When I got to my mid-twenties, everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – started coupling off, getting married and making babies. As a serial monogamist who had vowed long ago to not ever join that circus, I started to feel alien surrounded by a species of breeders. I think I was about 3 or 4 when I was playing doctor with a boy – or rather he was playing doctor with me, I was to bear his child and be his wife. I wanted none of it. That was when I decided to never get married and never have children. Essentially, I was never going to grow up. Later, when boyfriends broached the subject of marriage or put out the creepy engagement feelers – testing the water – I felt completely betrayed. “He clearly doesn’t know me at all, how could he possibly love me forever?” That was usually the beginning of the end.
Little girls, or the little girls I knew, had their weddings planned by the age of 9. Some of them even had a dowry chest. They would play out the entire event over and over again, starring Ken and Barbie. I preferred to play with my paint set. I gave my one Barbie and one Jem doll (I’m a child of the 80’s) pixie cuts and had them playing in punk bands. The G.I. Joe’s couldn’t help but fall in love. Jem & B didn’t give a shit and neither did I. Please don’t confuse my whimsy for aloofness or callous. I fell in love, a lot. I fall in and out of love everyday. At least five times before breakfast. I understood early on how transient romantic love is. I love love, but don’t try to tether me to any one lover and tell me its forever.
In my mind, the moment expectations are placed on the relationship, on the lover, is the moment the romance dies. It isn’t fair to anybody. And isn’t that exactly what marriage is? A binding contract between two people (traditionally a heterosexual couple with the purpose of procreation) wrought with expectation and impending disappointment and heartbreak. (Yes – I’m a child of divorce, no – I wasn’t when this decision was made.) But it isn’t only between the two lovers, is it? It is also a contract between these two people and society – declaration of compliance to social norms, values and roles. The celebration of the end of love the the beginning of duty. There’s nothing romantic about it. And with the divorce rate what it is, its all a complete farce. But let the girl have her fairy tale wedding and let the guy have his last night of freedom. The jest of God.
When I was about nineteen I read a book called The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood – written before she got into speculative fiction. I’ll summarize by saying that it confirmed and solidified my early commitment to spinsterhood. That and The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin. I’ll take lovers, but no man is going to get me under his thumb. And the second things got comfortable, lazy or complacent was the moment my heart started to wander. I was long gone by the time the relationship had ended. In retrospect, I guess I always remained semi-detached – prepared to flee. But maybe I just never met someone who challenged me the way I needed. I knew what came next – I was to be the wife, bear and rear the children, do the laundry, wash the dishes, clean up poop. I was to become a martyr – sacrifice my selfhood for the greater good of the family unit, for the greater good of society. I was to cease being an individual with her own ideas, thoughts, creativity, dreams in order to become a woman, a womb, a selfless vessel that exists solely for others.
What I’m concerned with is how women are valued. What makes a woman? Historically she has been valued as mother, as homemaker, as wife – which are all invaluable expressions of womanhood. Post-feminism, woman as such has been devalued in favour of becoming like men. We are facing a serious identity crisis on a mass scale. What does it mean now to be a woman? To be a mother? To be a wife? While in the workplace we must function as effectively as men (if not more so), only to be substantially under-appreciated and reduced to the status of bitch, women must still function as wives or mothers or else they’re neglectful. We need mothers. That’s where babies come from. But in order to remain a woman and not just a mother, a lazy stay at home what does she do with all that time on her hands – mom, mothers must abandon their children for boardrooms. And we’re left with a generation of orphans.
What I’m trying to say is this shit is still fucked. A woman is a womb is a mother is a wife is a maid is a highly functioning pretty little man, and we’re over-breeding as it is. I’m never playing that game, I’m never getting married, I’ll never be a mother.
I got married. It just kind of happened. I met him when I was living in a share house with 3 other dudes. He played in a band with one of my roomies. I was studying for my post-grad on the other side of the globe from home. He was at our place all the time and he just kind of grew on me – like a fungus. (If you saw the house, you wouldn’t be surprised about the fungus.) We became good mates and then we started doin it. Because there was no pretense, no expectation, we were able to communicate honestly about our needs, ideals and about what we wanted from each other. We loved the same shit and both didn’t want anything serious or any kind of attachment – it was perfect – until somebody introduced me as his girlfriend. I got all indignant about it, but I think it started to eat away at both of us – secretly. A couple of weeks later he asked me if I was his girlfriend yet. “I guess so.” A couple of months later he told me he loved me. I totally loved him too – blissful romantic sexy love. A month later, I met his kids – two of them. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this, but fuck I love this guy.” All the while that honest candour remained vital to how we communicated. We decided to move in together. It was quick, but if felt right.
Several months later, I’d nearly finished my degree which meant my student visa was about to end. Faced with a huge dilemma – should I stay or should I go? – we both were not prepared to let it go at that. Which begs the next question. How do I stay? “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.” No, I can’t do it. It goes against everything I’ve believed up to now.
“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togevah today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam wiffin a dweam. And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow you fowevah and evah…”
“Man and wife! Say man and wife!”
“Man and wife.”
A man and his wife.
I told him I didn’t want to have a wedding. He told me he didn’t want a wedding. I told him I didn’t want to be somebody’s wife. He told me he didn’t want a wife. We took a trip to Montreal to visit my family, detouring through New York City first. We showed up to city hall wearing black, I wore white Chuck Taylors.
“I promise to never be a wife.”
“I promise to never make you be a wife.”
The celebrant was fantastic, he kept it quick and painless. All we had to say was I do. My younger brother was the only one who knew. He was our witness, wearing a black tuxedo t-shirt. It was all so romantic.
By the time we arrived in Montreal, we were boyfriend and girlfriend again. Of course, my mother guessed it and my father wasn’t surprised. She squeeled with delight, I assured her there was to be no grand-children. He took us out for Morroccan.
Two years have gone by and we’re still boyfriend and girlfriend. Its a label I’m comfortable with, though I’ve stopped getting angry when someone slips up and calls me his wife. Whatever the label is, it was the best half decision I ever made. Maybe this Peter Pan met her Wendy. This is the longest and the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve longed for something else, someone else, someone new. I am still blissfully and romantically in love – even if he leaves his dirty fucking socks everywhere.
Is this forever? Who knows – I don’t bloody care – because right now he believes in me, he allows me to be whoever I am in any given moment and he expects nothing. And I him. I’ve discovered that love and identity are inextricably linked. How I relate to love has completely changed how I relate to myself. And all that talk about what it means to be a woman seems somewhat trivial because whoever I decide to be, I am a woman with all its baggage and connotations. We’re complex creatures, after all.
WORDS; ANDREA SHELDON
IMAGE; SARAH SCAIFE