Sunday, October 05, 2008
Why Women Shouldn't Marry
On the first day of our honeymoon, my husband and I wandered into a bookstore. I happened to notice one title, Why Women Shouldn't Marry: Being Single By Choice and I picked it up. I was a spinster for too long to not find this book irresistible. My new husband indulgently carried it to the checkout counter for me.
I appreciate Cynthia S. Smith and Hillary B. Smith's book. It acknowledges all the great reasons to get married, but asserts that too many women marry for bad reasons. With chapters like "The Soul Mate Myth," "Why Divorced Women with Kids Shouldn't Marry" and "Why Widows Shouldn't Marry: You've Been Through Enough," they have a lot of opinions I agree with. Their book rips into the cultural beliefs that a woman who isn't married is less valuable and that marriage improves every woman's life. I love the numerous stories of women who live independently, staying true to what they want out of life and refusing to let a man ruin their balance and stability. Also fascinating are the many examples of women who gave up their freedom for stifling marriages that left them much worse off than before, emotionally and financially. Of course, a chapter is included about having children without a marriage partner or not having them at all, "The Motherhood Option: Non-Mothers and Single Mothers."
But the most riveting chapter for me was the one called "Closet Singles," a category into which I think these authors would have put me until recently. This chapter described single women who live successful, independent lives full of friends, activities and dates, but who just can't seem to find the person we want to settle down with. These women constantly talk about wanting to be married and are endlessly searching for their husbands-to-be, but the dynamics of their lives really don't accommodate a partner. I'm guessing Smith and Smith would have called me a "Closet Single" because I spent years dating and being 100% certain I wanted to be a wife, while dismissing potential partner after potential partner. I believed I was inherently flawed or cursed or maybe the world just hated me. Being single wasn't a choice at all. I was desperate to be married. I just couldn't make it happen, no matter how hard I tried.
What "Closet Singles" identify as bad luck or a bad dating scene, Smith and Smith see as a lack of true desire to be married. They assert that deep down, "Closet Singles" are content with our lives as they are and unwilling to give up our freedom. That's probably correct, but what Smith and Smith don't fully address is the bitter self-loathing into which this leads people like me. Certain that I was worthless without a wedding ring, I hated myself for my independent freedom and peaceful solitude, but just couldn't bring myself to give it up. It was a horrible trap to be caught in.
Why Women Shouldn't Marry fully understands the horrible strength of the belief that single women are inferior to married women. Over and over again, Smith and Smith offer alternate ways of viewing the single life as peaceful, content and free of the burdens of taking care of a man, all the while knowing how hard it is to override convention. They know we are brainwashed into believing IF I'M NOT MARRIED, I'M A FAILURE and they work hard to show all the evidence that this is not true. I love that this book works hard to give women all the arguments we need to reject traditional, oppressive roles. Smith and Smith are basically saying that marriage can be great when you marry for the right reasons, but can be awful when you marry for the wrong ones.
Unfortunately, I can testify that even though I am a feminist, raised by a feminist, who came of age in California in the 1980's and who has known my whole life that women are the equals of men, even I have labored under the belief that until a man marries me, I am inferior to everyone who has ever been married, including those who are now divorced. All the feminist ideology in the world (and I've read plenty) and all the women-are-powerful arguments I've tried to plant in my head and all the Oprah shows have not supplanted my deep-seated belief that I was a failure in life until Bob made me his wife last March (who failed here?).
That is how I know Why Women Shouldn't Marry is not for me. Even when I was single, I was not the audience for this book. This book is for women who have self-esteem. This book is for women who believe in themselves enough to need only hard, cold evidence to reject societal pressures.
I guess it would take another entire book to address the depth of self-hatred that leads women like me to use society's expectations to pound ourselves down. I'm married now -- finally, at the age of 42 -- and I actually love my husband and don't feel sick of his company even after a week of being with him constantly. I consider myself very lucky to finally be in a marriage I actually want to be in. I endured years of being a lonely, desperate woman who was unable to commit to anyone for more than a few months at a time, before finally deciding I wanted to marry this one. I think my self image will now begin to improve because now I know that, even I'm divorced next year, at least I turned out to be capable of marrying (I didn't develop much self-esteem when I was growing up, so yes, I'm actually serious).
I recommend Why Women Shouldn't Marry if only because it is such a spirited, good time. Yes, it gets shrill. Yes, it gets emotional and judgmental, but then it's trying to counter centuries of society's pro-marriage emotion and judgement. Although it gets a bit heavy handed in its illustrations of how awful marriage can be when you marry only because of social pressure, I think it gives single women reason to take heart against that pressure and good arguments to oppose it. And with relationship story after relationship story, I couldn't put it down. What it doesn't do is help women like me stop hating ourselves for being manless failures (or for taking so long to land a man), but maybe that's beyond the scope of any book.