This is a guest post by Chanel Dubofsky. Chanel Dubofsky’s writing has been published in The Frisky, The Billfold, Lilith, Abortion Gang, and others. She lives in Brooklyn. You can read about her personal problems here.
I played a lot of MASH as a child and adolescent. MASH, if you’re not familiar, is a game in which you draw a swirl on a piece of paper and from that, extrapolate your entire adult existence. It decides important things for you, like where you’ll live (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House), what kind of car you’ll have, and who you’ll marry. In the version I played with my female friends, we included not just options for people (dudes) we’d marry, but also where the wedding would be, and how many bridesmaids we would have (everyone in the game always had to be chosen as bridesmaids, in order to avoid strife and awkwardness.)
I was an earnest kid, who grew into an earnest adult, and so I put a lot of emotional energy into these games. I thought about what it would be like if this stuff happened. I imagined the weddings I’d have, because in this contrived universe, you couldn’t opt out of the marriage part. There was no such thing as saying, or thinking, “I’m not sure,” or “I don’t want to get married.”
There have been, as you might know, approximately one thousand articles written in the last six months about when women should get married. (Now? Later? What about now? How about now?) There’s a lot missing from this incessant and mind numbing “conversation,” the most remarkable assumption is that all women want to get married, and so there are no voices from the mysterious creatures who, like me, are not interested getting or being married.
I usually need to explain this statement, which is a foreboding task. (I am grateful for the handful of people who have asked me if I want to get married, instead of saying “when you get married…”)
I don’t believe that marriage or other gestures of monogamy make us better people. A particular kind of relationship, sanctioned by the state, decked out in ritual and pomp, is not necessary for us to grow as human beings. We need many relationships, with many people, in order to be able to access our potential, our fullness. Monogamy reeks of a certain aescetisicm that we’ve come to associate with morality-make this relationship work, no matter what, with this person, forever. If you can’t do that, or if you don’t want to, especially if you’re female (after all, you job is to sacrifice your own happiness for others’) you fail. If you want to be with more than one person, if you imagine your life outside the paradigm of two, you are deviant.
What about love? What about commitment? Love exists outside of marriage, we know this. We also know that there’s more than one way to have a relationship, but marriage tells us that there is only one way that’s really valid. Marriage as an institution and an idea has crawled so far into our brains and our bellies that we actually believe people who don’t want to get married don’t care about love or relationships. We don’t have another means of “legitimizing” a romantic relationship. The idea that a relationship is important because the people in it say it’s important, or feel it’s important, isn’t good enough. It must be institutionalized so that we feel safe.
I was at a wedding (look, I go to them sometimes) late last year in which the bride’s father toasted to “the beginning of X and Y’s life together.” X and Y have been a couple for four years. They’ve been through crises of faith and health, family and school. They have a home (capitalism is also a great way to indicate your commitment to someone). They have a life together already. But now, in front of a lot of people, sanctioned by religion and state, it’s official. It’s legitimate.
It seems to me that marriage is an attempt to outwit the reality of impermanence, of ambiguity, by establishing a boundary, choosing someone who will agree to represent permanence and consistency. It’s a means to achieving stability, and according to the New York Times, “marriage has become a status symbol, a marker of a successful personal life.” For women, it’s a way to perform according to social codes that (theoretically) allow us to avoid being called selfish, to prove morality (see above). A married woman’s sexuality is now allegedly private property. She’s not flinging it around anymore, and if she is, well, there is recourse.
So I opt out, because I want a life with the most amount of possibilities. Yes, I see a life anchored to another person by law as being limiting, and yes, I see that as unattractive. I want the constant awareness of impermanence, the emotional and physical ability to move in and out of all my relationships, to respond to them according to realistic expectations. I want all the space I can get, and I want the people I love to have that space as well, and that means not having to assume a particular relationship in order to get basic things like health insurance.
In September of 2011, it became very clear that most of my friends were going to get married. Even those who had been in their relationships for a decade were getting engaged and buying dresses. It was starting to make me a little crazy. The assumption is that marriage works for everyone, and that everyone wants it. But why? Is it a reflex? Is it because it’s so hard to make other choices? Were there any other women who didn’t want to get married? I started interviewing women (anyone who identifies as female) about marriage. To this date, nearly one hundred have talked to me, some anonymously, some let me use their real names. Some are divorced, some are separated, some engaged, some have occupied numerous marital statuses, and some, like me, aren’t interested in marriage at all.
You can read all of the interviews here.
The Marriage Project is a space where women can open up about things they’re seldom encouraged to talk about honestly (or at all). It’s helped me build a community of contrarians, to make an attempt at an ingathering of others who opt out, in spite of the implications and the consequences. I hope it’s helped all of us to feel less alone, less crazy, less like we’re locked into a game of MASH that has very serious, lifelong consequences.
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