The Special Hell Of Being A "Starter Wife"


At their wedding, the husband told his wife, “I am the alpha in this relationship,” later repeating, “If you were my employee, I would fire you.” Now he’s a multimillionaire, and she’s writing tell-alls about their divorce.

This happened first in The Times Of London, and on her blog, and now, complete with glamorous photos, in Marie Claire, where Justine Musk, a novelist, writes about her painful, lengthy divorce proceedings with Elon Musk, who founded PayPal among other entrepreneurial projects. Whether or not rich people’s divorces are inherently more painful, the fact that they are often lived in the public eye is rarely shared by the common folk.

Justine, who starting dating Musk when they were in college, describes feeling “insignificant” and longing for emotional intimacy amid her husband’s cold obsession with work. When they lost an infant, she says, he refused to grieve, and accused her of being “emotionally manipulative” when he did. Her wakeup call came, she writes, in 2008:

I barely recognized myself. I had turned into a trophy wife – and I sucked at it. I wasn’t detail-oriented enough to maintain a perfect house or be a perfect hostess. I could no longer hide my boredom when the men talked and the women smiled and listened. I wasn’t interested in Botox or makeup or reducing the appearance of the scars from my C-sections. And no matter how many highlights I got, Elon pushed me to be blonder. “Go platinum,” he kept saying, and I kept refusing.

Justine notes that the woman to whom Musk is now engaged, Talulah Riley (with whom he is pictured above), started out as a brunette and has now gone platinum.

Her open discussions of the marriage and divorce elicited this chilly response from Musk in The Huffington Post entitled, “Correcting The Record About My Divorce.” His version of events is rather different, obviously. Let’s compare.

Her version: He wasn’t really her type as a young college student, but he pursued her and she eventually came around. When he got rich, “I made uneasy jokes that he was about to dump me for a supermodel. Instead, he proposed, getting down on bended knee on a street corner.”

His version:

In mid 1999, Justine told me that if I proposed to her, she would say yes. Since this was not long after the sale of my first company, Zip2, to Compaq, and the subsequent cofounding of PayPal, friends and family advised me to separate whether the marriage was for love or money.

How gracious of him to agree to propose to her! Fast forward to their wedding, and Justine writes,

Elon told me we had an appointment with a lawyer who was going to help us with a ‘financial agreement’ that the board of his new company wanted us to sign…What I didn’t understand at the time was that Elon was actually ushering me into a period of ‘mediation,’ which, I now know, means anything done or spoken is confidential and cannot be used in a court of law. But I had no time to research mediation, or learn that it rarely serves the interest of the less powerful person in the relationship.

His version:

According to the marital agreement, Justine would receive approximately $20 million dollars after tax, half in the form of the house and half in support payments. Prior to the divorce trial that she lost in early May, I had offered her more than double that number as a settlement, which is roughly equivalent to a pre tax income of $80 million. I also said that if there was any worthy cause that she felt deserved attention, I would be happy to give to them in her name. Justine said no to this offer and continued to insist on receiving ownership in Tesla and SpaceX.

He now has to pay her legal fees for their numerous court battles (thanks to California law) — so far, about $4 million, and in addition to household and child-related expenses, gives her $20,000 monthly for “clothing, shoes and other discretionary items.”

Justine’s version:

Six weeks [after filing for divorce], he texted me to say he was engaged to a gorgeous British actress in her early 20s who had moved to Los Angeles to be with him.

Elon’s, after it was said in passing in a New York Times article that he “ran off with an actress”:

The fact of the matter is that Talulah and I lived on opposite sides of the world and hadn’t even known of each other’s existence before the marriage with Justine ended.
It is worth mentioning that Talulah, as anyone who knows her would attest, is one of the most kind hearted and gentle people in the world. The cliché that has been propagated, of me abandoning a devoted wife to “run off” with a young actress, could not have been more falsely applied.

The only silver lining her is that, according to Justine’s Marie Claire piece, she and Riley are civil to each other.

I Was a Starter Wife”: Inside America’s Messiest Divorce [Marie Claire]
Correcting The Record About My Divorce [Huff Post]

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