For many years, I saw marriage as inevitable; like getting my period, it would just happen to me. It was so impossible to avoid and so prevalent that it might as well have been a biological function. As I grew older, I began to realize that in spite of the idea that the urge to marry was supposed to take over and steer me like a sheep into a white dress, I did not want it. When discussing the subject, I often feel like a little child whose questions can never really be answered to her satisfaction. Yes, but why are you getting married? I understand that you love each other, but why are you getting married? I know that you want to live together “forever,” so why don’t you just do it? Why get married?
I looked everywhere for other women who felt this way, who chose to opt out of marriage, who did not see themselves or lives as incomplete or pathological. What I found were more and more of my female friends getting married, changing their names, and adopting an exhaustingly conventional life. Why, I wanted to know, was this happening? Why marriage instead of living together? Why marriage instead of imagining a different life for themselves? Was it indeed about love? If it was, why did they seem love and companionship as needing and being able to function and allegedly flourish in such a narrow space?
To women who are married, I ask them to reflect on the meaning of the word wife, where they got their narrative about marriage, and if they feel it’s changed them and their relationship with their partner, among other questions.
As the project evolves, more and more of the women I interview are telling me that these are questions they’ve never been asked before. This is hard to hear. As a deep skeptic of marriage, it solidifies for me that as an institution, it is part of a script we are to follow if we want to be seen as the right kind of woman, a woman who devotes energy to achieving male companionship and sexual fidelity and solidifying it ceremonially as if it were her sole function in the world.
The answers have varied; one woman who has been with her husband for six years said they married solely for tax purposes, others admitted to being deeply conflicted marriage, even after years of being married, and still other women told of marrying because they love their husbands, wanted to build a life with them,and felt that marriage was the way to do in that in as permanent a manner as possible. All the women I have interviewed have been deeply reflective and thoughtful, and reveal that they are indeed grappling with the complicated personal and gender dynamics of marriage.
I’m continuing looking to include the voices of women who are engaged, divorced, and not married for their own personal and political (as if they were separate) reasons, so that the scope of the Marriage Project can continue to include various perspectives. It remains of vital importance to me to be able to create a space for women to reflect of marriage with honesty and without fear of judgement, and so they have final veto on any personal details revealed. If you are interested in being part of the Marriage Project, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chanel Dubofsky is a writer, educator and community organizer.You can read her work at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, Tablet, Jewschool and the Pursuit of Harpyness. She blogs at Diverge, www.idiverge.wordpress.com and lives in Brooklyn, New York.