Topic: marrying while female. People start making assumptions and asking questions when this happens, because we still place a lot of societal expectations on women who take this step in a relationship, often without parallels for men.
Turns out I have loads more to say on this than I thought, what a surprise!
None of this post is a dig at anyone who’s done some or all of the things I wish to avoid (that others may find fun or necessary) – freedom is about choice, but choices also have context; that context differs in importance for different people, because we’re individuals. My/our choices and reasons, not necessarily anyone else’s.
If you’ve arrived for advice this might not be it, but my take-home is: never settle. You are not “too picky”. Be picky, being single is not inherently bad, and single is better than unhappy with the wrong person/people.
Call me Al
Naturally, some women do change their surname when they marry. There are some fair reasons for that: you hated your name and/or there’s a better name available, you decide on one for all your incoming family members, you don’t like being associated with your father, you wanted to… and it’s becoming more common for men to change theirs based on some of those reasons, too (but of course there’s sexist nonsense about that as well). All good.
But there are some crappy, misogynistic aspects of name-changing as well, and choosing to keep a name is increasingly popular where it wasn’t before: you like your name, you don’t want to change it, career reasons e.g. you’ve published under it, it would be an annoying administrative faff, and you don’t feel like reflecting old traditional women-as-property ideas through naming.
Yes, it was probably your father’s name before – some may revert to their mother’s maiden name for this reason, the problem still exists at some point – but it’s also been yours forever and you remain you. Although changing a name doesn’t really change who you are, for some it can feel that way and these are some considerations.
Name changes are a reflection of the fact that, by law when women married into a new family, they left their old family and were contractually bound to the new family and essentially owned by the husband. An exchange of property. Not only that, but the couple becomes one person (hence the old “Mrs [husband’s name]” format, which persisted long after coverture ended) in which the woman’s separate existence practically ends.
So no, I don’t feel the need to reflect that; it’s less common than it used to be, and is quite culturally dependent too.
This was the only thing this post was originally going to be about and it’s got out of hand… titles!
This has always been “fun”, as a girl/woman, because we get the joy of revealing our relationship status to complete strangers because of Miss/Mrs. I stopped using Miss when I was about 13 anyway, because it’s nobody’s business and Ms is a less infantilising form of address (almost unheard of to call young men ‘master’ any more in the UK, too).
Then when I was 26 I earned my Dr, brilliant! Instantly changed bank cards etc. But wait! Did a wedding! Now what, people ask, Mrs B?!
Nope, still Dr B (the same B, as above). Why would I go back to revealing my relationship status through my title, when I’d already been avoiding it and moved on to something that incorporated a personal/professional achievement? Seems like a bizarre thing to me (though I’m sure some are happy to).
That doesn’t mean I don’t consider our relationship an achievement, but it’s not one I need to broadcast through my name, which is just about me; the marriage is ours, and a different kind of achievement from the mental challenges PhDs present (hopefully!). Reverting to an archaic label showing my attachment to a man runs counter to my whole ideology.
Speaking of names, one of the most annoying aspects of all of this was being asked a few times what my father’s name and occupation was for the marriage certificate.
English/Welsh law still doesn’t care who your mother was or what she did, so if: you only had a mother or mothers, your father never worked, you had more than one father, or you’d like all your parents represented (or not acknowledge your father) regardless, you couldn’t.
Thankfully this is changing, but a bit late.
Some men still go to their (female) partner’s father to tell him their plans and get some blessing before going ahead – or something, I don’t really understand this one I have to admit.
Now, this wasn’t going to happen to me as my father died some time ago, so a bit of a moot point (see also “giving away“, another one I’d have absolutely avoided), but I’m still surprised by people doing this in the 21st century. Is it any of:
1. You get on well with your partner’s parents and want to give them a heads-up (maybe you’re hoping they’ll cough up some cash)… hmm, no, that’s it, drawing blanks now. You respect him? So what? Marrying his daughter isn’t about him, it’s about her.
“If I’m going to get married, I sure as hell want to be the first to know about it.”
2. A bit scared of your partner’s father and want to make sure he means you no harm? This is layers of sexism. We have men all over the place threatening their female relatives’ partners with physical punishment “if you hurt her”, showing quite a telling belief about how men behave in this world; men they may have raised themselves, or men they consider themselves to be like somehow (“Lock up your daughters!” he says of his son, “Boys only want one thing!” he tells her – and why’s that?). So, “I intend to marry your daughter” feels like a safeguard.
Perhaps instead of warning men off women we could endeavour to raise better men, and listen to women when they do encounter trouble, be supportive, instead of aggressive? Aggression being the problem in the first place.
3. You think parents own their children and you feel like you’re taking her away so you have to ask first? This is bizarre, though a feeling of ownership does seem to exist for many parents, and this is what human rights are for; to protect all humans, including young ones, because you don’t own a child, you’re its carer/custodian/protector, not yours to brand or alter or harm at your whim.
4. You think men should have a say over what the women in their lives get to do? Otherwise, surely, you’d be asking her mother if possible as well; perhaps some people do. Still, previous point applies.
I don’t get it.
One’s ‘best friend’ hopefully isn’t a rock
I’m a massive jewellery fan as many know but a short conversation showed neither of us wanted to get me an engagement ring.
Others have argued this better than me – and again, if you love your bit of jewellery, good for you; I buy myself jewellery frequently enough so am not in need of extras. If your hand was sparse/you’re overcome with glee, don’t let anyone piss on your chips.
But diamonds are bullshit – DeBeers really pulled a blinder here, creating the demand that wasn’t there, getting everyone to believe these relatively boring “rocks” are super rare and , still profiting from terrible conflict, and making women out to be some seriously lacking in imagination magpie-like creatures – all together constructing the social expectations for a must-have purchase-action package (don’t get me started on public proposals) and shaming those who don’t buy in.
Diamonds won’t fix marital problems, and the sooner we stop seeing this trope in entertainment the better (“Ooh diamond earrings! Now I forgive the last 5 years of neglect, disrespect and laziness!”).
Marking only one half of a couple “taken” is sexist asymmetry. Why not both wear one? Or we could just do that after the wedding (not that everyone wants or needs wedding bands either) and save the money for some nice furniture and/or holiday. *Jumps onto the sofa*.
Why the shocked face?
This is probably the most personal bit.
I’m a little uncomfortable with how much surprise some have expressed over my getting married at all. This seems odd to me; I grew up a girl who absorbed all the messages about how the relationship escalator works. I examined it often and rarely if ever concluded ‘marriage is bad‘. I’ve seen bad marriages, and that’s not the same thing.
Most people want to be loved, a lot of people are happy with one partner at a time (and some aren’t, also fine, as long as not trying to fit into a box you can’t; that’s when people get hurt) and it’s still quite common for someone to meet a person they feel like spending the rest of their life with.
Of course I’ve had times in my life where I’ve been happy on my own (single doesn’t equal sad), or deeply unhappy and simply unwilling to do much dating because oh my god it’s drudgery and a huge number of men in society are far more work than it’s worth, and some level of horrible. Some people feel up to that challenge, but after taking it a few times, I often didn’t.
It’s also hard to acknowledge fears and concerns in some relationships when we’re consistently taught that abusive behaviours are actually romantic. “He hurts you because he likes you” the old refrain from our childhood goes; never say this.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t ultimately have a goal of finding a long-term partner. I almost always did. I just didn’t want to end up with someone who didn’t respect me, couldn’t look after themselves, has sexist expectations about my roles or abilities, wanted to have children with me, or otherwise reminded me of some/all the shit women have had to endure and still do in many cases today. To name a few criteria.
These are called standards and for all the times various people described it as being “picky”, I have one thing to say to younger me and anyone else (usually women) who hears this:
You can never be “too picky”. Your standards and expectations are fair and valid and you don’t have to settle for anyone who doesn’t meet them. There are people who will, and you don’t owe “chances” to anyone who doesn’t.
The underlying message people send to women when they tell us to be less picky is “otherwise you’ll be single and that would be bad” – but it isn’t. Be single, love being with yourself, and if you love being with someone else, great.
It took a long time to find someone who fills me with relief and happiness, hope, and a real sense of being equal, loved and appreciated – instead of disappointment, worry, even fear (often misinterpreted as excitement, it turns out). I’m glad I stuck it out instead of settling for something that wasn’t right, or swearing off relationships altogether forever. It’s just chance that person is a man.
Maybe the fact that I’ve been vocally feminist for a long time, critical of toxic masculinity, discussing gendered gaps that exist in our society where emotional, parental, and general paid and unpaid labour – people think that means I must hate men? Or that I could not love a man? Seems a strange leap, but I suppose can make sense at a glance.
This thread really resonated with me – and while it’s not the case that every person who’s surprised by a woman they know tying the knot is somehow jealous/hates herself/resents you or anything – perhaps a lot of us, without even knowing it, expect only the somehow traditional or subservient women would actually sign up to the institution?
Also, this pesky idea of borders still exists and being married happens to help you move across them together with less trouble. That sucks, but if you know you want to be together and borders start threatening that, you take the practical solutions. We wanted to.
A partnership vs. an institution
It should, it seems to me, be perfectly possible to critique the institution of marriage without that seeming to apply to every married couple. Two people enter into a marriage and will make of it what they will. But as an entity, a concept, a legal framework, a societal expectation – marriage itself carries a whole load of weight that two people are rarely if ever going to fully embody.
We redefine marriage all the time, we always have, and no doubt will continue to for as long as it exists. That’s a good thing. People complaining about the relationship choices of others personally impacting them are generally talking nonsense (e.g. if the gays marry, we have to divorce! – G’wan then); it wouldn’t affect you at all if you didn’t keep on thinking about it, so get your personal preferences out of other people’s legal rights.
I don’t agree with restricting access to marriage, on basis of religion or lack thereof, sexuality, gender, or even number; if three or more people love each other in a way that makes them want to make a legal commitment together, why not? We always try to protect against exploitation and abuse, and in monogamous, heterosexual marriage, we’ve consistently failed, so I see no reason to deny others their chances.
Ultimately, marriage still provides benefits that are somewhat unfairly granted, and withheld from other forms of partnership. I think it’s good to break that down and to recognise partnership in many more forms, and stop privileging one kind of relationship. Until we’ve done that, if you can make life easier, why wouldn’t you?
Tiny day, big life
I’m no big fan of (Western traditional) weddings myself. I don’t like “bridal” as a design concept; it lacks colour, has too many frills and overall the wedding industrial complex makes me feel quite ill. I’ve had a great time at weddings, don’t get me wrong – when you love your friends and they’re happy, you’d have to work hard to not enjoy that.
I’d hope that nowadays people feel like they’re free to pick and choose, ignore or buy into as much as they want. Like, my cheap off-the-rack red dress looked great! But a lot of people aren’t completely free to choose, which is sad.
Overall, I think a wedding should be about the people getting married (omg!); what they want, what they enjoy, featuring who they love and nothing more. No parental oversight/demands, no concessions to difficult acquaintances, no religious overtones where they’re unimportant in their lives (or vice versa).
I would never spend the huge amounts of money on an event that so many do – impossible for many to do anyway. We’re taught, as girls, that the wedding day should be that thing. I didn’t need it to be. Much like the engagement ring, I’d rather save the cash for some adventures and necessities down the line – for life.
Our wedding day was about as perfect as we were going to manage given the time frame we had and I’d change nothing. Except maybe to remember to eat more and not endure the terrible hangover that followed…
I am glad I didn’t (and don’t) ever have to care about things like chair covers, place settings, favours, flower arrangements, distant relatives, children at a disco, tailoring an extortionately priced dress (or several), segregating our respective friends by gender (for pre-parties or the day itself), or any number of tiny details I’m blissfully ignorant of.
There’s so much more I forgot we’d ignored:
“He can’t see you in the dress!” me evening of purchase: “You like it??” – others shop with their partners. Why shouldn’t they have a say if they want?
“You can’t see each other on the day!” We had breakfast and he came to the hairdresser while I was having my hair done, we all hung out and got a taxi together. That’s one of my favourite photos.
“Toss a bouquet!” No thanks!
And let’s not even start on all the creepy wedding night nonsense.
It’s one day, in the chapter of thousands in our life. It pales in insignificance in front of what I hope is an enormous mountain of stuff we’ll get up to in the future. Fun celebration was my only goal (as well as the certificate, the practical element) and we certainly achieved that. For those whose wedding comes far into a relationship, I’d hope it wouldn’t overshadow past joys either.
I don’t get why it’s such a big deal, I probably never will. Each to their own. My friends added some beautiful details to our wedding that I loved (an epic cake and flowers).
Big ‘less is more’ fan.
Let’s not judge someone’s relationship by whether they’ve signed that contract or not, by what jewellery they do or don’t wear – don’t ask people “when” they’ll get married as there’s no need to assume they want to/they will or should – we’re all individuals with our own value so we shouldn’t act like someone is or would be worth more or less simply because of their relationship circumstances.
Peppered throughout, too many to list! Except:
A Rainbow Heavy Metal Disco! – Dear friends and colleagues in trivia had an epic wedding, thankfully while I was still in the country. The groom also witnessed at my own hastily-arranged legal bit. Thank you both for having us! (As usual, I am eating in photo #63.)
“Make it your own. Celebrate your relationship and who you are as people. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you have to do X, Y, or Z because it’s what people expect. And finally, don’t stress!”
I also found this great piece on equal marriage: More Equal Than Others
Lastly, if you’re one of those “My wife is so awful” people: The Irony of calling women balls and chains
5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Marriage”
I got married last May for the 2nd time and I changed my name. People asked me why I did that and some were quite amazed that I would.
I changed my name again because when I got married for the first time 24 years ago, it was expected I would change my name. If I’d never changed it in the first place, that’s the way it would have stayed but there was no way I was going into a new marriage with my legal name from my previous marriage.
I could I suppose have reverted to my maiden name on marriage but then we’d have had 4 different surnames in one household, my kids with my ex-husbands surname, my husband with his name and my step-kids with their double-barrelled name. It just seemed simpler to stick to as few names as possible in the same household.
Himself wasn’t in the slightest bit bothered what I called myself.
I didn’t have anyone giving me away. My father died 18 months prior to use getting married and I would have let him escort me down the aisle out of tradition had he been alive but I most certainly wasn’t got to replace him with my son or my brother, I chose to marry, I am no ones property but my own.
Why did we get married? Well we just wanted to, we’ve both been married before and we both wanted a completely different wedding memory to cherish that was just us, so that’s what we did.
I actually think that as a feminist, I’m not prepared to be judged for what I chose to do. If people didn’t like it well simply tough. It was our wedding and we did it our way.
Congrats, and happy thousands more days!
My mum asked me what my name would be once I got married. ‘Er, Shannon’.
‘No, I mean your surname’.
The answer to that was, ‘the same one I was born with’. My name represents who I am. Nobody gets to change that.
Other interesting name tidbit… If you hang around old cemeteries you learn an interesting fact. Women may have had to change their names when they got married, but they reverted to their father’s names at death. How ridiculous is that?
I dislike them altogether. However, people seem to obsess over them, so you can call me ‘Ms’. If I don’t know you well enough for you to call me by my first name, then I certainly don’t know you well enough for you to be making assumptions about my marital status.
I didn’t ask Dave’s mum for permission before I asked him. If I was going to ask anyone, I suppose it probably should have been his kids. But I didn’t.
No diamonds. My engagement ring (because I chose to have one, even if I do wear it on my index finger) is made of recycled silver and coloured cubic zirconias. Wedding bands are carbon fibre and maple wood. All hand made by independent artists.
Forget throwing a bouquet, I didn’t even have one. Flowers were banned from the wedding.
We spent quite a lot. Not because we did anything traditionally weddingy, but because we considered it a once-in-a-lifetime party.
Many moons ago I was engaged (long story short, I only did it because “it’s what couples eventually do” and not because it’s what I really WANTED, and that was a mistake) and when we later broke up I grew pretty bitter about the whole idea of marriage. I got way deep into the “it’s stupid” mindset complete with all of the very real things like overpriced everythings, overhyped events, the concept of owning a woman, all of that. It took a few years for me to come back around to “you’re celebrating love and you don’t have to do all that shit”. That’s how deeply ingrained all of that is, that I couldn’t imagine a marriage without all of that other stuff that goes with it. And it’s weird to write it out too because you don’t always think about how much ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ completely direct your sense of what’s normal.
With my fiance now, I did ask her parents (both of them though, not just her father) because they are old school and the experiences of her other family members demonstrated that it would just be easier. I think it’s one of those things that, if it’s easier in the long-term and nobody gets hurt, fine. But we also discussed it as a couple before I asked her parents for their ‘blessing’, because it’s also important to make clear that I don’t see it as needing to ask her parents permission. We both think it’s dumb and outdated but we also both know the ten minutes of awkward and unnecessarily stressful conversation with her parents is a fair price to pay to avoid years and years of being antagonised for having not done so.
Also, borders. BORDERS. UGH. That’s all I have to say about that.
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