In recent weeks, I had the pleasure of catching up with a friend with whom I hadn’t had a real conversation in almost five years. Sure, we “like” each other’s statuses on Facebook, occasionally help each other out professionally, and sometimes give general overviews of our lives, like listing off where we currently live and any major life events, but we’ve really let legitimate conversation fall by the wayside. It’s a real shame, because talking with her gave me like, 5,000 blog topic ideas. Not that I use the company of my friends just for blog ideas, but I don’t not use them for such purposes.
My lovely friend is in a long term relationship, and they plan on being together forever. They split their finances, discuss career choices to ensure both parties are on board, and oh yeah, love each other deeply. Given that they’ve been together well over half a decade, are no longer in their twenties, and have very stable careers, you might imagine that they’re constantly asked about their plans for marriage. “What’s taking him so long?” “Do you see a ring in the near future?” “Do you believe in marriage?”
I’ll admit, I was one of the people who broached that subject with her months ago. When I did, she didn’t answer that part of my email, and instead focused on everything else I’d asked or shared. I knew she was a smart girl, so I assumed she didn’t “accidentally” leave that part out of her reply, so I just chose to let it lie. Well, a week ago, I saw that she posted an article about how unwed couples often tire of dealing with questions about their plans for marriage…whoops. She emailed me a few days later about a different topic altogether, but I felt compelled to bring up my inquiry from months earlier. I apologized for being one of the people who asked her about marriage, when obviously that is something she’s tired of hearing. It led to a very interesting conversation.
I take for granted how perfectly my natural desires align with society’s expectations. I’ve always dreamt of partaking in marriage, believing in its high virtue and trusting that it creates a union that can’t be imitated by dating…despite the fact that– from a technical, secular standpoint– the only difference is a written contract and benefits. I have also always felt the natural urge to become a mother, something which is still seen as the cornerstone of womanhood in society, even if we claim otherwise.
I’ll admit it– when I meet a woman, particularly a married woman, who does not have children, I become curious as to why. Did she have medical complications? Did her husband not want them? Did she put it off in life until she realized it was too late? When I meet a married man without children, I don’t really think much of it. As a matter of fact, if I think anything at all, my mind goes straight to his wife and how she feels about it.
My desire for children is certainly something biological and personality-driven, which are two things that I can hardly claim as a choice. I was just born with those instincts, and have always had a very by-the-books nature…which leads to my placement of marriage on a pedestal. Sure, that pedestal may reflect my religious beliefs, but I’m positive that there’s an organic component, as well.
I’m extremely emotional and feminine by nature, which makes me gravitate towards traditional roles of men and women. I firmly believe that that’s nothing to be ashamed of, even in a society that tells women they’re an embarrassment to our gender if they aren’t more “progressive” with their priorities. Ironically, though, it still comes as a surprise to us when a woman doesn’t want kids or marriage. The immediate questions that unwed or childless women face imply that there’s something wrong with them, like they have failed to “do it all.”
This isn’t just a women’s issue either. Men, too, are seen as more trustworthy and capable if they’re married. Politicians are a perfect example. The “package” of marriage is proven to be more attractive to voters than a representative who runs without a ring on his (or her) finger. In some ways, the expectation of marriage is placed equally on the shoulders of men and women alike. Kids tend to land on women’s shoulders, probably because we’re the ones who tote them around for nine months, but the standard isn’t entirely doubled.
My thoughts on all of these facts are torn…what else is new. I always try to see both sides of an issue, and with that comes a bucketful of “buts.” I believe in marriage as a covenant under God, BUT I can see how two people who have no such religious beliefs would view it differently. I can’t imagine foregoing the chance to have children if I’m physically able, BUT I know that not everyone is built with the same wiring. I think women should be able to stay at home with the kids without being seen as small-minded, BUT I am aware that other people might view that as a waste of our newfound freedoms and equal opportunity. I also think that women should be able to be the breadwinners of their homes without being seen as emotionally vacant female dogs, BUT I can’t ignore the fact that many gender codes aren’t necessarily due to cultural influences, rather they reflect the undeniable biological strengths and weaknesses of each sex.
The only thing I know for sure is that I’m quite lucky to have been given the natural urges I have. It creates much more ease in my life than the likes of my friend, who constantly has to deal with other people questioning her personal choices. She is not opposed to marriage, but simply doesn’t feel very strongly about it one way or the other. If you take religion off the table, should she really have to be looked down upon for not being born with the “right” desires to fit societal norms?
She hears things like, “Maybe one day he’ll make an honest woman out of you,” or “What’s wrong with him??” Both of those statements imply that she doesn’t respect herself, or that she chose the wrong mate. She feels offended on behalf of her boyfriend, who’s actually more keen on the idea of marriage than she is. She feels like she’s pitied, less admirable, or worse– condemned by people who barely respect the sanctity of marriage themselves. You know– the types who can only point to their piece of paper as proof of their commitment rather than being able to boast a legitimately successful partnership.
Understanding my friend’s side of things doesn’t lessen my personal convictions under God, nor does it make me question my own innate desires. Instead, my eyes were simply opened to the feelings of people whose paths and wants don’t receive a stamp of approval from society. Like I mentioned, society claims to be progressive, but we’re still pretty attached to tradition. I mean, hello, the commercial wedding industry is bigger than ever. Trust me, it’s out of control. (I won’t lie– I kind of loved it…minus the cost of everything.)
While I won’t roll over and give up my beliefs just to be more agreeable with everyone I meet, I’m certainly grateful to be more aware of how lucky I am for not having to deal with probing questions and hurtful statements about my personal life. The older we get, the more other people want to understand why we haven’t taken certain “steps” in life. Most inquiries are made with loving intentions based on personal perspecitve…for example, I asked my friend if she “thinks he will propose soon” because I wanted that for her out of love– after all, it’s what I wanted for myself! I wasn’t asking out of judgment, rather out of girlish excitement. Her response showed me, yet again, that my own point-of-view is not the end all, be all. Humans are all extremely unique, so we can never expect another person to feel the same way we do– even about “givens” or universally accepted social constructs.
I love feeling excited for myself and others on the marriage front. I love the feeling of wanting children. But for the first time, I feel lucky for wanting those things. Thanks to my friend, I now know how annoying and degrading questions about personal life choices can be when your nature pulls you in a different direction from the norm. I can sort of relate with the skeptical inquiries about my unconventional blogging career. (“So, do you actually work..?”) Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with it on the relationship and reproduction front, too.
No matter the foundation for our beliefs about certain personal paths, let’s all remember that we are not all the same. We can share our convictions or raise concerns from a place of “this is how I would feel,” but we must do so with an open mind and an understanding that people want different things. If you feel strongly about an issue, ask God to work it out, because I promise that berating, condemning, or pitying someone will not work. Most importantly, remember that our viewpoints don’t define our worth or right to be treated fairly. Being “better” than someone is not a thing, so always keep that in mind when you shape your opinions, questions, and behavior.