I don't think this is going to come off very well, but it's been swirling in my mind for a number of months and I had to get it out . I don't have all the articles and blog posts that fed it at the tip of my fingers, but hopefully it'll make sense, anyway. [I ran it by a friend before posting and she said, "You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas." True, but this is my offline world these days. I'd be interested in your thoughts.] Andi takes a throaty slug of her second raspberry martini, picks at her fish taco, then sits back in her chair. "I think marriage is the new dating and having kids is the new marriage," she proclaims loudly, as yet another woman dining with her partner turns to stare. "It's true. I wouldn't have married him if I didn't think I could get out of it."
Okay, I'll admit it... I grew up in a very sheltered world--rural, religious, educated and all-American. I could've starred in a Norman Rockwell painting.
But it wasn't that I didn't know about the wider world out there with its craziness, emptiness and even downright evilness (I read far too voraciously to be oblivious to it, and life as a pastor's daughter puts you in contact with the fringes). I just thought it was the exception, not the rule. Now that I'm an adult and have finally stepped out of the worlds of classical music's idealistic passion and elementary education's child-focused simplicity, I have been disappointed to discover I seem to have had it backwards all these years.
What has been the saddest thing I've encountered--for myself, for this generation of children, and for society at large--is what seems to be the accepted standards of social and romantic interactions between men and women, and acceptable attitudes toward family life. The following descriptions are examples of people I interact with on a regular basis offline (online is another matter):
There is the never-married woman who has been living with a never-married man for a number of years, with regular fights about why he won't marry her. They have children from previous (teenage?) relationships who live with others. Nobody seems to think anything about this arrangement is worrisome.
There is the divorcing couple who have been married for only a brief amount of time (he felt the need to hook up with a woman of the type who harasses the wife with stories about their continuing escapades). And we'll just leave off discussion of the stories the wife tells about his personality/character from BEFORE they were married...
Then there's the wife who is running herself ragged because she "can't trust her husband to take care of _________" (fill in the blank with any household responsibility). For the longest time, I thought she was a single mother, but that was just because her husband is a non-entity in their relationship and parenting. Apparently she asks him to do something, but he doesn't do it, or doesn't do it "right." And so she takes berates him and takes that responsibility back (way to motivate your man, huh?), ultimately assuming total responsibility for the family and household. I don't give that one many more years...
Or there is the couple who have been together a couple years and aren't planning on marriage, complete with the 5-year-old (from her marriage) who calls him "Daddy." The weird thing is, they seem to have one of the happier and healthier relationships of people I regularly encounter these days.
How about the very young couple living in his bedroom at his parents' house? They secretly wed a few months before announcing their engagement and preparing for the big bash of a "real" wedding." Strangely, they might actually make it in the long-term, marriage-wise.
Or try this one on for size: The 20-somethings cheated on their spouses with each other; now they're married to each other.
And I also have the joy of listening to women talk about how stupid their men are, or how they're withholding sex or otherwise making them pay for some perceived slight. Or I have to listen to a very young child sob because he has taken on the worries of the next 18 months (maybe we're going to PCS to the other side of the world, maybe he won't come back, maybe he'll get deployed again and we'll miss Christmas again, maybe, maybe, maybe...) because mom decided that dumping her fears on him was a good idea since since dad is currently deployed and isn't there to nag.
Here's a real mind-bender: working part-time taking care of other peoples' infants... in order to make enough to pay other people to take care of your infant! The scariest part of that is that the prime example of that within my circle is a woman who generally has her head on straight and a happy home life with her husband. *scratching head in perplexity*
Then there are the twits who couldn't understand why I didn't want my boyfriend to "give me a baby."
And more recently, the young, never-married mother of a toddler who said, "I love being a single mother. It's wonderful." When she and others in the room (knowing my age and never-married status) expressed surprise that I didn't have a child, then ventured that perhaps it was a sensitive issue because I might be infertile and that surely I would want a child even if I was single, my response left them with their mouths hanging open: "I don't know if I want children or not; I don't allow myself to consider it because, being unwed and with no prospects for marriage in the near future, it's not an option right now. If by some miracle of immaculate conception I managed to get pregnant, I'd put the baby up for adoption."
Their mouths literally fell open and all exclaimed they could never do that--"I would love my baby too much." I told them I would love my baby too much NOT to make sure he got what he needed--even if it would break my heart--because there is no way at this time in my life that I can fulfill a child's physical (financial) and emotional needs. They looked stupefied, so I laughed it off with a joke about why there was no chance I could become pregnant.
Then there are the over-40 single men I know, only two of whom believe in the possibility of true love and happy marriage anymore. Most look at romantic relationships as a combination of "scratching the itch" for a few trade-offs, and simple companionship to keep the wolves of loneliness at bay for a time. And I won't even get into the hypocrisy of their philosophy of men and women and what is attractive and what isn't... In their experience, dating really is a monetary transaction in the minds of both men and women.
And the really interesting thing is when these men start talking about the (in their mind, non-existent) qualities that would be required in a woman who could be worthy of marriage. They use words like honesty, loyalty, patience, integrity, "true" femininity, and openness. I look around and realize that here in my locale I know of only one or maybe two unmarried women who could fit that description.
Now, I'm as hard on the men as the women. Don't get me started on the egotistical pigs who dismiss every young woman as an empty-headed prattler, or every old woman as a manipulative, desperate hag. The men who take joy in treating the women in their lives like their male friends... Or the jerks who don't fight for their children in divorce, or who take the easy way out with a wife who has withdrawn or become overbearing (go have an affair "because men have needs").
But these days, I'm seeing things from the woman's side, and I'm ashamed of my sex:
Back to my first paragraph... I grew up in a Christian denomination with miscellaneous lifestyle guidelines that separated us from "the world" in some ways. But I always thought there really wasn't that much difference between "us and them." These days I'm beginning to wonder how much there is that isn't separating us...
If I were a single man out there, I'm pretty sure I'd be the misanthropic type like the over-40 men I described above. As it is, I'll just settle for the 30-something female version: People Suck.
Okay, Okay... I'll be mature and rational about this; the older I get, the more disappointed I am in the human race in terms of behavior, values, intelligence, rationality, etc. Case in point: I've been struggling with trying to complete a requirement at work that has been nearly impossible to do under current working conditions. Only one person with whom I've discussed it at work has not told me either directly or indirectly to lie/b.s. my way through it. Only one more understood when I said that all I have these days is my self-image, and I want to see someone with integrity when I look in the mirror.
FbL, misanthrope. Bet you never saw that coming...
Andi takes a throaty slug of her second raspberry martini, picks at her fish taco, then sits back in her chair. "I think marriage is the new dating and having kids is the new marriage," she proclaims loudly, as yet another woman dining with her partner turns to stare. "It's true. I wouldn't have married him if I didn't think I could get out of it."