Why is marriage still defining us?

gold-wedding-bandsMy great-aunt rang me today, to tell me that the daughter of a friend of hers was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary.

“Isn’t that marvellous,” gushed Aunty Ruth. “Such a lovely thing in this day and age to see people who are still committed to marriage.

“Heather (her friend) is so proud, she must have done something right raising her daughter to have such a long marriage.”

I spat out my coffee. It was purely reflex.

“What??” I gasped, while I hunted on my kitchen bench for the sponge to wipe up the coffee spits.

Kevin and Janine, the couple in question, fight continuously. I’ve seen them bicker and nag each other silly. Kevin drinks beer all night until he passes out. Janine has trouble adding some vegetables to the dinner plate. Their daughter had her first baby at 16, and followed up with a second one, to a different dad, two days shy of her 18th birthday. They all live with them. Kevin has lost his license twice for DUI. Janine’s internet shopping habit means their credit card bill tops $20,000. I’ve never seen them say a nice word about the other one. Janine is desperately unhappy, and desperately unfulfilled, but it seems none of that matters, as long as you can boast a long-term marriage.

I was single for a very long time between marriages. My first one, to Jade’s dad, ended in 1996 and I didn’t remarry till late in 2011. You’ve got an iPhone, you do the maths.

In those intervening years, I bought property, secured job promotions, travelled overseas, started this blog, hosted dinner parties, put my daughter through private school, did part-time study, volunteered in aged care, guided my daughter around her teenage years, and loved and supported and expanded my network of friends.

But as a single woman, when I was chatting with friends of my parents or really anyone I hadn’t seen for a while, the first question was always, “Are you seeing anyone?” closely followed by “Is marriage on the cards at some point?”

No one was interested that my latest blog post had more than 1000 readers, or that I was just back from skylarking in Italy or New York. Eyes looked a bit blank when I told them I was working on a high profile project with the Premier or Jade had been made Music Captain at school.

There was a murmur and perhaps a faint, “Oh that’s nice dear” and we got straight back onto the subject of boys and marriage, ergo success.

“Your mum says you’re seeing someone, is that right? Any chance he might pop the question soon?”

“Ha ha, no there’s no chance, because it turns out that he has an anger management problem, probably because his sister tells me he has Asperger syndrome that is untreated, and I don’t feel too safe in that relationship, so I ended it.”

“Oh dear, that’s a pity, I mean, you know what these men are like. They always think they’re right and they hate being criticised. Would it just be easier to agree with this bloke, and then he might not be so angry? Then you can get married.”

I wish I was kidding. I am so sorry I’m not kidding.

So apparently it is ok to stay with a cranky pants man who has an untreated mental health issue, just so I can say I’m married.

Meaning marriage isn’t meant to equal happiness.

The last time I looked at the calendar, which was probably this morning, it was 2016. Not 1952. But there you go.

My daughter will be 25 a bit later this year. In her short time since she left school, she has been to uni, left home to live with friends, travelled to Kenya, lived and worked and supported herself in the UK for two years, backpacked for months throughout Europe, worked for the government, played with elephants in Thailand, and has just returned from a year in South Africa working for an humanitarian organisation. Her next project is in the hospitality industry and she’s full steam ahead with these plans.

My daughter is without question the most phenomenal human being I know.

Yet, the constant question I get is, “Is Jade thinking of settling down yet?” Not, “Wow, your daughter is amazing, look at her travels, oh the wonderful things she is doing!”

What if, just what if, Jade chooses to spend her life in service to others, helping out those less fortunate than herself, and never ever ends up getting married? And what if she receives accolades for her tireless humanitarian efforts and has the deep satisfaction of knowing how much she has contributed to humanity? Having said that, there’s every chance she will marry and be a mum herself, but I hope and pray it will be entirely on her own terms and in her own timeframe.

I think it is also hard for women coming out of a divorce. There’s no dignified way to go about it. Because suddenly you have to put “Ms” when filling out a form. And the whole world and everyone on Facebook sees you change your name from his back to your maiden name. Yet the blokes are still called Mr and their surname remains the same. Their professional careers and their personal reputations can remain unchanged if they wish.

That’s why I didn’t bother changing my name when my first marriage ended. It was a lot simpler (I still ticked the Mrs box just for a lark) and a lot less paperwork, to keep his name, plus I really liked that name. It suited me. My first husband would have preferred I didn’t use “his” name (I think his words were along the lines of “give me back my name”) so there is a teeny tiny chance I also kept it to annoy him. Oh, that stung…

Why are single women called spinsters, and old crones, and barren? Unglamorous and unsexy. Yet some of the most remarkable women I know are not married, have never been married, and to be honest, I think they’re a lot happier than the married ones.

Case in point: My gorgeous friend Edwina. Nearly 50 years old, very senior position in her company, an absolute ace at her job, and one of the most loyal friends a girl could ask for. Travels overseas twice a year, and has get-aways down the coast often. Owns her home, has money in the bank, is independent, considerate and confident. She’s a dedicated auntie to her tribe of nieces and her family’s well-being is never far from her mind. About five years ago, after 10 too many wines, I asked Edwina if she wished she’d got married at some point. I can still hear her laughter echoing in my memory, followed by a robust, “Are you fucking kidding?”

Versus another friend Hillary. She’s also turning 50 in a few years, and married to a pig. He questions every decision she makes, even if he agrees with her, because he loves to see her become confused. Yep he’s a pig. Every dress she puts on, he says, “Oh, is that what you’re wearing?” and not in a good way. If she tells her sons no, he says yes. He loves it when she makes a mistake, because he gets to gleefully tell all their friends about it. And because her husband is the main breadwinner, she feels she needs to put up with this.

I don’t think it’s a lack of love that makes unhappy marriages. I think it’s a lack of friendship. I have seen married people speak more politely and generously to their friends than their spouse. Look at cooking juggernaut, My Kitchen Rules, as a case in point. This is my favourite reality television show. And over seven seasons, I’ve watched friends who teamed up remain courteous and supportive while the spouses were either haranguing (“hurry up, hurry up”) or flat out being horrible.

Maybe we feel that, because it’s our spouse, we don’t need to edit our words or actions as perhaps we would with a best friend. What if we wanted as much success, happiness and glory for our spouses as we do for our friends, or indeed our kids? Is it the familiarity that sucks out the friendship? After the hot nasty sex dies a little, what is our sustainable base?

This quote is from a book called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer.

For me, it sums up an ideal of marriage…

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

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Comments

  1. Anjanette says:

    Beautifully written and oh, so true. They don’t ask me any more if I have a significant other in my life. Well done Bron x

  2. I relate to this so much that my head is sore from nodding!!! Love you Bron for posting this! xxx

  3. Kaye Chapman says:

    Great sentiments Bron! I know where you’re from! Took me third time to get it right! And at 60 to boot! ps. Tell Jade she’s doing a amazingly!!

    • My dear Kaye, thank you for your comment, means the world, hope I can “pop down” to see you sometime. Jade is totaly awesome xox

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