|M and I under the chuppah on our wedding day|
Marriage- a joining.
Husband- to care for, to protect, to cultivate
Wife- servant, or, shame
Seriously. That is the root of the word.
As a feminist and a realist, those were things I had to come to terms with very early on in my life planning. As you may remember from earlier posts, I never particularly envisioned myself getting married. And the idea of becoming somebody's dirty secret, or their slave... I wasn't exactly thrilled with that idea. But that isn't what it means to be a wife now, it's just the roots of the word.
What I'm trying to say is that marriage isn't the same thing that it was in Once Upon A Time, it isn't an arrangement where a girl goes from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband. It is a partnership.
In fact, I would go as far to say that a marriage is actually the creation- a joining- of an economic unit.
How's that for unromantic?
Marriage is, to me, an arrangement entered into with mutual consent for the (presumably) lifelong economic protection of itself.
I scratch your back, you scratch mine.
I have a fairly traditional marriage. My husband in the bread winner, I mostly stay home with the children. I mostly do the cooking and cleaning. This is a sacrifice on both of our parts. It's a sacrifice on my part because I could be "working." In fact, if I was doing the inexplicably not-defined-as-work duties of childcare, housework, etc, for another family, I'd probably be making upwords of $80,000 a year. Substantially more than our current family income. So that is a sacrifice that I make.
It's a sacrifice for him because, first and foremost, he hates his job. But he keeps working because he finds tremendous satisfaction in providing for his family. In earning that money so that I can stay home with our children. Using the skills and talents he spent a great deal of work cultivating.
When you look at it in those terms, our "traditional marriage" is utter nonsense. Theoretically, we would be a lot happier if he stayed home with the kids, and I went off and worked insane hours for somebody else's family, doing all the things that I currently do for my own.
But we wouldn't be happier. Because what we have, aside from a marriage, is a relationship. One where we want each other to be happy and fulfilled.
M knows his current job isn't forever. His industry was hit VERY hard by the economic collapse, and he's had to take the work he could find. Work that doesn't exactly utilize his skills, but gives him some opportunity to use them once in a while, and provides the benefit of making it possible for him to keep working on his Master's degree- with which, hopefully, he can find a job that not only provides him with more money but also with more personal satisfaction and joy.
And me? I would much rather do the things that I do for my family, even if I'm doing them for "free." Because I love my family.
My family, the economic unit. And it's here that I think all arguments against non-traditional marriage completely fail.
The only thing that makes a family unit work in our modern world, where we're actually hurting ourselves by preserving these sorts of traditional roles, is that we love each other.
And love is not defined by sex. There are lots of married couples that don't have sex. I believe it's been the stuff of jokes, of expectations, and of motivation of Bachelor parties since time immemorial.
Love is about genuinely caring for each other, genuinely wanting the best for each other.
Being friends, but also assuming responsibility for each others' personal happiness.
I feel that any couple, or even group, who mutually agree that they all want to sacrifice what might be their own greater economic success in order to work together to achieve some greater happiness should have every right to do so. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins thus,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
So if a man and two women decide-MUTUALLY- that in order to pursue happiness, they wish to become a single economic unit... well, good for them.
If two men or two women decide- MUTUALLY- that in order to achieve happiness in their lives they should sacrifice their previous economic potential in order to build a family, that is not only their business, but their inalienable right.
If a man and a woman decide-MUTUALLY- that they want to take care of each other, but that it doesn't require any sort of sexual fidelity, that is their concern and should trouble nobody else. Monogamy is an illusion in many marriages anyway- cheating, mistresses, secret affairs, these are just as common as ideas about sexless marriages.
But if a pregnant teenager and the boy that knocked her up are coerced into marrying each other by their angry parents?
Or a marriage between a child, too young to understand at all what is happening to her, and a man three times her age?
That is what I feel is a threat to my own marriage. That is what I feel is a detriment to loving families everywhere. That isn't a mutually agreed upon benefit, that's a standard foisted upon them into a condition where "wife" can mean "shame." That is when marriage is not about choosing a lifelong sacrifice, that's not when it's about picking a person who makes you happy, that is when it is about punishment and servitude. And my marriage, the "sanctity" of my marriage, is threatened when any marriage is a prison.
I never swore to obey my husband in my vows. I never will swear to blindly obey anyone, or anything. Obedience is a virtue in a dog, but in a human being? I would prefer reason and self awareness any day. The only demands I make of my husband are in jest, or in whining hormonal funks. Any other request I make of him is that, a request. Because he is not my servant, he is my husband. And I am not his wife in the archaic sense, I am his wife in the understanding that we are equals. That anything we do for one another is a choice, from what we eat for dinner, to where we live, to whether or not we're going to have sex. We make sacrifices for each other out of love, not out of obligation.
My marriage is important to me. My marriage is filled with meaning, but the meaning isn't that I'm a woman and my husband is a man. It isn't filled with meaning because we decided to have children, even. Actually, I left both my job and school before we even got married in order to advocate for his health care- while he kept working through chemotherapy because that's what it took not only to keep him insured, but to ensure that he received the treatment he needed to remain among the living.
The meaning of our marriage is that we are utterly in love, and as a result we have decided to spend our whole lives sacrificing for each other. To spend our whole lives throwing away opportunities, or miring ourselves in miserable tasks that we despise, because being able to be there for each other in times of need, to care for each other in illness, to grow our joys together, this is what our marriage is about.
We are married in order to pursue our own happiness. As is every person's inalienable right.