Under the Marriage Microscope

A little under a year ago something rather startling happened to me: I was in receipt of a beautifully garbled proposal of marriage. I accepted said proposal, as a) it made me happy to do so, and b) he’s LOVELY. And I really, honestly thought that those were reasons enough.

Oh no, I thought, in my delirious haze of happiness, betrothal doesn’t have to mean tradition and all the expectations that come with it, for marriage has evolved - marriage no longer has to begin with a flourish of religious pageantry and tone-deaf relatives bellowing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ in a room that smells like dead people. Marriage no longer even includes tax breaks as a means of inducing would be tax-break-recipients to jog on down the aisle into the moneyed hands of right-wing politicos, who yearn for the return of the SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE and yes, PROPER two parent families. Our wedding will simply be two people making a commitment to each other in front of the people we love, and then dancing and drinking and most probably being very merry.

But the world, my friends, does not agree. I am engaged, I am very soon to be wed, and so I am inextricably altered. I have become a mother-in-waiting. I am not pregnant, and the ins and outs of my future hubby and I’s family planning is nobody’s business but our own (‘Hear, hear!’ I hear you cry. Or perhaps that was just me). But it matters not, for when I slipped that engagement ring onto my finger, I unwittingly sent a signal to the rest of the world that the time had come to cast everything else aside and start squeezing out sprogs.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I like babies. I’d very much like to make a baby with this man. He’s my family, and the idea of making our family bigger is, yes, one that puts a big smile on my face. Plus, maternity leave – nine months off work! Even though recent experience of seeing friends with newborn babies has somewhat disabused me of the notion that maternity leave is one big holiday, a girl can dream. And the point is, if and when we decide to have children has absolutely nothing to do with walking down the aisle and signing on the dotted line. Zero, zilch, nada. I didn’t accept his proposal because I want him to be the father of my children. I said yes because when he asked me a million fireworks went off inside my brain and the voice in my head screamed ‘EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ (my actual voice was silent. I was in shock. He knew I was happy, four days later, when I recovered the ability to vocalise my thoughts.) Point is, I’d have kids with him with or without saying those vows.

The gigantic sign above my head, visible to all but me, disputes this. When? people ask, WHEN? Don’t make plans for next year, they say, looking suggestively at my belly (and by the by, people looking suggestively at your belly is, in fact, gross). People with whom my exchanges are normally limited to snippets of enormous inconsequence, such as 'Gorgeous weather,' or, and even more scintillatingly, 'The photocopier is out of toner', suddenly think it is appropriate to discuss future happenings in my womb. Rather more seriously, a friend of mine, who is also getting married this year, has been advised to remove her wedding ring at job interviews (by an already married woman) because it may act as a deterrent to potential employers. Yes, when you see an interviewer eagerly scribbling down notes as you prattle on about how you single-handedly saved your last company from ruin with the creation of a revolutionary and fool-proof filing system that no one had ever had the initiative to come up with before, they might actually be checking off the reproduction tick-list of doom. Female? TICK. Aged 26-40? TICK. Married? Holy shit, look at that wedding ring, BIG RED CROSS! Escort her to the door!

I have been advised to under no circumstances use my married name for professional purposes (if I choose to take his name, I must remember that it is, after all, my choice), and to not even consider using ‘Mrs’. Potential employers, apparently, hate that even more than they hate a band of gold on the ring finger of a woman at her reproductive peak. (I actually use Ms, if you’re interested, but that doesn’t invalidate my point.)

Maternity leave was a big step towards equality in the workplace, but oh how employers loathe it (actually, judging by the response to the Government's apparent rejection of the Beecroft report, 'businesses' think workers' rights in general are a very bad thing). As mentioned previously on the Vagenda, the government proposes to allow new parents to ‘share’ maternity leave, and it will be interesting to see if this issue is addressed when the problem is ‘shared’ by all, because my male partner has not experienced any of this weird post-marriage fall-out. To the world at large, husband means, well, husband. Wife means mother. He is the same; I am altered. I did not anticipate when I accepted his proposal that I was a) signalling to people I barely know that I now thought it appropriate to discuss very very personal things, and b) signalling to my employer that I had made a choice between my career and family life. Perhaps I should have listened more closely to Dr Lucy Worsley; but I was too irritated by her words to do so. Unlike her, I have not been educated out of having children. Dr Worsley, I note, has not been educated out of making silly comments to the press, but that’s a different rant, for a different time.

How we define marriage and what it means is somewhat under the microscope at present. I don’t think it should be off limits to anyone, and I also don’t think it should be used to define me and my future choices. Marriage should be whatever you want it to be - if you like the idea of joining a grand institution, if you want to declare your love for another before God, go right ahead. If you want to skip down to the registry office in jeans and enjoy fish and chips from a paper bag at the seaside twenty minutes later, sure. As for me, I am getting married in July, and the only statement I wish to make by doing so is that I am very happy, fallopian tubes aside.

--Lori Verwaerde
Cheers for the pic