Marriage: WTF?

24 Jul

For some unknown reason, we have a plethora of old dictionaries around the house, and according to Webster’s Popular Illustrated Dictionary (new revised edition, 1937), to”marry” is “to unite in wedlock: to dispose of in wedlock.”  I had  intentionally sought a literal dictionary definition of the institution to which I have never and most likely never will subscribe, with the primary purpose of digging up something about it I could potentially spin into a critical, or at least funny observation, and lo and behold, no spin was necessary.  To dispose of in wedlock?  Do tell!

While I have gone forth and propagated, or spilled my seed upon the ground, or whatever it is – sorry, there weren’t no Bible-learnin’ in my house (though my copy of Webster’s Popular Illustrated Dictionary looks quite suspiciously like a Bible)  – anyway though I’ve done what I’m supposed to do as a responsible organism, my baby-daddy and I completely overlooked the marriage part.  We’ve barely even discussed it.  Which may be why today, 15 years in, we’re still together (ba-dum, bum).  Though it is also why, 15 years in, I still can’t come up with an appropriate title for him, a way to refer to him in the third person that makes sense to either me or the world at large.  Say “boyfriend,” and the immediate assumption is that he is not the father of my child.  “Baby-daddy,” while accurate, and sparkling with a certain pop cultural cache, also seems a bit flip.  “My son’s father” sounds too clinical and implies said genetic donor is no longer in the picture. And I sure as fuck ain’t using “partner.”  It is an ongoing dilemma.

Which brings me back to the subject at hand:  marriage, what-the-fuck-ness of.  Notice from the above roster of unfit titles for my, um, son’s dad, I am particularly concerned about it being clear that a) we are Not Married and b) we are still a couple regardless, and are raising our child together. Why do I even give a shit?  Throughout most of my life I have cared little of others’ opinions of me or my actions.  And why is it when, for the sake of simplicity, said difficult-to-describe relation refers to me as his “wife,” I feel like clocking him with a frying pan like he were Andy Capp?  I do NOT want to be a Wife.  But I don’t want to be a Single Mother either. Oh, what’s a girl to do?

When I was an undergraduate at UCLA, part of an untidy clump of punks that hung out on Bruin Walk, spoiling the otherwise pleasant collegiate scenery, there was a bridal shop along the southern edge of campus called Westwood Bride.  Whenever we happened to pass it by, I would always wail, in mock misery, “I’ll never be a Westwood Bride!” to appreciative hoots and cheers all around.  But at the time I knew it wasn’t really a joke.  I just couldn’t see myself ever getting married then; and now, 20-odd years later, I’m still spoiling the scenery, and I still don’t want to take the plunge.  Sad to say, the main reason being:  what’s the fucking point?

Sure, love can last a lifetime.  And sometimes it doesn’t; who’s to say what’s down the road?  And don’t even get me started about how the early incarnation of  many forms of marriage essentially relegated a woman to just another bullet point on her husband’s list of personal property. With oppressive origins like those, it’s hard to be a cheerleader for the institution, regardless of how much its purportedly improved since then.  Though certainly there is something to be said for the beauty and profundity of making a formalized commitment to someone else, among friends and family, in some sort of vaguely lovely environment, with tasty food, maybe a band, an open bar.  And something could also be said about the phenomenal expense, as well as the stress of planning and hosting a large fancy event, not to mention the new Burden of Meaning you have unwittingly hoisted upon the shoulders of your relationship.  What sounds like more fun – a day of revelry with your friends and family in uncomfortable shoes and sweaty pantyhose, punctuated by disagreements with the photographer, or a month of traveling across South America?

And I know I am not alone.  I’d say the majority of married folk I’ve asked the “what sounds like more fun?” question have opted for the latter choice.  More than a few of my friends have confessed that their wedding was one of the most stressful days of their lives; one bride spent half the day in terror she would be hurtled headlong from her chair, which was continually hoisted up in the air and paraded around by guests who grew progressively more drunk and uncoordinated as the evening wore on.   For anyone who gives me the “marriage = tax break” argument as a feeble defense, I counter with the fact that as an unmarried couple, we have the advantage of telling the IRS that one of us is Head of Household, towing it alone in the parenthood department  boo-hoo, with a bit fat juicy dependent, and voila!  We end up with a big fat juicy tax refund every year.  Take that, you beholden joint filers!

Let’s revisit that  Webster’s Popular Illustrated Dictionary entry for a moment,  “to dispose of in wedlock.”  So the “dispose of” part caught my eye first of course, making me think of some bitter old miserly couple, desperate to rid themselves of their useless daughter by tossing her into the trash bin of matrimony.  I completely dismissed “wedlock” at first though, since the word is so ingrained in common, if folksy, English usage; I figure most people, myself included, don’t give the word much thought. But wedlock?  How boorishly obvious.  Oh, and appealing certainly.  “Oh, father, thank you for arranging my engagement! I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to soon be locked in the conjugal dumpster of happiness for all eternity!”

Final thought:  Gay marriage?  Go for it!  I do understand that there are thousands of people who would greatly welcome life in the conjugal dumpster, but have been steadfastly and unjustly denied the opportunity.  People line up to do all kinds of crazy shit, like buy the latest Apple gadget or be humiliated on a reality show – cuz we have a right to!  This is America, man!  And I ain’t gettin’ married if I don’t have to.  Word.

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4 Responses to “Marriage: WTF?”

  1. Sandra Ortiz July 24, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    You tell ’em sister! Of course, the problem still remains of what to call your sweetie. It’s OK for me to call him my sin-in-law, or my son-in-common-law, and for him to call me mom. Perhaps the terms “husband/wife” seem inadequate, but they do more suitably describe a live-in and parenting relationship of 15 years duration than monikers such as “significant other,” “lover,” “main squeeze,” “boyfriend,” etc etc–especially when they are said somewhat affectionately. You should forgive William for this lapse. Sometimes it’s just easier to capitulate than to have to explain. And as a matter of fact (one which you continue to deny), I did HEAR you refer to him as your “husband” when you were talking to my friend Suzanne on the way to the airport a few months back. Had I not been secured firmly to my seat by a seat belt, I might have fallen on the floor.

    • the disgruntler July 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

      I just used that for the sake of convenience, again with that problem of not really having the right word . . but I’ve only done that two or three times and I;m not comfortable with it.

  2. Sandra Ortiz July 24, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    And, um, not to put too fine a point on it: but you both do wear what look conspicuously like wedding rings on what look like your left-hand wedding-band fingers. If that ain’t “wedlock,” sister, what is? That you do not feel oppressed by this fact is really rather sweet.

    • the disgruntler July 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

      Only I wear a ring, and to some degree I like that it implies marriage, it’s a signifier that can get me places when I need it.

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