the price of GameStop’s stock remains well below his average price of $260-per-share at the time, it’s unlikely he’s made that money back.
In the comments of posts like this, there’s never any shortage of other men admitting to investing their family’s money into the stock market without telling their wives:
Moreover, as apps like Robinhood, which make investing in stocks and cryptocurrency easy and accessible for amateur traders, continue to rise in popularity, so too will the number of people taking a chance at striking it rich without telling their significant other. Such a rise in secretive, risky financial behavior worries California-based psychotherapist Thomas Faupl, who specializes in helping couples navigate financial issues. “If you’re taking money out of a joint account and spending it on stocks or cryptocurrency, your partner better know about it,” Faupl explains. “Because if they don’t, that’s financial infidelity. You’re basically cheating.”
However, all couples share different agreements around their finances. So if a couple has established ground rules wherein each partner gets a discretionary fund to spend as they wish, no-questions-asked, “then one partner is free to spend that money on Robinhood as they wish,” Faupl says.
“If he keeps it in check, invests small amounts of money in structured amounts of time then it might not be that big a deal,” he continues. “But if he’s pouring more and more money in, and getting a rush from doing so, the question becomes whether he has bad judgment or compulsive behavior, because that can spiral out-of-control.”
While Austin’s $1,500 hardly rivals the potentially debilitating sums of money lost by other redditors, it’s the compulsivity of Austin’s investments, in addition to the lack of transparency, that Faupl says is worrisome. What initially started for Austin as “throwing $150” into a few stocks he read about on Reddit, now looks like hours spent scouring Reddit and YouTube, gathering information and tips about promising stocks and investment strategies.
Austin says he doesn’t plan on putting more money in the market, but so far his willpower hasn’t proven very effective. “When I first started, I really didn’t know anything about trading stocks,” he explains. A graphic designer by trade, Austin often found himself frantically googling terms like “limit order,” “calls” and “earnings reports,” as he dumped additional installments of $100 to $250 into his account.
He maintains that being $300 in the hole wouldn’t necessarily hurt his or his wife’s overall wellbeing, but he admits the full amount of money he’s spent is harder to swallow. “It’s my own account, but we both kinda split up bills and rent and other expenses while the shared account is more of a shared savings account,” he explains. “So on one hand, it’s my money and we’re not super strict with each other’s spending habits. But at the same time, we’re not strict because we’ve established a certain level of trust with each other’s spending habits — like that neither of us would blow money on unnecessary or expensive things.”
While Austin’s wife likely won’t be happy to learn that he threw $1,500 into cheap penny stocks he knows next to nothing about, Faupl says it’s not the financial loss itself that could cause lasting damage to his marriage. “The behavior raises questions as to what his relationship and priorities are with money, why he’s trying to get rich quick and whether that level of risk tolerance is going to lead to instability down the road,” he tells me.
To be sure, unless the companies Austin blindly invested in seven months ago turn their stock price around, he’s on a path to losing a lot more money. Worse yet, in the same way gamblers throw more and more money onto the roulette table until they get a win, apps like Robinhood make it very easy for retail investors to keep depositing money, hoping one of their penny stocks will explode in value. More often than not, though, that doesn’t happen. “This becomes a real sticky situation,” Faupl says, because the more money someone loses, the more shame they feel, often causing them to drift further into secrecy.
The redditors who admit to losing devastating amounts of money without telling their wives often claim they’re only being secretive in order to “surprise” their wife when they ultimately hit it big. “Maybe they would if they did make a ton of money, but I don’t think that’s the motivation for why they’re doing it,” Faupl explains. “They’re caught in the throw of it for themselves, and they’re trying to explain or justify their behavior.”
Just as couple’s have emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy, Faupl adds that “financial intimacy” in a relationship is equally important. “I’m all for transparency,” he says. “People in a relationship should know each other’s credit reports, each other’s debt load, their savings accounts. That way there’s no surprises, because surprises lead to feelings of betrayal and blowups, and then you’re in couple’s counseling.”
Roughly 24 hours after Austin first spoke with me for this story, he had gone from deciding to not tell his wife “until the stocks rise and I break even,” to admitting, “Fuck, I should probably just tell her, huh?”
“I feel embarrassed, I really have no excuse for keeping it secret,” he tells me. “I got swept up in something I know nothing about and it’s out of character for me. I don’t think she’ll be mad, but she’ll be hurt.”
“It’s not that we’re broke, but we’re not exactly rich either — we’ve both got student debt and still rent a tiny apartment,” Austin continues. “So potentially blowing $1,500 on stupid stocks I learned about on Reddit is a breach of trust that I feel pretty bad about. And I’d feel the same way if I found out she’d done something similar.”