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Archive for June, 2010

Well, this is sort of depressing (from a recent article in Newsweek titled “I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage” – emphasis all mine):

“The feminist argument against marriage has long been that it forces women to conform—as Gloria Steinem once put it, marriage is an arrangement “for one and a half people.” No woman we know would date a man who’d force her into the kitchen—and even Steinem eventually got hitched—but we’d be fools to think we’ve completely shed the roles associated with “husband” and “wife.” Men’s contributions to housework and child rearing may have doubled since the 1960s, yet even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two thirds of the housework. (One study even claims that the simple act of getting married creates seven hours more housework for women each week.) In the workplace, meanwhile, women who use their partner’s name are regarded as less intelligent, less competent, less ambitious, and thus less likely to be hired. We may date the most modern men in the world, but we’ve heard enough complaints to worry: if we tie the knot, does life suddenly become a maze of TV dinners, shoes up on the coffee table, and dirty dishes? “The bottom line is that men, not women, are much happier when they’re married,” says Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies marriage and family.

And later in the same article:

“We’ve entered the age of last-minute tickets to Moscow, test-tube children, cross-continental cubicles and encouraged paternity leaves,” write the authors of The Choice Effect, about love in an age of too many options. The result, they say, is “a generation that loves choice and hates choosing.”

Which means that when we do tie the knot, we do it for love. Young people today don’t want their parents’ marriage, says Tara Parker-Pope, the author of For Betterthey want all-encompassing, head-over-heels fulfillment: a best friend, a business partner, somebody to share sex, love, and chores. In other words, a “soulmate”—which is what 94 percent of singles in their 20s describe what they look for in a partner. Yet the idea of a “soulmate” is still a pretty new concept in our romantic history—and one that’s hard to maintain. Measurements of brain activity have shown that 20 years into marriage, 90 percent of couples have lost the passion they originally felt. And while couples who marry for love are less “in love” with each passing year, one study found that those in arranged marriages grow steadily more in love as the years progress—because their expectations, say researchers, are a whole lot lower.”

I’ve thought about and written some about my own reasons for getting married – which are at best vague, hopeful, and naive in the extreme – and I’ve certainly read a lot of articles and books like this, too. Whenever I talk about my marriage in any depth I always frame it as basically a giant leap of faith – you have this little germinating love that you are hoping will grow into a nice, strong, healthy love that can stand the test of time (and all the other tests, too). To me, the only difference between marriage and long-term, committed, monogamy sans-marriage is that you’ve called out your bet. You’ve stood in front of all your friends and family and told everyone that this is gonna work, this is gonna last. You’ve told the state the same thing. You’ve legally bound yourself to another human being. The only difference between marriage and plain old monogamy is basically that you look like more of an ass if it doesn’t work out.

Well, I shouldn’t say that’s the only difference – I have a strong belief that, for many of us, marriage or the state of being married carries with it psychological and emotional implications that are absent in non-married relationships. There are more pressures, there are more stereotypes, there are more standards to meet or exceed or fall far short of – there’s an established blueprint that one feels one is supposed to follow. All these things affect the way we operate in our marriages, as well as the way we view our relationships and how they have changed through marriage.

I, like those described in this article, have grown up expecting a more egalitarian marriage than the ones our parents had before us. When, time and time again, our relationship does not live up to the egalitarian standards I had hoped for, I feel disappointed – in him, in me, in our lack of progress as individuals and as a society overall. Even before we were married, when we were just cohabitating, I fell into many of the typical “wife” roles naturally, more than that I went willingly, happily even, because I so enjoyed that I finally had someone to give these parts of myself to, to do these things for.

Now I guess you could say I’m sick of always giving these things, and rarely being given them – it doesn’t feel like a gift that I give freely anymore, it feels like an expectation he has of me based on the history of our relationship, and based on his own privileged, male point of view. Sometimes I find myself getting mad at Trevor not as Trevor but as some kind of representative for all males, or, rather, I get mad at male privilege and take it out on Trevor when his is showing.

But I guess it makes sense – how do you fight male privilege anyway? It’s got to be on an individual level, in our own daily lives. But fighting it on that level often makes it feel like fighting with your partner, which is something I generally try to avoid. I often feel that being a feminist and trying to fight a lot of these fights in my own day-to-day life often pits me against my husband. Everyone needs a wife, and if neither of us are willing to play that role than how do things get done? Ideally, we would both do an equal amount, and while that sounds lovely to me, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow for someone for whom that will actually make MORE work, not less.

But just as I’m feeling pretty low about the state of marriage as an institution and the inequity of my own, I read the “I Do, Too” piece from the same special section on Newsweek:

“The truth is, neither of us had thought all that much about the question that both the priest and Bennett and Ellison were posing: why marriage? We knew we wanted to “be together,” of course. Forever. We are best friends, partners, yin and yang, and yang and yin. It’s impossible to imagine waking up or falling asleep without Dustin there. But why bother to formalize our relationship if we already know how strongly we feel? Why did I go to elaborate lengths to get down on one knee on a boat somewhere off the shores of Sweden, and why did Dustin choke back the tears to say yes? Why are we stressing about DJs and photographers? Why obsess over a technicality?

After mulling it over for the past few weeks—the wedding, after all, is fast approaching, and a guy should probably banish these questions from his brain before saying “I do”—I think have my answer. Dustin and I are not “getting anything” out of this deal. Or at least we’re not getting what previous generations of men and women were conditioned to expect. I’m not getting a cooking, cleaning, child-rearing machine. She’s not getting a bringer-home of the bacon. I clean. Both of us cook. Sometimes, Dustin earns more money than I do. Sometimes she doesn’t. We both go to work every day. We both have careers. And when we have children, we’ll both take turns staying home to raise them.

In other words, our roles within the relationship are not defined by gender. They’re defined by who we are as people.

And that’s the point. Stripping marriage of all its antiquated ancillary benefits—its grubby socioeconomic justifications—might make it “unnecessary,” strictly speaking. But it also makes it much more … well, romantic. (This logic applies to gay marriage as well.) Dustin doesn’t need marriage for financial security, or to ensure that I help raise our children. I don’t need a housewife. The tax breaks are irrelevant. All we’re “getting” is each other. In a world where the practical reasons for marriage no longer apply, the only reason left is love. And while cohabitation and monogamy are dandy—Dustin and I have practiced both for years—I’d rather express my affection by indulging in a defiant, irrational, outmoded act of pure symbolism than by simply maintaining the status quo. Doing what you don’t have to do is always more meaningful than doing what’s necessary.”

So apparently, the fact that we’re married just makes Trevor and I MORE romantic, if anything. The getting-him-to-clean-the-shower type stuff, we can keep working on. I’m sure he’d like me to work on the getting-her-to-pay-the-cable-bill type stuff, too, so I guess we both have something to work towards. At least we love each other enough to try.

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