Saturday, July 7, 2012

In Our Ongoing Series About the Institution of Marriage...

My ex-husband is moving into a condo with his girlfriend at the end of the month, my son in tow for half the co-habitating ride. In cleaning out his sub-basement and packing, Craig stumbled upon some books that clearly must have belonged to me, which I'd forgotten when we manically separated (reminds me of when, in "When Harry Met Sally," Harry tells his friends who are a couple moving in together to put their names in their books, to make things easier should they split up). Amid books on writing that Craig had duplicates of, as he had both copies of books we needed as undergrads taking the same classes, he stumbled upon a hell of a read. It's called Anarchism and Other Essays, by early 20th century feminist/anarchist/professional agitator Emma Goldman.

When the shit comes down, I'm admittedly a bit of professional agitator myself. As I told a friend, a career as a professional agitator is "one of those rare occupations that require no formal schooling but eons of practicum that reward you with no money but immense personal satisfaction, e.g. the REST of the arts." I upset the apple cart. I challenge and question both the mundane and the radical. If that bothers you, as a reader, or if you believe yourself to be firmly conservative and traditional in your thinking, I strongly suggest you abandon reading the rest of this entry. If you feel compelled to read through and comment that I'm the embodiment of a bitter old maid, I've just saved you the trouble.

Several blogs back, in which I gave practical advice on separation and divorce from the perspective of a divorced person, I indicated that I was neither necessarily pro-divorce nor anti-marriage. Quite literally, my malaise on marriage was "meh." I can be quoted as having said this much: "Marriage can be wonderful and fulfilling." I should've really followed up that sentence with " very isolated cases" or "in some bizarre, alternate universe which I've never visited." Or, alternately, I could have said, "or it was until I read and agreed with Emma Goldman."

Marriage is a major life decision that should never be embarked upon lightly, though luckily, it's also a reversible decision, unlike, say, spawning. Right now, I'm facing a major life decision of deciding what on earth I'm going to DO with the rest of my life, and weighing following my heart and my passion--that which thrills my soul with the art that I produce, the bubbling-over of creativity that I love--against what is pragmatic, sustainable and in the best interest of supporting myself and my son financially. That's hard enough. Then the subject of men, dating and remarrying came up.

My first marriage was the product of proper society's complacent "It's time to get married." The passion of being shitpickles was long gone, and we were expected to "settle down." When you date for four years and you're in your early-to-mid 20's (circa 1996), it's the next "logical" step in the course of traditional life. While neither Craig nor I could've been labeled as "conventional" people, like a great number of our liberal collegiate friends, we subscribed to formalizing our romantic union. Times have changed, to a degree, since then, and couples are choosing to tie the knot later in life, statistically more common nowadays in their early 30's, after establishing individual careers but before the advent of high-risk childbearing upon them  (which, for women, is after age 35). That said, I also knew couples who married with no intention to, a mutual agreement, have children at all.

In the long, soul-searching mix that is my life at present, having indeed talked it over with confidants and friends, be they single, married or divorced, male and female, in and out of romantic entanglements, optimists tell me "You never know..." and "Don't rule it out...." and "You're not even out there yet..." and "You'll change your mind..." with regard to me remarrying in the future. Others who are alarmed by my proclamation say "It's the PTSD talking," or "It's all Chris' fault." My mother reduced my potential search for a new life-mate by suggesting that it really wouldn't be a bad idea for me to get together with my second cousin. (Granted, he and I have a weird vibe, but a fun one, joking around. But not remotely THAT weird.) Yickety yack. Some people blame my attitude on, well, those 2 guys I know, saying they're interrupting and distracting me, though they have nothing to do with it. The reality of life, chickie babies? Love and marriage do NOT go together like a horse and carriage, a study in practicality that's been sociologically proven to me countless times. My credo, as a result, is thus:

If you want to fall in love, and be in love, and be in love forever, for Christ's sake, don't fucking ruin it by getting married.

As if the enticement of anarchy wasn't enough to draw me into this book, scanning the table of contents, I was sparked by an essay on marriage and love, in which Goldman highlights and enforces the mutual exclusivity of the feeling of love in opposition to the institution of marriage. Her case is undeniably strong, even more so in the 21st century, having no preconception of the trail she'd blaze.
"Marriage and love have nothing in common; they are as far apart as the poles; are, in fact, antagonistic...It is utterly false that love results from marriage. On rare occasions, one does hear of a miraculous case of a married couple falling in love after marriage, but on close examination it will be found that it is a mere adjustment to the inevitable. Certainly the growing-used to each other is far away from the spontaneity, the intensity, and beauty of love, without which the intimacy of marriage must prove degrading to both the woman and the man."
Goldman further asserts that marriage is "primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact....its returns are insignificantly small compared with the investments."  Marriage and a legal union make fiscal sense for the purposes of things like shared health insurance, joint bank accounts earning interest, having matching MasterCard accounts, and raising credit scores by virtue of paying a monthly mortgage together. These are the "investments" to which Goldman refers. She flat out says that women, as a gender, lose their identities once in a marriage--"her privacy, her self-respect, her very life..." which is all very true. It starts with something as simple as the wife legally changing her name to that of the husband and spirals out of the woman's control shortly thereafter. Wives invariably kowtow to reduction of their inherent potential, values and worth once legally bound to a husband. To further enhance the archaic nature of the concept of marriage, wives are still expected to be, regardless of their personal ambitions and desires, dutiful and obedient servants to the "family" dynamic. Modern men often attempt to disagree, saying that their wives have equal say in all matters of marital accordance, but this has uniformly not been the experience of ANY of the women I know who were bold and courageous enough to abandon their marriages, or are giving that idea serious consideration at this very moment. Somewhere in the union of "we," husbands and wives lose sight of the "I."
"Thus Dante's motto over 'Inferno' applies with equal force to marriage: 'Ye who enter here leave all hope behind.' ... That marriage is a failure none but the very stupid will deny."
She cites the divorce rates of her day, which statistically were much lower than they are in 2012, with the present-day evolution of the no-fault divorce, which, had it been around in the 1920's when (as I said in my other blog) my paternal grandparents divorced their first spouses, it would've made their lives much easier. I, frankly, consider my grandparents to be trailblazers themselves. While the situations regarding the dissolving of each of their marriages weren't ideal, at least they had the where-with-all to conclude that their marriages were shams, and while they did enjoy over 50 years of marriage together, how "happy" were they, even then? I have no idea. Because back in those days, once you had children together, for all intents and purposes, you stuck together for the long haul (though my grandfather deserted the daughter he had with his first wife, which I acknowledged in my previous blog was shitty of him to do). As for my other grandparents? They remained married til death did they part, but why'd they GET married  in the first place? My grandfather got my grandmother pregnant out-of-wedlock. They married for the same reason my brother married his now ex-wife. The reason why so many of us get married (though not my personal experience).  

Emma Goldman talks about how, as little girls, we're trained to become eventual wives. That becoming a wife and mother is what's expected of us once we are adults, and that's very true. We play house. We have kid-sized plastic play kitchens, baby dolls, our Barbies marry Ken, etc. Hell, I even had my Star Wars action figures getting married. Having been groomed to believe the married lifestyle is the "normal" thing to do, a societal expectation or worse, obligation, we begin to fantasize about husbands and marriage as soon as we stop thinking boys are icky. My best friend in high school and I had our weddings all planned out, from gown styles to reception venues, down to the kinds of cars we envisioned our future spouses driving, and what we'd name our future children, all products of grandiose dreams that had no basis whatsoever in reality, as neither of us had so much as dated a boy at that point. What became of our fantasy lives? We're both divorced, recovering alcoholics struggling to make ends meet while raising children.

(For the purposes of this discussion at large, I'm leaving out the further societal complications of same-sex relationships or marriages and only addressing the heterosexual community.)

Back in the author's day, and still consistently believed today, if you sought out relationships outside of that which you had with your husband, if you were a woman, you were a pariah whom no "good" man would want. Yet today, women's infidelity within marriage is rapidly increasing, as oppressed and sexually and emotionally neglected women assert themselves, seeking love beyond mere novelty. Men, on the other hand, in Goldman's days? Affairs, while still largely kept secret, were commonly accepted and the wives put up and kept quiet. As long as the husband returned home at night, mowed the lawn, paid the bills and put air in the tires of the car, what he did behind his wife's back was often of no dire consequence. Often called "keeping up appearances" or "keeping up with the Joneses," traditional married couples repeatedly succumb to maintaining the facade of a solidified union, which is the least loving thing a couple can do to one another if they're no longer in love. Accumulating year upon year of wedding anniversaries is seen as a sociological triumph, regardless of how a couple might honestly feel about one another. "Happy Anniversary, though I could vomit at the very sight of you." Note that this isn't a situation that is a product of my own personal jadedness. It's a bitter, unfortunate fact of the lives of couples I know and love.

When speaking on the subject of love, however, Goldman is far more optimistic about the future. And again, I think she's right on the money. As The Smiths so famously sang, "I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does." I'm a vital woman, contrary to the view I frequently have of myself and how others have deemed me. I want intense love, unbridled passion, wild abandon, reckless intimacy and to be in love with someone forever, though next time, I'd prefer not to have that include being slapped across the face and urinated upon. But remarrying and entering into a second legal, "proper" union that binds me to a man that's ultimately a huge legal hassle should that love end? Thanks, but I think I'll pass. I am in love right now, a pragmatic clusterfuck of epic and largely unrequited magnitude, and NOT with my cousin, but it's thus far been manageable, though frustrating. If and when I get "serious" with another man, the more intensely I think about it, I pray to God he doesn't propose. Incidentally, my best friend from high school and I would agree with serious trepidation regarding remarriage at this juncture of our lives. Anyone who thinks a husband would magically make either she or I "happy" or "stable" is a fool. The fantasies of our dream weddings never having come to fruition, the caricatures of our supposed fantasy spouses vastly different than what our realities became, suffice it to say, we've learned some valuable lessons over the years. I wish to God some of the people I love the most would likewise remove themselves from unbearably unhappy marital situations, but are staying married for reasons of sheer pragmatics and financial security, which is saddening and unfair, when they could be (and should be) reaping the joys of love.

Goldman ends her essay: 
"Some day, some day men and women will rise, they will reach the mountain peak, they will meet big and strong and free, ready to receive, to partake, and to bask in the golden rays of love. What fancy, what imagination, what poetic genius can foresee even approximately the potentialities of such a force in the life of men and women. If the world is ever to give birth to true companionship, and oneness, not marriage, but love will be the parent." 
THAT, my friends, is what I want. Keep in mind, Goldman wrote this essay before World War II. Before the free love of the 60's. Before our time. Were her arguments valid? Oh, hell, yes. Is her version of lasting love an impossible utopia? Not in the Offbeat Drummer's opinion. I challenge you to prove me wrong. 

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