21. January 2006 · Comments Off on Mawwidge, That Bwessid Awangement · Categories: Domestic, General

Well, yes it is, mostly, for a lot of my friends, my sister and brothers, and most notably my parents. I have always had a deep and abiding respect for the institution, especially other peoples’… especially the marriage of the sort of man who would sidle up to me at the NCO club of a Saturday, and eventually say something like “I am married… but my wife doesn’t understand me. “ To which my usual response was “Oh, I am so sorry, have you ever considered marriage counseling? Why don’t you introduce me to her, I can suggest it.” Those fortunate individuals with a solidly good marriage can count themselves as, well, “bwessid, in that dweam wivin a dweam”, and the not so fortunate rest of us are usually thought to be wistfully pressing our noses against the pure crystal windows of the Castile of Marital Bliss, longing for admission. For the last couple of months no less a person than Maureen Dowd has been publicly and tediously bewailing her single estate and the long string of elgible men left under-whelmed by her “mature” * attractions. Columnist Nora Vincent has even gone undercover as a self-made man, and emerged lamenting the treatment of the average Joe by predatory females of our species; All in all there is a good rousing kerfuffle going on, with much breast-beating about essentially, a “marriage strike”. It appears that modern men (or women, depending) can get all the economic and material advantages (not to mention sex and/or companionship) which used to accrue to the married state, without all the risks and drawbacks… so, ummm… why bother to buy that set of gold rings and schedule that hasty trip to the courthouse? goes the reasoning.

Everyone has their favorite cause for this lamentable state of affairs, marital or otherwise: the major re-thinking of sexual relations over the last thirty years, no-fault divorce law, an unfortunate enthusiasm for man-bashing, and the perennial favorite of good old capital-F, unreconstructed, frothing at the mouth Feminism. Frankly, capital-F Feminism can take it’s justly deserved lumps; too many women took it as an excuse to be a nickel-planted bitch on wheels— just as there were too many men who thought that their untrammeled masculinity gave them the right to be a Prick from Hell. Really, it was a pity that those two types just couldn’t have married each other. That way, they’d have made on average only two people unhappy, instead of traumatizing two more relatively innocent bystanders.

I would like to speak in a small, still voice in defense of small “f” feminism, that form dedicated to the proposition that a woman is due the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship, equal opportunities for education, employment, and advancement on merits, and nothing more. Anything over that is quibbling over fine print. Adults ought to be able to work out for themselves who should do the housework, cook the meals and care for children. The rest of us aren’t really interested in the details. Not only is the personal not political, it is also dead boring.

I am just old enough to recall pretty accurately, what it used to be like, when marrying was— except for the religiously devout, the openly gay, or those single-mindedly devoted to a demanding career— almost obligatory. As a teenager, I wouldn’t have minded, particularly. My parents and just about all their friends were married, most of them happily, although were had been a fair amount of divorce and remarrying, but there was something a little grim, a little creepy, about the whole prospect of moving in lockstep with ones’ female peers toward the altar, the whole white veil and being registered at Bullocks’ and a little tract house in the Valley, and then what? Besides, I didn’t seem to have a knack for romance, being earnest and brainy and competitive. I had (and would have) lots of male friends, but very few inclined to pitch serious woo in my direction. So it was a distinct relief to be able to run away and have adventures, to have wider options and more choices than my mother and grandmothers had. I will confine myself on this occasion to pointing how it was then, and is now, and leave the vociferous discussion over whether this was in general a good thing or a bad thing to another time or another blog. Having choices worked for me, in a mixed but generally favorable way.

I did expect that I would eventually be married, though, but until quite late in the game I didn’t have a strong inclination towards any suitor in particular, but he, unfortunately, turned out to be a disaster that took a while to recover from. Even after that, I did expect in a vague sort of “someday” way, to be married. There were all sorts of things that I had always put off by telling myself that it was something that I would do “when I got married”, things that I would do as part of a couple: buy property, nice china, good furniture, look at a house, make long-term life plans. One morning when Blondie was about four years old I woke up realizing that I couldn’t live my life predicated on something that might or might not happen. It was a revelation, actually. I went out and ordered a set of fine bone china from the AAFES catalogue that very day.

Over the next ten years, I was too busy with the military career, and raising Blondie, and developed a sneaking suspicion that the spunky, independent single mother with a cute and appealing kid usually only found the perfect Mr. Darcy in the movies… and I was too busy to care very much about being 30 and single, and then 40 and single. Frankly, I was always being told I should care very much about this, but I just didn’t… not when I looked around at the dating pool. (I won’t get into the over-forties who have never married, or been in a long-term relationship, but there is usually a very good reason for this. You can usually figure it out by the first date.) While I might have bungled my chances on the Jane-Austin style wedding market (such as existed on overseas military bases!) at least I wasn’t one of the bitter-divorce walking wounded. Here am I, a generally happy, uncomplicated person, uninterested in opening old wounds, listening to a guy bitching about his ex, and thinking, say, guy, you got custody of the kids, a break on alimony, haven’t even seen her for sixteen years, and you still feel obliged to be disparaging about her every ten minutes or so? Don’t even get me started on the serial divorce survivors; anyone can make a mistake about one prospective life partner when they are young and dumb and in their twenties, but two or three of them? Maybe serial divorce is natures’ way of telling you that either you have rotten judgment of people, or just don’t have the temperament to live with another human being. You might be just better off sleeping with them and getting a dog for companionship. And it’s not as if the other single women my age weren’t any improvement, what with one-upping each other as to how awful their exes had been.
“My ex-husband used to beat me!
“Well, mine beat me, and the kids!”
“Mine beat me, the kids and the dog!”
I could only handle so much of this. I took refuge with my normal, un-bitter, happily married friends, all well-adjusted couples— I was usually as good a friend with the husband as I was the wife— and decided that I would just wait a couple of decades and hook up with a nice, well-adjusted widower, who would never have a single disparaging thing to say about his spouse. (Which I did, eventually, although it did not take as long as I thought.)
Looking over my own adventures in near-matrimony, and those of my friends, I wonder if it is not so much the fact that we had choices… but that some of them are now unhappy with the choices that they made, or drifted into. You can never, after all, know how happy or unhappy you would have been, with making another choice, or following obediently into that one available option. Choices can’t be unmade, at this late date— the best one can do is to be as happy as you can, in the one that you have.

* as always, viciously skeptical quotemarks

Comments closed.