Thursday, February 24, 2011

So You're Not Married - Who the F*** Cares?

It's not all that often that I don't blog about pop culture - or mainly, the state of my television screen.  But this morning, I found myself reading through an article written by Tracy McMillan at The Huffington Post, and the responding article from CNN's Jessica Ravitz.  You'll notice that these are two lady writers.  So, naturally, the articles are about - you guessed it! - getting married.

Tracy McMillan's piece is titled "Why You're Not Married," wherein she proceeds to list six reasons: either you're a bitch, you're shallow, you're a slut, you're a liar, you're selfish, or you're not good enough.  What's unfortunate is that she raises a lot of good points about marriage within the article, but she's framed them using these somewhat demeaning accusations and so the message is kind of lost amidst the insults.  

Consequently, Jessica Ravitz responds mostly to these charges, and defends that sometimes women aren't married because life gets in the way - and that's okay.

But I really can't say I fall on either side of this argument, because, ladies, why is the goal to get married anyways?  It's ridiculous.  This is not an issue of why some women just can't seem to snag a man.  This is an issue of the expectations we're placing on ourselves because society has a long-standing history of telling us we only need to get married and have babies to be fulfilled human beings. 

Even if the constant nagging from our parents about giving them grandchildren weren't evidence enough, we have hundreds of movies that seem to tell us that the journey ends with finding True Love.  How many romantic comedies - and dramas - have a female lead who is unhappy, and unfulfilled, until she is able to find the Love of a Good Man?  It doesn't matter if she's got a successful job or a happy social life; the message is that There Is Always Something Missing.  Her character arc is about finding love and being happy.  Onscreen, they go hand-in-hand.

It is true that there are also many movies in which men are subjected to this trope - hell, all of "How I Met Your Mother" is about Ted's search for Mrs. Right (if you'll excuse me for citing a TV show in this particular instance).  But the difference here is that there are so many other types of leading roles for men.  Men can be action heroes, anti-heroes, romantic leads, loveable cads, loveable clowns, conflicted villains, depraved villains, wise-cracking charmers, or world-weary sages.  

But if you are a lady and want to be the lead in a movie, you better damn well be ready for the last scene to involve a significant other and some sort of smooching.  

Should we blame Shakespeare for this?  Comedies end in marriage!  Or should we blame the history of gender roles that have kept a women's sphere limited to her home, husband, and children?  

It's probably best not to blame anything, truthfully.  Because there's nothing really productive about that, and also that would mean that perhaps I'm not married because I'm a bitch and I'm selfish.

But the point I'm trying to make here is that unlike in the movies, marriage is not the last scene.  It shouldn't be a goal to work towards.  It's 100% okay to want to get married, don't get me wrong.  But ideally, shouldn't you want to get married to another person?  A physical, tangible person?  The idea of wanting to get married just for marriage's sake worries me.  It's putting all your eggs in one basket (forgive the pun) and putting your future happiness in the hands of some unknown dude or lady who may or may not be able to live up to the standard.

You know that line in Jerry Maguire?  No, not "show me the money," or "you had me at hello" - although both are ridiculously quotable.  No, I'm talking about "you complete me."  "You complete me" is a lovely storytelling device because it tells your audience they should be rooting for this couple to succeed.  It's simple and straightforward and charming and it works when you've got the narrative all planned out.  

But in real life?  "You complete me" is probably a bad idea.  I had a teacher once who, in response to this, said, "Complete yourself, and find someone else who will complement your completion."  It's seriously one of the best pieces of advice I could have ever received.

Because life is not one long walk down the aisle while you're waiting for someone to stand up at the altar.  Be happy now.  Don't wait for someone to come along and do it for you.  Because chances are they'll tire of trying to make you happy when you won't do it yourself and then you'll be in a spiral of low self-esteem.  It won't be pretty.

I don't mean to diminish the power of love or holy matrimony.  If you're married and you love it, that's great!  It takes a lot of work to be married and I wholly respect anyone - man or woman - who puts forth that effort for the sake of their relationship.  I'm really not trying to knock the wind out of anyone's sails.  

But I do mean to point out that society and the media put way too much needless emphasis on the Ideal of Marriage, to the detriment of many a young lady just trying to find her way in life.  You know what?  Marriage may not fulfill you, and that's okay.  Loving another human being and promising to be with them until last breath is a beautiful thing, and if that makes you happy, that's wonderful.  But it's really not the only option, and truthfully, it's not for everyone.

Contrary to pop culture belief, fulfillment is not just a ring on your finger and a long white dress.  It's not the end of the story.  It'd be nice to get this message out there through the media, frankly, with movies where women can also be action heroes, anti-heroes, romantic leads, loveable cads, loveable clowns, conflicted villains, depraved villains, wise-cracking charmers, or world-weary sages.  But until then, we're weighed down with this misconception about what it takes for a woman to be happy.  

If you're not married, don't fret.  I promise, there's nothing wrong with you.


  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people ask me if I want to get married when I don't even have a boyfriend and can't comprehend being in a situation where I would need to make that decision. Ask me then, and until then, mind your own business - and don't ask me if I want a boyfriend either. (The people who ask these types of questions of course, not you.)
    The point I'm trying to make here is, well said. :)

  2. O thank you. I was considering posting about those articles, because they've been EVERYWHERE lately and I hate them both, and I am glad you did so.

    Of course you know my feelings on the topic. This fixation on marriage, and these two articles particularly, are geared toward upper and middle-class straight white women and as such cut out a sizable chunk of the rest of the populace. Lesbians can't legally marry in most states, immigrant women face obstacles in legally marrying. Shaming ANYONE for their relationship status is bullshit and pointless. These articles confuse me, honestly--they are not couched in any kind of HELPFUL terms, but neither are they edgy. I'd think it was satire if it were better written.

  3. Sarah - I had another teacher try to give me career advice and one of the first questions she asked was, "Do you want to have a husband and kids?" and it completely blindsided me. I don't even take stuff like that into consideration when thinking about my future, and somehow that's Crazy Talk to many people.

    Diana - I read those articles expecting to agree with the CNN one, but honestly I was nodding more to the HuffPo one. They're both completely missing the point, though. And you bring up a good point about ignoring a serious chunk of women in the world's populace.

    It's ridiculous - upwards of 28,000 people shared the HuffPo one on Facebook, and 11,000 recommended it. But they're both pretty crap ways to look at marriage and relationships. Ugh.

  4. PREACH.

    I especially get riled up when I point out to folks how much of our society is connected to marital status along with parental status and home ownership. As an admittedly childless, single renter, I'm astonished at the negatives I live with year after year with regard to the U.S. and state tax codes because of what a government body deems tax deduction-worthy.

    I could go on and on, but I just really wanted to say that I love this post (and your blog in general) and this particular subject hit me very close to home in a lot of ways. Carry on!

  5. Anonymous - Heyo! Thanks for the comment, and keep on being a kickass independent lady! I'm just assuming it's true. :)

  6. Honestly, could you please be the next candidate for USA presidency? Seriously, it amazes me how very perceptive and deep your analysis (anaylisises? sorry, English is not my native language) always are. The world needs more of your kind.

    Societal pressure on this issue is so hard on ALL of us (with the possible exception of gays & lesbians, but I'm guessing we'll get there as well with the normalization of same-sex marriage: since me and my boyfriend have hit the two year mark, I've lost the count of how many people have asked us if/when are we planning to tie the knot ).

    I was saying, social pressure is so hard that the worst thing is, you don't even notice anymore wether the desire to be married is truly yours or just an implanted decission forced upon your subconscious mind by society. Frankly, not too long ago it had never ocurred to me that, as you point out, every cultural element around us, from movies to novels to whatever, presents marriage (or finding a partner) as the ultimate goal in life, and that maybe it WASN'T an universal truth.

    The worst of it all is that sometimes it can be very painful for you when it turns out you don't share what is perceived as a core value with the rest of society. You might feels as if you're basically "wrong" as a person, or that you're being selfish and hurting your family or making them ashamed by stepping out of society and leading exactly the life you truly want to lead. Honestly I face these feeling very often. I consider myself to be a pretty weird person in quite a few respects, and I'm constantly torn between the desire to "fit in" and be like everybody else, and the things I really want to do but that will possibly make me feel isoolated...

    Sorry for the long rant, and once again congratulations on your wonderful blog =)


  7. Ronan - Aw, you're a sweetheart. :) It took me awhile to realize this stuff about society and marriage. My sister got engaged recently, after six years of dating. For years before, people pestered her about getting married, and then when she finally did get engaged, everyone said, "Finally!" A lot of people asked me if I was happy for her, and I felt uncomfortable with the question. It was like they wanted to congratulate her on this huge accomplishment, which felt silly. I'm happy if my sister is happy, not just because she's getting married. I wish people would be able to distinguish the difference. Yes, marriage = happiness, but happiness does not necessarily = marriage.

    Thanks so much for your kind words, and don't worry about conforming to society's expectations. As cheesy as it sounds, the best thing is to be true to who you feel you are. It's always seemed like the best way to have genuine relationships, of all kinds, and to live with as few regrets as possible. And as long as it's not harming others, there's really no wrong way to be. If we could all just get to that place, wouldn't the world be lovely?

  8. Marriage has never equaled happiness nor fulfillment. It can't do that. But I find it curious, and somewhat disheartening, that people continue to denigrate the idea of marriage.

    Marriage is either religiously sanctioned or legally or both. I think its most important in a spiritual sense. And I don't care here what anyone's particular orientation is, my sister is married to woman in a state where we don't have legal lesbian marriages but it is just as real.

    People denigrate the idea of marriage and I think it is a loss to society as a whole. To me marriage is the public announcement that "I am deciding to spend the rest of my life with this person. I am spiritually connected with this person and I am going to weather both horrible and happy times with this person. This person comes first in my life and I come first in their life. I have this person's back Always and they have mine even when we're wrong."

    In our convenient society we have developed the idea that if marriage doesn't work out then we'll just try something else. How sad. Marriage doesn't work out, people work out their differences with each other in the context of marriage. Of course I don't believe in someone staying in an abusive relationship, I think that's unhealthy but a relationship that is going through tough times deserves to be worked on. In our convenient society it is always easier to drop one relationship and start another because it so easy now to find new romantic relationships. Via this 'wonderful' media the internet.

    Please forgive me for being a little off topic, just have some personal issues that needed airing somewhere. I did like your post Dr She Bloggo. I read that article about Why You're Not Married and I thought it was a little over the top and skewed negatively.


  9. Devon - I apologize for this late reply! The definition of marriage you described is beautiful, and I can't disagree with it at all. However, I think problems arise when society puts too much emphasis on marriage being a goal, something that ladies (and men, to a lesser degree) should strive to achieve as a happy end-all be-all.

    To me, that creates an "image" of marriage, an ideal, that many people rush towards headlong without thinking about who they are entering a partnership with. And ironically, I would say that many "dropped" marriages result from this scenario itself.

    It's a difficult situation entirely. I surely don't mean to tell anyone what they should or should not do with their specific relationships, as all have different characteristics and circumstances, but it does indeed seem like the best course is to simply champion the notion that one should want to marry a person because they love them, wholeheartedly, and not because society tells them they should or shouldn't.

    Thanks for the comment, and the insight! Marriage is a tricky topic in our society these days, and if everyone just stuck to the definition you outlined we'd all live in a beautiful world. :)


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