I have been thinking about marriage a lot lately.
Not about getting married, but about the institution itself.
I was chatting this week to my old high school friend, Heidi. She blames me (tongue-in-cheek, but still) for the fact that she struggled to commit for longer than most. Apparently my clearly articulated feminism and rejection of “the house with the picket fence” was a huge influence on her in our teenage years. She was thirty-eight or so when she finally got married. “And then, Gail, you went and got married at 21 and settled down and everything!” (<- outraged tone).
Yes, but it isn’t as simple as that. Too long a story for now.
I have a close friend who separated from her husband for a couple of months earlier this year. She was describing to me the joy expressed by almost everyone that they are now living together again. Society wants us in couples, and wants couples to be married. Is it only because “it is best for the children”? I don’t think so.
Her experience mirrored mine – my close friends and family really struggled when my ex-husband and I publicly split up – even though they knew that the ‘marriage’ was non-existent (I been in a closeted relationship with my previous girlfriend for four years) – they wanted the façade of a marriage to continue. “Why couldn’t you just carry on the way you were, and have relationships on the side like we all do?” someone asked. I am not going to tell you who.
Because I am not comfortable with that. I need to be honest to the world about who I am and who I am with.
I am not afraid of commitment. Part of me would very much like to be married. Part of me wonders why. Why sign an off-the-shelf contract of marriage? Why have a public ceremony in which one pledges fidelity? Why are the whispered promises in the privacy of our own home not enough?
When she was in hospital recently, I wished I could introduce myself to Thabisa’s surgeon as her wife, rather than as her girlfriend – girlfriend sounds so feeble – temporary. Our relationship is way more than that. But isn’t it enough for us to know? Why does it matter to us that other people know? I don’t know, but it does. Particularly for us – where people often assume that Thabisa is my employee. A typical scene… I am at the pharmacy, having a script filled for Thabisa. (She is on my medical aid). The pharmacist looks fascinated. “Is she your maid?”
One thing related to marriage that I absolutely detest is the notion of a proposal. For me it is the most stark reminder of the inequality of the sexes. Women, certain of what they want, wait patiently for their partners to “pop the question”. The inequality has filtered through to same-sex relationships in a way that makes me feel very uncomfortable.
A friend posted this flash mob gay proposal on her facebook page a little while back. She thought it was lovely. I thought it was excruciating. Not only the public spectacle of a very private moment. But…the end bit…
Bennie says, “of COURSE I will!”
If the proposee was so certain that he was ready to get married, why hadn’t HE proposed? You know why, don’t you?