Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thoughts on Marriage, Feminism, Ambivalence, Hopin', Wishin', and using "Dusty Springfield" as a Verb.

A colleague loudly asked me at a staff meeting, "So, did y'all get engaged on vacation?" 

Cue a long, painful silence while my boss and colleagues stare at me.

When I said no, another person interjected, "Wait, what? You two didn't get engaged?" All eyes were on me, and I felt so embarrassed, as if coming back from Curaçao un-affianced meant that something was wrong with me. After the meeting, I pondered my reaction. Why should that question make me feel so uncomfortable?
The Bride Game, circa 1971. Object of the game: Collect a matching set of bridal gear,
and walk down the aisle before all the other girls. I'm throwing up in my mouth a little.
I mean, women don't need to marry anymore to be happy. We can earn our own money, travel, earn advanced degrees, buy property, and have exciting careers and fulfilling friendships, no husband required. When we do meet a man we like, we can make the first move, if we feel like it. And if it turns into a relationship, we can expect an equal partnership. And that's the problem. 

Wait, what? Just keep reading! We establish these awesome relationships where we can state our needs, we have space to pursue our own goals, we function as equal partners, and everything is great... until it's so great that we want to get married. Because at that point, the dynamic shifts.

I don't want to name names, but women are talking, okay? And these conversations indicate that everyone wants the guy to propose. We want to follow that Disney movie narrative, and we don't talk about why we want it. We just want it, okay?

So we have to wait for it to happen. After all that egalitarian awesomeness, we suddenly go all Dusty Springfield. You know, "Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'..." and not acting like our usual selves. *barf*

So we're Dusty Springfield-ing, and it feels wrong and unnatural because normally we can speak and act for ourselves. When we want something, we usually go out, work hard, and get it. In my case, I wanted certain things, and I worked hard, sacrificed a few less-important things, and made careful choices:

A superlative class ranking? Check. 
A graduate degree? Check.
A job in my field that I like? Check. 
A (subjectively) tasteful home? Check.

But this situation doesn't work that way. When women have to wait for men to make things happen, it's uncomfortable because we're not used to that. I think a lot of the marriage-related anxiety that women experience isn't really about marriage; it's about being in a situation where we don't feel like we have control over a very important part of our lives.

I'm just sayin'.


  1. I hate to say it but I think a lot of it simply comes down to cultural programming. For thousands of years women have been defined only by their roles of wives and mothers. While thankfully that dynamic has changed - it's still new. We are still taught that the end all be all goal is a wedding, husband, and 2.5 kids with the house complete with the picket fence. Sadly I've even been guilty of this style of behavior. One day, a few years ago, without even thinking about it I asked a neighbor of mine which I hadn't seen for awhile if she'd found a boyfriend yet. I immediately apologized to her and felt like a total jerk. Because it's not like I would see her as any less of a person, it was simply automatic for some reason to ask. Which is why in part I believe it's a cultural construct. As for the pressure others put on you concerning why you aren't married yet - I know how you feel. I've worked really hard to have my own life, home, car, etc. I don't feel like I have to have a guy around or a husband to complete me. While I admit if it wasn't for the guy I'm with now it would have come slower but it would have happened with or without him. Everyone wants to know when we are getting married because we've been together for five years and I think on some level it makes people nervous. The thing is I don't even really want to get married, I'm happy with the way things are. But we probably will simply because if something happens to one of us and we aren't married they aren't going to recognize our relationship unless we have the paperwork to prove it. I hope one day this will change, but change like this comes slow - but it will come.

    1. Cultural programming is definitely a part of the reason people want to get married (that's why I included a picture of that hilariously board game, CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT?!).

      I guess I'm more interested in the cultural programming that makes women want to receive a proposal rather than propose themselves, and why no one seems interested in subverting that tradition. Because feeling like you have to sit there, look pretty, and wait (and wait, and wait) is a sucky tradition!

  2. It's the cultural programming that makes women want to wait for the man to propose just as much as wanting a fancy white dress and all the trimmings for a wedding. Men, I would wager, are victims of this as well. I would wager if you asked your male friends (even those with serious partnerships), they would be uncomfortable with the woman proposing. Certainly not all of them, but it would exist.

    1. I think you're right that it would make most men uncomfortable. The few men I've asked have said that the wedding is a bride's day, but the proposal is "their" event that they get to plan and shape to be whatever they want. I'd never thought of it that way, and those comments opened my eyes!

  3. This is a good post, Jen! I know that my thoughts on the subject have changed dramatically since my first marriage started and ended. I know I will find and build partnership in the future. I'll find no hesitation in saying, "Baby, lets have a party and file our taxes together, I love you."

    1. Thank you! You'll definitely build something new someday, and I like that you're willing to do the asking when the time comes. I wish more women would, so it would become a common thing and everyone could just BE NORMAL.

      And so more parties would happen. Damn, I love a good party!

  4. Hey Jen! I'm sorry your coworkers made you feel that way. I can never understand why people put so much pressure on others to get married.


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