“You don’t have to get married” will be a phrase I’m training myself to get comfortable saying around my daughter as she grows up.
My three-year-old still has a whimsical idea of what marriage is. With endless viewings of the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, she thinks marriage is where one dons a white dress to a sparkly dance party. She insists on marrying her dad because she “wants to dance with him.”
Marriage as a concept is still something I’m reckoning with as an adult.
Of course love factored in. I found love in someone I considered one of my best friends. Commitment and monogamy made sense for the dynamic we have. On a less romantic note, I’ve been conditioned all my life to aspire for marriage. Even when I was working towards a place of independence when I was single, it was still so daunting to face the idea of having to take responsibility of making a living, retirement, sickness, and death all by myself. There was very much a part of me that didn’t want to lift all of that on my own.
I don’t have an understanding of what a woman’s life looks like if she stays single. I think of the single women of my family. I think of my grandmother’s sister who lived with relatives until her last breath. I don’t know what kind of lives they lead or led, but I will assume that they are or were good lives. I don’t have a lot of examples to work with.
In Catholic school, the discourse surrounding the future of a woman revolved around her potential role as wife and mother. There was some women empowerment in the sense that I felt the confidence in pursuing any career, hobby, or sideline I was inclined to. It was always assumed it would be alongside a husband.
No one told me I had to get married though. I never heard it overtly from my parents, relatives, teachers, or friends. It never had to be said because marriage as a goal was always assumed.
I don’t want to put marriage on a pedestal because there is nothing wrong with choosing to be single or childless. They are not second rate or the next best things.
This is important to articulate because marriage will consume so much mental and emotional space. It can engulf anyone. Not every person is designed to take on this responsibility, the same way not every person is equipped to raise a dozen kids, parachute from a plane, manage a multinational corporation, or suture open wounds.
It’s this assumption that long term commitment comes naturally that I take issue with. Would it be so wrong to go with the assumption that maybe it isn’t so? With the examples I listed, we extend sympathy when we encounter people who don’t have it in them to jump off a plane. What would happen if we applied the same compassion to marriage and parenthood? What would happen if we stop associating the lack of an inclination to some moral failure?
The thing about breaking away from defaults and templates is that it takes so much work to build custom paths. There are times I take the default, but taking custom routes, knowing it can be harder also evokes its own kind of satisfaction and joy.
It will be a lifetime of conversations. I’ll have to confront the choices I made. I’ll have to be careful and truthful when it comes to discussing the marriages we see in our family, both the good and the bad. I’ll have to help her imagine happy and whole possibilities outside of marriage. It may involve equipping her with financial independence or constructing a different social support system, things I never really learned growing up. I’ll answer every question.
It also starts now. I won’t stand for people teasing her about boyfriends. We won’t equate keeping house to wife skills. I will be her refuge when society starts demanding things of her that don’t feel true.
Then if she asks about marriage, I will tell her all the things I still believe in, even when I’ve seen the institution fall apart. I’ll tell her that sacrifice is overrated and a virtue often propped up in the face of abuse. But I’ll tell her to believe in friendship, in truth, in kindness. To get comfortable communicating uncomfortable emotions. To gather the courage to transcend fear or shame.
To makes leaps of faith despite what we know.
Maybe she’s already starting on the right foot. Maybe relationships are a dance party, and that we’re all free to sit it out if we wanted to.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.