Being married and a young feminist at the same time is a profoundly strange experience. It's been nearly three years with the ol' ball and chain (what is that expression?!) and I still find the expression "husband" weird; (I'm only hitting my late twenties, and I think it sounds far too hilariously serious for the person I spend most of my time texting about puns and dogs). And then there are the cultural assumptions, thick as a blanket, over the idea of "marriage" and "heterosexual partnering" and "weddings" in the first place. Some of them are pretty benign, but some are simply backhanded compliments that come at you in ways that leave you utterly puzzled or burning with anti-sexist outrage.
Let's be clear: I am open 24/7 to compliments about my partner, for the reason that he's sweet as hell and I hold the unbiased opinion that he's the handsomest man in the country. (You should see this f*cker's cheekbones. It's ridiculous.) But compliments about marriage, weddings, and what they mean for our lives together can, well, kind of go badly wrong. Or at least into territory that's fraught with unconscious beliefs about the ideals and purpose of marital bliss.
Here are seven compliments that, frankly, are a bit backhanded when it comes to giving them out to married people, wives in particular. Possibly think better of it if one of these rises to your lips next time.
1. "It must be so nice not to have to try any more."
Anybody who goes into marriage imagining that it's a total lack of effort and you don't need to put in any work whatsoever will need a reality check so rapidly you could time it on a stopwatch. The effort once expended on going out and talking to people has been replaced with security, but it's been supplanted by the very different (and, yes, sometimes arduous) work of being in a long-term relationship. Being vulnerable and emotionally supportive of another person is effort all of its own. And frankly, I didn't "try" very much before; nobody in this relationship expected me to shave my legs or wear a full face of make-up in the morning, before or after rings on fingers.
2. "You must have loved having a day all about you!"
The notion of the wedding day as the bride's "thing" is old-fashioned and sexist. She's snaffled a dude and will no longer be an old maid! She gets to be showered with attention! The man doesn't want to have anything to do with all this fussy "wedding" stuff, and just has to show up! If that's how you work out your gender roles in your marriage, that's completely cool, but it shouldn't be regarded as the absolute norm. As it happens, my husband and I doubled duty on wedding planning, and he was actually much better at it. (Mostly I just told hairdressers/florists/whatever "do what you like, you're the professional".)
3. "I'd love to be married, but I love partying/sex/fun too much."
Awww, you really think life stops being fun when you get hitched? That's adorable. We're not all sitting at home having knitting parties. (To be fair, mostly we're sitting at home playing Mass Effect and cooking Italian. But that's AWESOME.) The imagined dichotomy of life pre- and post-marriage is the butt of lazy sitcom jokes, but to be honest, the shift isn't between marriage and anything else; often it's just about getting to life stages where you're too tired to go out partying all night, like having a neat house instead of cigarettes and shoes everywhere, and actually get excited about home furnishings. (We have a giant monkey candelabra called Aethelred.)
Some people don't ever start to think like that, and that's cool! But let's not pretend that marriage is the secret beginning of the end of every "cool" experience, particularly sexually. Bloody hell, give me time with somebody who knows and loves my body over a new person with no goddamn idea, every time.
4. "Oooh, you snagged a good one!"
Yes. I laid a Marriage Trap in the ground, concealed it with leaves and branches, and ensnared the most eligible thing that came along. My husband is chained to me by magical means consisting of feminine guile and sexual allurement. Come on.
This is not Jane Austen, guys. Women don't stand around with butterfly nets hoping to capture innocent people who are doing their best to fly away. (They don't do that in Jane Austen either, to be honest.) There are so many ridiculous assumptions in this compliment that it crosses my eyes, from the idea that a fancy marriage partner somehow "improves my status," to the notion that said improvement is what I was after in the first place when I laid the Marriage Trap. Spoiler: it wasn't.
5. "It's sweet that you're so traditional!"
Concealed message: aww, you old fuddy-duddies, you must secretly be planning white picket fences and 2.5 kids, and a Labrador with a name out of an L.L. Bean catalogue. Marriage is a fraught choice for many people of our generation (and those beforehand, honestly) because of its highly traditional connotations, replete with misogyny and strange ideas about women in the workforce. But these days, getting hitched doesn't have to mean anything beyond "yeah, together forever, cool, high five". Never make assumptions about why people are getting married, beyond their love for one another; there are likely many beliefs and consequences of the move that they've worked out privately for themselves.
6. "You're not like those other married Pod People. They're awful."
This one drives me mad. I'm not a shrill lunatic who only associates with other married people and regards singles as horrific human defects, and this makes me somehow "an exception"? I've somehow escaped the mysterious brain fog that descends as a consequence of one of my choices and turns everybody into a hideous Stepford Wife, managed to remain myself except with added bearded dude, and that's something to be congratulated about?
Look, people who are horrible are going to be horrible whether they're "smug marrieds" or "smug singles" or "smug divorcees with good co-parenting arrangements". Marriage just seems to be a specific cultural venue for a particular kind of bad behavior, but it's certainly not alone in that. And I don't appreciate the idea that I managed to escape the tendrils of Pod Personhood. I was never going to be awful because I had a ring on my finger, because I am not awful in the first place.
7. "It's so lovely that you've settled down and become an adult now."
What, was I not an adult when I was living on my own in a foreign country, filling out visa forms, holding down a job, getting a PhD, behaving like a functional human, and only setting accidental fires very occasionally? The marriage = adulthood thing is not a real equation. It's silly, and downplays all the effort that actually goes into adult behavior, none of which is contained in the ring and the wedding license. Emotional maturity, financial responsibility, good boundaries, considered decision-making, considering kids, coming to terms with lingering issues: these are hallmarks of adulthood, not a legal status bestowed on a relationship. Besides, I've never been a full adult, and have no plans to be, wedded or not.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a bath with rubber duckies in it.
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