Helena Walker is seeking a man who will support his wife no matter what and not feel threatened by her success. "I am looking for my Marty," she says, "but am not in a rush."
Marty was the husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Walker, a 41-year-old veterans law judge in Washington, was among the throngs who visited the U.S. Supreme Court on a recent Monday afternoon to honor the justice after her death.
Ginsburg is admired for her legal achievements, especially toward ensuring gender equality, and her 56-year marriage put that theory into practice. Ruth and Marty, who died in 2010, both worked outside the home decades before that became the norm. They split child care and other domestic duties; she moved for his career and he moved for hers. And long before "sapiosexual" became a buzzword in online dating profiles, Ginsburg emphasized that Marty was "the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain." This pair forged in the 1950s reflects relationship goals for many singles and couples today.
Nearly 70 years after the Ginsburgs met on a blind date at Cornell University, Walker is looking for their kind of love -- where a woman's high-powered career is an asset, not a deterrent. "I think about how difficult it is to have a divergent power aspect in a relationship," Walker says, adding that her success as a judge is often attractive to men at first, but "then they get super-intimidated or jealous." Many potential partners have told her, "I'm not worthy of you," which she finds dispiriting. "I'm not going to shrink to anybody," she says. "I'm not going to step down. They can step up."
Stephanie Hunt, a 46-year-old mother who was visiting the Supreme Court with her 8-year-old daughter, has been particularly inspired by how Marty appeared to push Ruth in a healthy way. "She was shy, and he helped her become who she was," Hunt says.
The Ginsburgs moved to New York for Marty to take a job at a law firm and later to Washington for Ruth's appointment as an appellate judge. Hunt and her husband are making similar adjustments during the pandemic. In September, Hunt's husband was working full speed and she was going part time to help their two children with their homeschooling. This month, they'll switch. It wasn't an easy decision, Hunt says, but it felt like the right choice.
Just a few feet away, in front of the dozens of cards, chalk messages and bouquets honoring the justice, a couple is on a walk with their dog and 7-month-old son. Priya Madrecki, a 31-year-old mother who's working full time and in graduate school part time, is trying to juggle all of the things Ginsburg did as a young mother: work, education, a young family. One of the things Madrecki finds inspiring about Ginsburg is that, in her private life, she embraced "the values and goals and aspirations that she had for our country." Like the Ginsburgs, Priya and her husband, Tom, see raising their child as a joint project -- not more her responsibility than his. "That type of attitude needs to be present for men and women to succeed," Madrecki adds.
Ginsburg was especially attuned to young love. Edith Roberts, one of Ginsburg's former clerks who met her now-husband while they were both working for the justice, wrote in The Washington Post recently that Ginsburg was "one of the purest romantics" she has ever known, "deploying her eagle eye for detail to spot love affairs blossoming around her."
Margo Schlanger, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, wrote in Time magazine that she and her husband clerked for Ginsburg at different times but that the connection brought them together. "She and her husband, Marty, demonstrated the joys of a marriage of professional and personal equals," Schlanger wrote, and she and her husband "count ourselves beyond fortunate to have had the model of the Ginsburgs' marriage as we created our own."
Ginsburg was the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex couple's marriage and was part of the court's 2015 ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. She performed the nuptials of many other couples, including a professional opera singer, Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell, and a family friend Aug. 30.
On Ruth and Marty's wedding day, Marty's mother took Ruth aside to give her a small gift (wax earplugs) and some marriage advice: "In every good marriage, it pays sometimes to be a little deaf." Ginsburg has passed this wisdom on to others.
"I really feel like it's been the cornerstone of our marriage," says Aimee Christian, a 47-year-old mother of two in New York, who doles that advice out to her friends, too. First off, Christian says, it helps her to "be a little deaf" because her husband is a musician and "makes tons of noise."
But the phrase also reminds her to pay less attention to her husband's initial reply to her suggesting tasks he might not want to do (such as grocery shopping, cleaning, assembling Ikea furniture) and wait until he comes around to yes. "Because we live together with our kids, we're the first person to bounce an idea off each other," Christian says. "I've learned to tune out the first response."