Marriage as an act of freedom vs. conformity

Guest post by surfandlipgloss
strong women

Anyone who has taken a Gender Studies class knows all the standard stuff about marriage being an exchange of chattel, property, protecting the paternity of babies, etc. We can see how these historical dynamics still affect us.

While it still impacts us, I think most Western women don't generally *feel* like this applies to us. We marry for love, we marry who we want and ultimately have agency and power in our choices. We're told the wedding is All About Us.

But there is still this tug-of-war that so many of us deal with — all the heavy Baggage of Marriage. The tension of needs and demands — ours, our partner's, our family's, our culture, our finances, our religion, etc — and we're stuck right in the middle of it. The process is fraught with a million potential mis-steps and there often doesn't seem to be the Magical Path by which all parties are satisfied. Many traditionalists would say that we (brides) need to suck it up and make everyone happy. When we assert our needs/wants we get labeled Bridezillas. But I thought this day was supposed to be all about us? Or was that just a marketing slogan?

We are expected to be the mediator of all these different parties. Will I look beautiful? Will fiance be as jazzed I am? Will my mom/dad/Aunt Sally pull some serious drama? How are we paying for this? Will the women in my life control/demean/insult me when I'm trying on dresses like they always seem to do on Say Yes to the Dress? Will my future mother in law be ok if we don't have a Wedding Industrial Complex-style huge reception, etc? Will I take his name? What does that say about me if I do/don't?

It's enough to drive even well-adjusted, unique, creative and loving women a little batshit.

My first wedding I just acquiesced to the pressure (shotgun — yay?) that my ex-husband placed on me. I let my family deal with all the chores of marriage and basically showed up and did the deed. For such a feminist (went to Mills College, openly queer to my family in HS, punk-goth kid), I was the ultimate Passive Girl when it came to this. So unlike me — I still marvel at the zombie possession (aka pregnancy, wanting the baby, willing to make others happy to have him).

This time around, I am driving this train. I am the one who wants to get married, and very intently. I have been looking at this wedding as an act of freedom, and act of self-determination. I have been with my fiance for five years. I know his bad side, I know his good side. I'm 36, I am divorced, I am a mother of two. I am under no illusions that marriage is a big basket of puppy-cuddles, but I still want to spend the rest of my life with my best friend, with the man who always has my back, loves my children intently and will do his absolute best for his family.

But even now, as an All Growed Up Woman, I feel those pressures weighing down on me. I can only imagine how paralyzing it could be for younger women. It paralyzed me into passivity. I honor all the women here for consciously choosing their own vision, of making their wedding, their marriage as an act of freedom, not conformity.

I feel like since I've already gotten through the roughest part of child-rearing and have managed to parent two loving, awesome, talented sons I am simply not willing to take shit about something as trivial my centerpieces. I have put myself through nursing school and earned a Masters in the process, so anyone who wants to complain about my registry can kiss my ass. I watched as my ex-husband spent five years refusing help with his drug abuse and mental illness before finally divorcing him, so anyone who wants to talk shit about my big white dress at my big second wedding in a church can seriously go fuck themselves.

Thank you all for being a beacon, for being a reminder that while all that crap is there (and won't totally disappear) that there is something more to weddings and marriage than either an exchange of chattel or of insurmountable pressures — that it's an act where WE get to CHOOSE to be with the person WE want. We have the honor and opportunity to undertake serious (and sacred, in my opinion) commitments (and yes, obligations) with the person that WE choose.

Yes, this is joining of two people, two families and some compromises and concessions will be made. That's a good thing. Losing ourselves, our vision and and our sanity in the process? Not so much.

Comments on Marriage as an act of freedom vs. conformity

  1. WOW. i don’t know what to say… that 3rd last paragraph made me well up… i just read it aloud to my OH and he whooped… and he’s not usually a whooper…

  2. This is absolutely my favorite/the best thing I’ve read not just on this website but in a long time.

    Eff YES to you. Eff YES to us all.

  3. Ahahahahah! Brilliant post. I agree with Irishbride – that third-to-last paragraph is sheer poetry!!

  4. Thank you so much for this article..it honestly came only a day after an argument with my own mom about what my fiance and I want our wedding to be.

    My fiance and I are simple people and we don’t want to get caught up in all the fancies and frills of the marketed wedding. And for all our dreams it does hurt having those close to you tell you that your wedding wont be a real wedding without a church and flowers. I know I can’t make everyone happy and thank you so much for really reminding me of that and to keep the wedding focussed on what we really value.

  5. i love this post. just what i need!!!! i’m going to print it out, so i can read it when i get overwhelmed with it all!!!!!! really makes me appreciate OBB and OBT 🙂

  6. Thank you very much for writing this! I really needed this.

    Sidenote: can someone PLEASE tell me what WIC means? I have seen it everywhere and can’t figure it out!

  7. WIC = Wedding Industrial Complex. 🙂 I suppose there are many definitions out there, but to me it’s the huge multi-billion dollar a year industry that thrives on telling brides that they HAVE to do this or they HAVE to have that or their wedding will be awful.

    And to the OP: Thank you! I felt like I could have written every word. I, too am a second-timer, formerly JoP shotgun bride who is having the wedding that we (that’s me and my man) want…damnit! 🙂

    Well said, surfandlipgloss, well said.

    • Oh ok. Thanks both of you! So my (now distant because of a major problem) friend who is following a certain wedsite’s checklist to the letter, and attending every bridal fair and attempting to purchase everything offered would qualify under this description?

      • That certain website and the bridal fairs fall under this description. As do wedding vendors, purveyors of favors, anyone at all int he wedding industry, even if they happen to be cooler than usual. The WIC is everyone who profits off of our gettin’ hitched and who tells us to spend more more more so our wedding can be better better best.

        You friend is just a victim of the WIC and it’s crazy pressures, as are most of us to some extent, however willingly.

  8. This is so perfect and so beautiful and so well written, thank you! I spent about a week becoming disillusioned with who I am and what I wanted my wedding to be about before I put on the breaks, halted it and set fire to the taffeta (not really, but metaphorically).

    I am so much more happy putting together a wedding that is so much more ‘us’, but I’m struggling with all of the ‘what ifs’ that haven’t even happened yet. It’s great to read a really good take on it… I am SO glad OBB exists. 🙂

  9. As a total feminist, I would just like to say that I am dropping the heck out of my last name when I get married. I don’t care about the implications – you try growing up with a last name like “Dickson.”

    • I’m still unsure for the exact same reason! It doesn’t help that I’ll be living in a foreign country, so my last name will be a little unusual. At the same time, it’s a European country so it’s traditional to keep your maiden name. Decisions, decisions.

      • 🙂 I used to think that I would keep my name, but as I get older and still have to spell it out over the phone, I realize that I am ready to be done and over with it.

        Incidentally, a cousin of mine married a girl with a non-mockable last name (Smith) and she took on “Dickson”. Her name is Amanda, too.

        • Lol THIS! As a Dickson as well, I would love to drop that name – the joy of adolescent teasing… It’s a bit complicated by the fact that I love the symbolism of keeping a maiden name though.. Oh well, not going to be an issue for a while.

      • Is it Woodcock? I had a friend in highschool with the surname Woodcock… it was really unfortunate for her.

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