Living each day much muchier
This blog post is on behalf of unmarried women everywhere and men who don’t understand what the big deal is.
The romantic gestures of engagement and marriage are dying in our society. Perspectives on it bounce around feminist rejection, practical living, empowerment, defensiveness, romantic injury and yearning.
So, here is my thinking on the matter. Writing it has helped me clarify my position and I hope it helps others to understand why it’s so (un)important.
Rites of passage are a big deal. All societies have them. They provide way markers in life from child to adult to wise elder. Our society is breaking them all down. Shared rites are out. Individuals paths are in. This is freeing, but it’s also confusing because we don’t know when we’ve made it. We never make it. We keep trying. #adultingishard right?
Engagement and marriage are caught up in this trend. They’re slowly becoming more unpopular, while still being expected rites of passage that mark people’s progress through life.
Women can do all sorts of things, thanks to feminism. We can earn, pay, buy, own, invest, travel and even have children without the presence of men. ‘Unmarried’ is a positive thing in your twenties, but once you get to mid thirties, the social narrative changes. There are very few positive models of powerful, never-settled women of age who aren’t looked down on in some way or assumed to be pining for a partner.
Marriage signifies the start of a the next phase of life. As time goes on, women start to feel stuck. We outgrow our formative, unmarried phase and we’re are conditioned by society to expect marriage as a validating rite of adulthood. Even if we logically reject this, we are still frustratingly tied to a yearning for it. All our incredible achievements in our thirties and beyond end up becoming a productive way to bide time while we wait for a ring and a dress that invites us to the next phase. It’s flawed. It’s stupid. But there it is.
Men find this difficult to understand. Marriage is not something they feel overly pressured to achieve or like their long term worth in society depends on it. They’re conditioned to look at marriage as being tied down, responsible, and family focused. That’s a good thing, y’know, eventually. Why would you propose until you’re good and ready? Luck in love aside, men hold the privilege of ushering in this next stage. If they don’t feel ready, for whatever reason, then it has to wait. Marriage is a practical decision with romantic benefits. It’s not a reflection of how they feel or their level of commitment. It’s not about finding ‘the ultimate one’ it’s about finding ‘a good one whom I love, when it’s the right time’.
Women who hope for a proposal when it’s not good timing just look insecure and risky. Men get it wrong sometimes. They can and do miss their windows of opportunity when a woman’s patience runs out, but understanding this goes a long way to explaining the mystery of the man who has no interest in marriage, only to propose (with unreasonable swiftness) to his next girlfriend.
Of course, women can flip that and propose. Some men are cool with that, maybe even relieved. Many are not. It takes a choice away from someone who has been conditioned his whole life to own that decision and its timing and who thinks about it completely differently. If we want men to respect our conditioning, then we ought to be conscious of theirs.
I’ve been married before and I thought I wouldn’t want to do it again. I like to think I know myself pretty well, but I cannot tell which desires belong to me, or to conditioning. It’s a pinball in my brain between arguments on both sides. So, I’ve tried to come to a place of neutrality.
The test is this. If marriage didn’t exist, if it simply wasn’t an option, what would I be doing with my life? Would I spend my days with my lover because I find it enjoyable and fulfilling or would I choose to live differently? Is marriage a social declaration of something otherwise invisible, or something I require to take me to a next phase? The only good reason to marry is the first option. It’s a confirmation of, and commitment to something you’d be doing anyway.
This neutrality is the only way I can coexist with the discomfort. I am not waiting. I am living my life how I want it, whether I marry or not. It strips the rite of its power to define me or my path without taking away the pleasure of celebration.
It’s okay to want something that you’re conditioned to want. Conditioning doesn’t automatically make it a bad thing. It’s a powerful force in our lives that we can never fully get away from. It’s worth being aware of why you want it and imagine what you would be doing if it didn’t exist. That gives an independent blueprint for a life within a marriage, partnership or by ourselves.
“I think each person in a marriage owes it to the other to find individual happiness, even in a shared life. That this is the only way to grow together, instead of apart.”
― Emily Giffin, Heart of the Matter
“Sexiness wears thin after awhile and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that is a treat.”
― Joanne Woodward