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‘Modern Love Podcast’: Emily Ratajkowski Can Take Care of Herself, but a Little Help Would Be Nice


This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email transcripts@nytimes.com with any questions.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

anna martin

From “The New York Times,” I’m Anna Martin. This is “Modern Love.” Today I’m talking to model, actress, writer, entrepreneur, and busy toddler mom, Emily Ratajkowski.

Hello.

emily ratajkowski

How are you?

anna martin

I’m great. Where are you?

emily ratajkowski

I’m in New York in my kid’s playroom, sitting on a toy. OK.

anna martin

[LAUGHS]: OK, I see. I mean, at least it’s a stuffed animal, not a LEGO. Those things are notoriously painful. Is your kid a LEGO kid?

emily ratajkowski

Yeah, he’s a little young for LEGOs, but he does love LEGOs. He’s got an airplane. He’s got lots of dinosaurs, truck. I was sitting on a bunny from Easter, so.

anna martin

When Emily isn’t at home taking care of her son, she’s often posing in some glamorous photoshoot. And photographs of her are everywhere, on magazine covers, in fragrance and swimsuit ads, all over social media, where she’s known by her iconic handle, “Emrata.” And recently, she’s been speaking up about the ways people perceive her. In her 2021 book, “My Body,” Emily writes about what it feels like to have men profit from her image and to work in an industry where her beauty is her currency.

Do you want me to call you Emily, or do you want me to call you Emrata? What do you prefer?

emily ratajkowski

[LAUGHS]: Whatever you want. I think most people call me “Emily.”

anna martin

OK, that’s what I’ll do. But I’m curious, where did that nickname, “Emrata,” where did that start?

emily ratajkowski

So my dad was the art teacher at my high school, and he was this larger than life, legendary, very cool painting teacher who, like barely wore shoes, and everyone called him “Rata.” So then when I — I think I got my first Myspace page, I just decided to be Emrata.

anna martin

It sounds like he was extremely cool.

emily ratajkowski

He was cool. I definitely didn’t have the, “Oh, man, your dad put me in detention today, and I hate him.” It was like, “Whoa, you’re Rata’s daughter?”

anna martin

So your dad’s the original Rata?

emily ratajkowski

Yeah.

anna martin

OK, I want to ask you about something that you posted on Instagram a bit ago. There was also an article in “The Times” about it. I want to talk about your divorce rings. For people who aren’t familiar, can you tell me what a divorce ring is and why you wanted to make one?

emily ratajkowski

To be clear, this is something that I know a lot of different generations of women have done before. I basically repurposed my wedding ring, took the diamonds that were in the original ring, and made them into two different rings, which I kind of playfully called “divorce rings.”

Yeah, I was inspired actually, by a lot of different people, one being my dear friend Stephanie Danler, who wrote an essay for “The Paris Review” that’s about jewelry and treasures. And I really liked the idea of a woman not having to be ashamed of leaving a relationship, but even just like of having a past.

And I was like, I don’t really — I don’t know. I don’t want to have this thing that’s in a drawer in my house that represents some sort of failure or shame because I don’t feel that way about my divorce. I want to be clear. It’s a very material thing, right?

But really, for me, the reason I decided to share that I did this with the world was because I do think that there still is such a taboo and a stigma around divorce, and particularly for women. And I’ve felt that a lot online — not in my personal life, but online. And even just like people immediately say like, oh, I’m so sorry, when they find out you’re getting divorced. And it’s like, sometimes that’s not the appropriate reaction. So I’m trying to change the way we think about divorce.

anna martin

So with your divorce behind you, are you also changing the way you think about any new relationships going forward? Are you approaching dating differently?

emily ratajkowski

Well, I got married when I was 26, and I had really only gone from relationship to relationship. So I probably had been on very — like maybe two or three dates in my life, like proper, proper dates. I was a serial monogamist. The thing that actually scares me about whatever future romantic relationship I invest in is wanting to have this space for both individuals to continue to evolve.

But I think it can be quite hard to really reach your full potential as an individual and let the person do the same. I want that flexibility with whoever I choose as a partner.

anna martin

In addition to making sure you have the space to grow individually, are there other specific qualities you’re looking for in a future partner?

emily ratajkowski

No.

[laughs]

I mean, right now, I’m not super focused on thinking about a partnership. I’ve been so enjoying the process of the low stakes of just meeting new people. And the fun of that is not looking for a type or an anti-type.

I’m not living in the past. You know what I mean? Not that you were insinuating that I was. It’s just more like I’ve been really open to all different types of people. And then more noticing my own behavior and how that might correlate to how I’ve behaved in past relationships.

anna martin

I really like that word you said a bit ago, “anti-type.” And it feels quite related to the “Modern Love” essay you chose to read today. The author of the essay is also in a phase of dating post-divorce, like you. But unlike you, she does notice herself doing a kind of pendulum swing from her ex, who did not follow traditional gender roles at all, to a new guy who does follow them quite rigidly. Without any spoilers, is there anything you want to say about this piece before you read it?

emily ratajkowski

I think that why I chose this piece is because I have found it quite interesting in dating, even though, again, I’m not really looking for a partner, the way that gender dynamics and shared responsibilities in a potential life or even just literally and going to dinner come up. And I’m in a unique position because I have built a life by myself that doesn’t really require someone to come in and help me at this point.

I just think we’re in a really interesting time where women are making more money than they’ve ever made. They’re graduating in college. And men, we are seeing they’re graduating college less frequently. They’re living at home.

I think that there’s just a lot going on with gender roles in hetero dynamics. It’s brought a lot into question about what I’m attracted to, what about that is learned, and what about that is just instinctual, and what do I want now that I’m a very different person than I was when the last time I was single and I was 26.

anna martin

Mm. OK, well, why don’t you read the essay and then we’ll talk more about it? This is Emily Ratajkowski reading, “How I Fell for an ‘I’m the Man’ Man” by Susan Forray.

emily ratajkowski

“My new guy and I were lying next to each other, half covered by bedsheets, the afternoon sun warming my feet. We had been dating for about a month. ‘I’m the man,’ he said. ‘I should be in charge of the money.’ ‘Right,’ I said, feeling a jolt of anxiety.

As a partner at a financial consulting firm, I thought, I’m in charge of money every day. But I reasoned that he and I weren’t going to be sharing a checking account anytime soon, so why end things prematurely? Besides, in the context of our conversation, he wasn’t even referring to me, but to his ex-wife. They had been driven apart by financial disagreements. This puts some distance between his words and me. Or so I told myself.

I didn’t normally go for guys who said things like, ‘I’m the man.’ I usually fell for men who didn’t argue when I said it was my turn to pay for dinner. These men noticed my intelligence before my looks, or at least they said they did. But in my post-divorce haze, I found myself falling for a different kind of man.

As his words lingered, I felt a combination of shock and curiosity, as if encountering a species previously thought extinct. I knew there were men who believed they should be in charge of money. The shock came from encountering one who readily admitted it. But he already had made clear he believed in traditional gender roles with sex, too. He had said, ‘I’m the man. I want to lead.’ I found his bluntness surprising, but also alluring. He was confident in his desires.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Since my ex-husband had divorced me the previous year, I had been reconsidering what I thought I knew about relationships, and my previous belief in a relationship of equals seemed painfully naive. My ex called himself a feminist, but in our marriage, that seemed to mean he felt fine about me dramatically outearning him, fine about spending my income freely on luxuries, and fine about me covering the mortgage, the private school tuition for our children, and the rest of our financial commitments.

This experience should have led me to dump any guy who claimed it was a man’s job to manage a couple’s money. But here it was, having the opposite effect. I craved a man who sought to take financial responsibility for his family, even if I didn’t need it.

After my fantasy of a partnership of equals had failed to materialize, I seemed to want to replace it with a fantasy of paternalistic protection. The men I’d previously dated thought of themselves as staunch feminists — in hindsight, frustratingly so, at least in the sense that they were too inclined to defer to me under the guise of respecting me to ever take charge, either financially or sexually.

I can’t blame them. The pattern of choosing men too reticent to arouse me had been mine. I had interrogated the last man I dated on his Democratic bona fides before agreeing to meet for coffee. But with my new guy, I found myself quietly acquiescing as he told me his voting history shouldn’t matter. I took this to mean his voting history was the opposite of mine.

After paying for coffee that first evening, he carefully aligned the bottom of the receipt with his credit card, then wrapped it around tightly before placing the card back in his wallet. My ex would have scrunched up the receipt and tossed it in the nearest trash can. Watching the care he took with this mundane task, I knew I wanted him.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

A week later, we played chess in an ice cream parlor. I sensed that losing would dampen his ardor, so I left my king open to attack, letting him checkmate me twice. As we left, he took my hand and pulled me closer. Lying in his bed before falling asleep, I felt guilty about the chess games. They were like fake orgasms, untruthful actions, giving the man an exaggerated view of his talents. But these games didn’t hide sexual dissatisfaction. They hid my intelligence, turning me into someone he would feel a need to protect.

He often cooked for us in the kitchen he had remodeled himself, despite a career in data analytics, not construction. The walls of my kitchen were still marked with the rough outlines of the cabinetry my ex had wrested off years earlier in his aborted attempt at an upgrade. Sitting with a glass of wine, admiring my new guy’s cooking and handiwork, I was tempted to minimize the implications of his beliefs on gender roles.

I pondered him being in charge of the money. Unlike my ex, he was frugal, believing a car was for transportation, not luxury. His home was outfitted with charming furniture he had made himself. But he wasn’t cheap when it came to me. He paid when we ate out. I never even offered, in part because I knew doing so would displease him, but also because I relished feeling cared for. He was fiscally responsible, generous, and trustworthy.

So I told myself there was nothing wrong with a man being in charge of the money, as long as he made good decisions. At the same time, I found myself becoming guarded around my new guy, evading his questions and hiding things I thought he wouldn’t like. When he asked if I ever went to church, I said no, but failed to mention I was Jewish. I never lied about my career, though I didn’t tell him the whole truth either. He knew I was an actuary, but not that I was a partner at the firm.

Despite my evasiveness, I knew what I loved about him. A few years earlier, a dog had attacked his son. He fought off the dog, but his son was left with stitches and difficulty sleeping. He sued the neighbor who owned the dog, getting a sizeable contribution to his son’s college fund. And the neighbor moved away.

Given the choice between a man who said all the right things about supporting a strong woman and a man who shielded his child from a vicious dog with his bare hands, I chose the latter — not that the two are mutually exclusive. In the end, though, he didn’t choose me.

He was smart enough, first of all, to see through my deceptions, the restraint during chess and the lack of candor about my career. There were other things he may have spotted, too, like the mezuzah on my door frame or the chess strategy books on my shelves.

And I think he must have realized I earned more than he did when he expressed frustration that he hadn’t been able to save for his children’s college costs, I said nothing. And when he asked me about alimony and child support, I answered truthfully — I didn’t receive any.

When I made the mistake of mentioning work, he finally asked enough questions to find my career history online. It was aggressive enough on his part and evasive enough on my part for us both to feel like it was the beginning of the end.

A few hours later, I lay next to him, noticing the swarthiness of his arms against my pale skin. I told him a story about sex with my ex-husband. ‘You initiated?’ he said, mildly incredulous. His other beliefs I had sensed and anticipated, but given our sexual compatibility, I hadn’t expected him to believe a woman shouldn’t initiate sex.

When I next saw him, he was sullen and withdrawn. I mentioned my cabinetry problems as if to say, see, I don’t earn more than you. I can’t even afford a normal kitchen. It was a last ditch effort to turn myself into the person I thought he wanted, and also the person I wanted to be, a woman who needed to be protected, or perhaps, more accurately, a woman who wanted to feel protected, whether she needed it or not. My attempt was half-hearted, though. I knew the endeavor was doomed.

After we had sex, he said he couldn’t stay over, though he had no plans for the morning. The next day, by text, I ended it, which is what he wanted me to do. It seemed like an obvious decision, but I surprised myself by bursting into tears. What he had offered — strength, protection, and generosity — were things I had been looking for without even knowing it. That’s the thing about gender roles. They can meet a need you were afraid to acknowledge, and they can take it all away when you can’t conform.

Eventually, I hired someone for the cabinetry work. It was expensive, but that’s OK. It’s my kitchen, and I’m in charge of the money.”

[MUSIC PLAYING]

anna martin

Thank you so much for reading that, Emily. Did anything in the essay feel familiar or relatable, besides, of course, obvious that we all want a guy who can do woodworking?

emily ratajkowski

[CHUCKLES]:: Yeah, I mean, I think that as much, it was actually interesting to reread the essay after we had just had that conversation, because I take care of so much in my life. I take care of my son. I take care of my home. I take care of my schedule, his schedule, my career. The burden of the finances is on me. And I don’t have a family supporting me financially, or any of that.

And I often think about how much I want to be taken care of. And I experience that with my female friendships in different ways. I have wonderful, wonderful friends who do know when to take care of me and how to take care of me. But how sexy that could be in a romantic relationship is one that I sort of have tucked away, in some ways, because it just feels really hard to imagine somebody who’s more capable than me or who could understand my needs in that way.

anna martin

More from Emily Ratajkowski in just a moment. Stay with us.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

So, Emily, right before the break, you were saying that as someone who handles basically everything in your life and your kid’s life, you could see the appeal of being in a relationship with a guy who takes care of you, in some ways. But what strikes me about this “Modern Love” essay you just read is the author, Susan Forray, paints this kind of extreme picture of that dynamic.

The new guy she’s in love with, he seems like he wants to take care of her, but he insists on doing that in very specific, very stereotypically masculine ways. He pays for things. He builds things. He wants to initiate all the sex. Why do you think this type of masculinity that, honestly, feels pretty retro can still be attractive to women today?

emily ratajkowski

I mean, it’s interesting to me that we associate that kind of caregiving with masculinity because I’ve seen a lot of hetero relationships where it is often the woman who’s taking care of things like that, maybe financially sort of in a quiet way, because we want to have this idea that men pay. So there’s a shared card or something. But I have watched women be, this is how they love, this is how they provide, more than men.

There is a fantasy, of course, tied to it. I mean, my father, back to Rata, he built the house I grew up in. If there’s any kind of thing that’s broken, he fixes it himself. He didn’t cook meals, but he did a lot of the housework. It did feel like there was a more sense of shared responsibility in the home, and I do find that quite attractive in men.

And if you’re not going to be the kind of guy who can clean or cook or provide in the home, then I would like you to pay for it. So but for me, what I loved about this essay, really, was like the admitting of this real tenderness inside of her. She wants to be tended to. And this feels maybe embarrassing for a divorced mom because you’re like, I’m not allowed to want to be taken care of.

anna martin

Can you speak more to that? Sort of — I don’t know — that need for care, but also the feeling of like embarrassment around that need for care?

emily ratajkowski

Yeah, it’s a strange thing because I do think that the people who are attracted to me are attracted to me because I’m so good at taking care of myself. But then I almost feel like that’s sort of what I have to continue to give, is this big person who’s just incredibly capable and never has any desires or needs.

I think that was a mistake I definitely have made in past relationships, particularly in my 20s, where I sort of was like, I’ve got it all, and then this tender part of me would emerge, as, of course, it’s bound to. It would feel shameful and it would feel embarrassing, particularly if I had to be explicit about asking for care or love. And I certainly don’t want that in my next relationship, and hopefully, having a partner who can intuit my desire to be loved and cared for.

anna martin

Yeah, I mean, what you’re kind of unraveling here is a type of conundrum that I felt myself before. It’s like I feel generally secure, financially and emotionally at this stage of my life, and I’m so proud of that. But at the same time, it makes it super hard to ask for help.

emily ratajkowski

Yeah, even like emotionally, it’s actually — it’s great that you bring that up because I do feel incredibly secure emotionally as well, right? My days are full, my nights are full. I don’t — you know, whatever. But then, of course, I would love for somebody, if they were the right person and they made my life better, to come in and provide romance and support and all those things.

anna martin

In the essay, Susan Forray seems to be having a really similar conflict. It’s like she’s so hungry for an opportunity to be taken care of for a change, but then she’s kind of surprised, and honestly, ashamed for feeling that way, for having that need. She’s worried that in letting herself be taken care of along these very traditional gender lines, she’s playing into stereotypes or maybe even reinforcing them. Have you ever experienced something like that?

emily ratajkowski

Yeah, it was actually, as I was reading it, I was thinking about a past boyfriend who, if anybody would ever approach me and ask for a picture, his whole kind of philosophy was like, she can handle herself because I’m a feminist, and I would never want to step in because that would be somehow disrespectful to her.

And what happened to me was the attraction that came for another man happened when he stepped in —

anna martin

Huh.

emily ratajkowski

— when someone was asking for a picture and touching my waist. And he said, no touching, which my ex-boyfriend would have probably been like, that’s vaguely sexist, which I think it might be, actually. But there was something very attractive about it. There was something that felt protective and like care.

anna martin

Yeah, when I hear this essay, I think about my boyfriend. And we’re very independent and I, too, pay for things on my own. But at the same time, I’m like, if he offered to pay for every dinner moving forward, I would say yes, which is so — well, maybe not every dinner, but most of them, I really would. I want that. But for all the reasons we’ve been talking about, I also feel like I’m not supposed to want that.

emily ratajkowski

I mean, I’ve gone on a couple of dates with guys who they’ll pay for dinner, and then they’ll tell me a story of like, I went on a date once, and this woman told me she would have never seen me again if I hadn’t paid, thinking like, I’m going to be like, oh, that’s crazy, you know? And it’s like, well, yeah.

Listen, I love the TikToks and the Gen Z approach to this, which is like women put in all this effort, they do all the emotional labor, and they often do the coordinating. And then they’re expected to split the bill? It’s not fair.

anna martin

I’ve also seen on TikTok these, sort of big scare quotes here, “dating experts” talking about leaning into the divine feminine and attracting a guy who will pay for everything. And that, to me, feels so scary because it’s becoming like a transactional thing. Like, OK, if I’m sexy enough and traditionally feminine enough, I’ll deserve to be paid for? What do you think about that?

emily ratajkowski

I think we should just blow up gender norms in general. I mean, separately from whatever conversation around gender, you should always make sure that you’re taking care of yourself first. Always make sure you have an exit plan. Because if something was to happen, which it might, and you find yourself unhappy, if you don’t have the means, you don’t have the resources, and there are just — talk about coordinating — details that are hard to figure out, it’s going to be that much harder to leave.

And I think that that’s one of the things I learned in this process. As somebody who really did have my life set up, it was still really, really difficult. So to not have to worry about some of those parts of the leaving, it can be really a lifesaver. I think this is good for a relationship to have that sort of independence and that ability to grow as a person.

Making sure you have your own friends, making sure you have your own relationships and connections and things that you care about, that is really valuable, separately from if you ever plan on leaving or not. It will actually probably make your relationship better.

anna martin

Mm. You said in a previous interview before your son was born that you were sort of scared to have a boy because of the gender stereotypes associated with being a man. And I feel like that’s very related to the essay and what we’ve been talking about. As you’re raising your son, are you thinking about how he’ll be as a partner to someone? And how does that impact your parenting choices with him?

emily ratajkowski

Well, I mean, he has responsibilities in our house.

anna martin

Mm, like cleaning up all those toys?

emily ratajkowski

I mean, that’s real. We clean them up together. And no, I’m not thinking about how he’ll be as a partner, but I am thinking about how he’ll be in the world, and thinking about community, thinking about accountability, responsibility, empathy. Those are all things that I really think about a lot with him. I want him to be the kind of person who considers other people.

And whether or not you associate that with femininity or masculinity, I would say that in traditional gender roles, people who think more about community tend to be women, or we associate them with women. And it is quite interesting to watch the way that gender is imposed upon little kids. And I try to balance that out as much as I can in our home.

And I always make a point to tell him why I’m asking him to do things. Or even before he was really verbal, I always overcommunicated everything so that he knows that I’m a reliable source. And I think that sort of respect that I show him hopefully mirrors back to everyone.

anna martin

Emily, thank you so much for the conversation today.

emily ratajkowski

Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this, and I’m a huge fan of “Modern Love” and have been for a very long time.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

anna martin

Next week, I talk with advice columnist and author John Paul Brammer. He approaches his “New York Magazine” column “Hola Papi” with tenderness and a very healthy measure of sass. It’s a style he most likely picked up from his grandma.

john paul brammer

I tried to come out a couple times to my abuela, but one time, I said, “I think I’m gay.” And she turned to me and she was like, “You know, mijo, Rachel Maddow is a handsome woman.”

anna martin

What a response! [LAUGHS]

Next week, in honor of Mother’s Day, John Paul reflects on how intimacy with the most important people in our lives sometimes shows up in unexpected ways.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

“Modern Love” is produced by Julia Botero, Christina Djossa, Reva Goldberg, Davis Land, and Emily Lang. It’s edited by our executive producer, Jen Poyant, Reva Goldberg, Larissa Anderson, and Davis Land. Fact-checking by Caitlin Love. The “Modern Love” theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music by Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, Roman Niemisto, and Diane Wong.

This episode was mixed by Daniel Ramirez. Our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello and Nick Pitman. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. The “Modern Love” column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of “Modern Love” projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.



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