Sunday, October 31, 2010

Love, marriage and the baby carriage

Please don’t think less of me when I confide that hovering somewhere over the Tasman Sea a few months ago, I watched Sex & The City 2 .

And enjoyed it.

When you’re bored with a small console and a handful of movies to choose from, sometimes it’s easiest to go for the lowest common denominator and select the one you have the lowest expectations of. I had heard it was desperately bad, so it egged me on to find out just how awful it really was.

But I surprised myself and laughed at times at the two dimensional characters on the screen. Each woman locked within the old roles that defined them: I screw/work/nurture/write, therefore I am.

The less than subtle subtext of the film was about marriage. What makes a real marriage? Is a gay marriage a real marriage? What about a heterosexual one without children?

I watched Carrie deal with the judgement of others who took offense at her decision to be married and childfree, despite her being forty-something with a satisfying life. She met other women who saw their age as no barrier, just rent a womb, buy an egg and be handed a baby at the end of it. The married late in life “friends” being horrified that Carrie and Big had no intention of following suit. After all, marriage is about babies, not self, not just being a couple.

And somehow, I was reminded of that plot point today while stumbling on Catherine Blyth’s blog.

Blyth is adamantly pro-marriage but has been more than a bit ambivalent about children. Unlike Carrie whose husband was on the same page as her regarding children, Blyth ultimately gives into her husband’s baby hunger. I find her words rather painful and smacked a lot of the conservatism Carrie was up against in SITC 2.

And yes, the mournful eyes of my husband, as we spoke of our lovely nephews, nieces and godchildren, they got to me. Having researched marriage for my latest book, I was aware that family studies all conclude a marriage with children is less happy than one without*. On the other hand, how could I deprive him? More to the point: what if he stopped loving me and looked elsewhere? Would that be so unreasonable? When we married I took a vow to honour him. The deal was to put ‘us’ before ‘me’.

Marriage versus babies

It’s not a spoiler to say that their child is due any day.

But at what cost? As an educated woman she doesn’t see motherhood as the route to fulfillment, yet acquiesces to maternity out of fear – “what if he stopped loving me and looked elsewhere? Would that be so unreasonable?”

She talks of taking a vow to honour him but what of his promise in return?

The take home message is that marriage hasn’t really changed that much in recent centuries (as an aside, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage is an excellent thesis on the subject). Women are still expected to subjugate themselves to their husband’s wishes.

If you wish to remain childfree and want to love and honour your partner in the ritual known as marriage, you’d better make sure you’re on the same page FIRST.

* Can anyone point me to this research, it sounds fascinating.


Boganette said...

I honestly just can't figure out why you wouldn't seriously discuss kids before you got married - or got into a serious relationship. Like I get that it's not an easy discussion to have, and I also get that people change their minds. But jeez.

He's not putting 'us' before himself, so why should she?

I know I must sound like I'd make a terrible "wife" and I probably would - but seriously, saying "would that be unreasonable" if your husband "looked elsewhere" (for a baby-maker?) just because you didn't want kids is fucking ridiculous. Yes. That's unreasonable. To me anyway.

I don't know - I guess it frustrates me that it's always the women who have to "make sacrifices" for a relationship. If a man says "I don't want kids" it's seen as acceptable and something he shouldn't have to change. Not so for women.

Another Outspoken Female said...

I just find the notion of marriage hopelessly outdated. The fact that intelligent people appear to not even discuss expectations of their relationship - out loud, with each other first - further compounds my horror of it.

Vivienne Austen-Parkes said...

I am a young woman, an artist and a wife. I am not a mother and I choose not to be. I don't want kids, and it's my choice alone. My husband and I are on the same page.It works :)A lot of people don't give serious thought or discussion to marriage or kids, but some do. Don't condem us all. There is hope for us yet.