Scenes from a Marriage

Feminist married manifesto. Go read.

It’s fascinating, and not because I agree with everything in it. Changing my name, for example, which I did when I got married. My previous name was my father’s, my first name was given to me by my parents, I don’t feel any particular attachment of my identity to either, and so felt no loss in switching them up. I write under my maiden name because I was already writing professionally when we married, and I didn’t want to fuck with the rsum continuity and have to go into long explanations in job interviews. I’ve simply never understood what is particularly patriarchy-bucking about keeping your father’s name over your husband’s, but whatever. Bottom line is, I didn’t care that much, but to each his own on that point.

And the rest of Dr. Bitch’s manifesto is interesting because this is the stuff that’s not in the rule books, the stuff about how to manage your finances and be two people in a house, do the actual work as well as the love stuff which is hard enough on its own. When Mr. A and I were married, we went to these “marriage preparation” classes sponsored by the Catholic church; the other students were asking about how to keep Christ foremost in their relationship. My biggest worry was whether we’d fight over who paid the phone bill. Jesus might be easier about an IOU than the landlord, was my thinking, and I’ve seen money destroy more marriages and fuck up more children than God ever could.

And the thing is, that’s what’s often taboo to talk about. Most of my closest friends, I don’t know the specifics of what their husbands make, what their wives make, how much credit card debt they have, how much their house cost, how they decide to split things or not split things like spending money. It’s rude to ask, “So, what’s Pete pulling down these days? Jackie get a raise recently?” With the result that in the absence of a financial advisor of any kind, we’re all sort of flying blind on this shit.

Everybody works this out differently because everybody’s comfortable with something different; I personally think the venerable doctor up there leaves out the most important piece of advice I ever got as a young woman beginning to date: If you must marry someone, or financially entangle yourself with someone on a permanent basis, marry a goddamn grown-up who will talk to you about this shit and not make you passively-aggressively manipulate him/her into doing what you want. Marry somebody who’s willing to negotiate life along the way, and reassess if things change, and be willing to look outside traditional roles if that’s what you want. Marry someone who likes you, and have a marriage, not a sitcom. Talk to your partner like you talk to your friends, not your pet or your plants.

The thing is, this is the hard stuff. A friend once compared it to putting in contact lenses with a pair of pliers; another told me the first year of her marriage was the hardest year of her life, and if she hadn’t told me that I’m sure I’d be divorced right now, because you’re always negotiating, always running into something else you don’t know how to face. And at some point you think back to the happy-skippy-newlyweds-in-a-glow-of-love stereotypes pushed on you by Disney movies and think, I am fucking this up, utterly, and it can’t be this hard. There must be something wrong with my relationship, with me, with him, with her, if it’s this hard.

Only later did I realize that was the stretch before the bike ride, that’s the groundwork, so that when you’re loose and limber and ready, you know where you stand and how much you can stand, and you can go forward.