Thursday, December 17, 2009

Forget About Prince Charming

Did you guys read Meg's post yesterday at A Practical Wedding about the harmful expectations the outside world states (and re-states) about the value of marriage and children?  It's the same conversation that's been infuriating me for a while.  Men seem to think it's okay to (semi) joke with Jason that he should run now because marriage is the old ball and chain.  Meanwhile, women gush with me about the wedding, even while they complain incessantly about marriage itself and give me dire warnings about the kids.  As usual, Meg managed to eloquently point out that these cultural expectations are neither funny nor okay, because what they end up doing is reinforcing caricatures of marriage and gender roles that can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

As frustrating as these BS expectations are, the wedding has made me think a lot about where these expectations come from, and which grain of truth they are based in.  And my unscientific hypothesis is that much of the cultural disappointment in marriage is based  on the unrealistic hope that marriage will "save" us from the drudgery of everyday life.  In other words, there are a whole lot of women running around with Prince Charming fantasies who are holding on to ridiculous notions of happily ever after.  I also bet that many of these women are the ones who get so wrapped up in planning a fantastic wedding that they forget about planning the marriage.  And I also think there are a lot of men who haven't thought about why they want to get married, but just that it seems the next logical step.  Well, no wonder they, and their partners, are frustrated with the outcome. Because let's say it upfront - life is hard. Marriage is hard.  Kids are hard and they WILL do a number on your relationship and body.  And it's going to be a challenging adjustment (the kids more so than the marriage, I imagine).  But you know what else?  Marriage is going to be wonderful.  I am genuinely happy in this relationship, and we've managed a load of life-is-really-hard stuff together already.  I know we can manage this life thing and be better for it all.

We're one of those couples that was obviously right for each other from the beginning.  Even so, we were both cautious about jumping into the relationship and then about deciding to get married, even though everyone around us knew it was a forgone conclusion from early on.  I think we were both particularly careful about deciding to get married because we both understand exactly what marriage means and that it's often times hard.  Neither of our set of parents have had sugarcoated lives, but they have had each other.  Their marriages aren't perfect, but their commitment and the richness the commitment adds to their lives, is. So neither Jason nor I have any expectation this will be easy, even though we seem to have an easy relationship and a lot going for us upfront.

We know what love is and isn't.  In part, it's making a lot of gooey eyes at each other, but in much larger part it's the decision to stick by your partner even when things were harder than you could have possibly imagined and finding ways to laugh about it anyhow. It's finding ways to work through the complications instead of running.  We have a close family member who's in a wheelchair, and her husband has not only stuck by her but risen to the occasion and they are frankly inspirational in their ongoing love, affection, and laughter.  No one pretends it isn't hard, but the real essence of Prince Charming is in those uncomplaining late night hospital visits and quiet hand holding, and not just in the romance of it all. The little things - the way that someone leaves their clothes on the floor or they can't cook anything that doesn't end up burnt are ultimately unimportant in the context of a life together.  I wonder if the people making "run now" jokes to Jason really understood that before they jumped into marriage, or whether they were hit with a brick of disappointment when life actually happened and they hadn't worked on the foundation of how to get through it together. 

So maybe, once we drop the Prince Charming nonsense and look at what we really have and recognize that every day is effort - worthwhile effort, but effort nonetheless - then maybe we're going to be alright with this marriage thing.  Because my eyes are wide open here, and that's precisely why I'm so excited, grateful, and completely head over heels for this partnership.

9 comments:

  1. That's so true. I often feel like sometimes people think I am planning an 'over the top' wedding and that I am so wrapped up in that to where it is all I think about. And while yes, I do think an awful lot about wedding related topics (and fears) I ultimately get more excited about what comes after the wedding. Mr Fix It and I talk a lot about what we think our life will be like living together and as newlyweds. We both have concerns and fears about how we're going to 'mesh' and deal with each other's little faults and idiosyncracies but we also know that we love each other and communicate well to be able to deal with those things that aren't as important. My sister has been married for 3 years now and they chose to jump right into having kids (she got pregnant on the honeymoon!). And now, they are struggling to figure out how to be married with children and dealing with their frustrations and such. I try to encourage her and remind her that this is what life is about and you will get through it...but you need to be partners and stay focused on what drew you to each other in the first place.

    On a funnier note regarding the men's comments to run now: In a future post I will share about the little surprise (joke) I have planned for Mr Fix It regarding that very thought of 'running.' :)

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  2. I was at a wedding recently where the officiant said that marriage is wanting to argue with the same person everday. In many ways, I agree. I know this isn't going to be all hearts and flowers, and that makes it much more easier when we do argue. The point is this is someone you love enough to put up with all their bad. And they put up with all your bad. And then you get to do crazy things, like be messy and gross in front of each other and still think the other is hot. It's an amazing thing.

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  3. Wow. What a great post. I couldn't agree more on all points.

    Planning for marriage is way more important than planning for a wedding. Plan about finances, plan about family, plan for good days & plan for bad ones. This is way more important than chair covers and party favors.

    And of course, all this is easier said than done, but having your head on straight is definitely one step in the right direction.

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  4. This was really, really well said. I completely agree that these Prince Charming fantasies and ball and chain jokes reinforce stereotypes and can become self-fulfilling prophecies. People are so caught up in the "idea" of marriage and all of society's trappings that come with it, and they often forget what it's all about. If you are lucky enough to find someone you want to spend every day with and tackle everything together - even the hard, not so fun stuff - that's fantastic. But you're right - let go of these silly fantasies, open your eyes and talk about what you both want out of your lives...individually and together.

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  5. You always have such great relationship posts! And you hit the nail on the head on this one too! Mr. Milk gets those reactions too and the irony of the situation is that he is the one who decided to propose! Although we had talked about getting married and knew we wanted to be together, we had agreed (at least I thought we had :)) that we wanted to live together in the same location first (after long distance for so long) and then get engaged. He changed it all, and although I initially had questions about this sudden (for me) change, he was so convinced that we were doing the right thing. Yet he gets hassled and told to run and I get gushed at. Oh well. At the end of the day, whats important is our relationship, respect for each other, commitment, support, and love.

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  6. Very good post. I feel like the unifying theme here is that there are too many reasons to get married other than consciously choosing a partner with whom you feel ready to share your life. I know I've written about how choice can be liberating and I really feel that about my own marriage--yeah stuff about it is fucking hard, but I chose it all with a clear head and feel confident in that. I know what I signed up for. At least as much as I can (we can't know what we have not yet experienced!

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  7. @chocolate lover: Exactly! Why would anyone propose if they weren't ready for it and didn't really want it?! It's been so much fun to discover how happy and excited Jason is about marriage, when every cultural stereotype says it will be the opposite.

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  8. I am so glad you & Meg wrote on this as it's been on my mind a lot lately also. The Boy has been getting a lot of this from his guy friends/collegues lately too. I think it's telling how these outdated role models (man-breadwinner, woman-caretaker) are still ingrained in our consciousness even with all the progress gender equality has made in the last 50 years. Maybe, back then, the responsiblity of supporting a family was more than a man could bear (the ol' ball and chain). But now?

    We were at a dinner a while back when an aquaintence of the Boy's told him if he thought he was stressed now, wait till he got married and had kids (har har). He then (no joke) asked me if I "did" anything for a living, aside from attending the Boy's events (he's an event coordinator). I told him politely that I was an engineer and he should shove it. Well maybe not the last part, but still. Grr.

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  9. Mmm. Glad that hit with someone, I wasn't quite sure somehow. :)

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