I am at that age where the people around me are starting to get married. Not at the rate of one every month or weekend, as religious friends and friends in their 30s have described their social calendars. For now it’s just a slightly speedier trickle of engagements; a ceremony a couple of times year.
I am also at a point in my relationship where the subject of marriage comes up with some frequency. Not in an “OMG, you’d better hurry up and marry me soon!” kind of way. More in a, “Is this something we want to do, and if so how would we do it?” kind of way.
And I have to admit, it’s something I vacillate on.
Not the commitment side of things. I’m good with that, as am I with the idea of building a life and partnership together. I love hosting parties, I like attention, and I love listening to people tell funny stories about each other. If they’re telling funny stories about me and my relationship, all the better. Theoretically, I should be all over this marriage thing.
But I’m not - or at least, I’ve tended to be ambivalent about it. Because as much as every wedding of my generation so far has reliably made me tear up, other elements of the whole thing make me feel uncomfortable, for a host of feminist and anti-consumerist reasons.
The elevation of marriage over other types of relationships (in particular, the relationships of those for whom it is not possible to marry). The treatment of marriage as some sort of bourgeois club. The pomp, the ceremony and fanfare. The sheer amount of money people drop on these things.
Years ago, I knew a girl who boasted that she wanted her future husband (at this point, unidentified) to buy her a $7000 engagement ring. I remember asking her why she would want to demand somebody spend that amount of money on her, when it could be better spent on something they both enjoyed (assuming they had that amount of money to spare in the first place).
Even now, the idea of wearing a large shiny object that other people are going to use as an evaluation tool - as one critically thinking engaged friend told me she’d observed they often were - frankly skeeves me out.
These days, I often feel like a bit of cheapskate. But I think the value that lies at the heart of that is a belief that if you have limited means - which the vast majority of us do - you should direct the money you have to the things that matter most to you: in my case and at this point in time, freedom, experiences and future financial stability. Large shiny displays of conspicuous consumption don’t particularly matter to me, and thus the idea of dropping a large amount of money on them that could be spent on something else strikes me as wrong.
Well, wrong for me. Obviously, many people do love and value big shiny engagement rings and big white weddings, and far be it from me to deny them that pleasure. I do resent however - and resist - the extent to which the process of getting married has become one big consumer fest.
As with many things relating to the politics of the personal, I think the different elements of the marriage question can be divided into three categories.
1. Those things that you personally and genuinely value.
2. Those things that your socialised self values.
3. Those things that you don’t value, but that other people think you should value and try to manipulate you into doing.
Differentiating between the first and second isn’t easy. We’re all social beings, and it can be hard to tell the difference between what you really care about, and what you care about because you’ve been successfully brainwashed. Sometimes you’ll mistake the first for the second, and sometimes the second will hit you in such a deepfelt emotional way that you will mistake it for the first. Detangling the two is a tricky process.
But however difficult may be, I think it is important to resist those things that fall into the third category. That job you really don’t want to take but you think will be safe. Those things you really don’t want to buy, but which people tell you you need.
For the record, I’ve pretty much reconciled my thoughts on the marriage question. The trappings of getting there and what it entails, however, remain up for discussion.