Ideal wedding gift: People keeping their two cents?

Facebook engagements, wedding invitations, bridesmaid duties — I’ve reached the age where marriage is common and constant. GOOD associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz’s article “I Wish I Wasn’t Married,” however, looks at marriage from a different perspective — one where she discusses getting married to get her boyfriend insurance and all of the social antics that followed.

One of the things that really struck me was the judgment that Willis Aronowitz received from family, friends, and co-workers when she publicized her marriage on Facebook:

Suddenly, I had become a blank slate for others’ fantasies and judgments, an unwitting recipient of advice, wedding proposal stories and even a source of visible jealousy. Now that my relationship was public and state-sactioned, people felt they could freely weigh in on it.  My world was divided by two reactions: “Amazing, you’re married!” and, “Are you serious?” My New York friends and family were just perplexed, remembering my years-long, non-tragic bouts of singlehood. Other friends were surprised I made the move after my outrage only weeks before at California’s upholding of Prop 8.

Those comments were countered by delighted, almost relieved reactions. My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic “congratulations!” were little epiphanies—they’d finally found a way to relate to me.

Relationships generally bring a lot of unsought advice from third parties (as does being single), but marriage seems to attract even more commentary. Sure some of the response to the author’s marriage can be attributed to a shotgun wedding, but friends showing disappointment that you sold out? Co-workers admitting that you weren’t socially approachable as “girlfriend” but now are as “wife”? People getting jealous? These aren’t specific to shotgun weddings, these permeate all types of nuptial talk.

The selling-out accusation really caught my eye, as marriage is a divisive topic among feminists. As a feminist, your viewpoints will likely either cause criticism from non-feminist-minded family and friends who don’t understand why you don’t want to get married, why you don’t want to take your husband’s last name, why your wedding isn’t going to have [insert traditional but patriarchal element here], etc. — or you’ll hear criticism from feminist-minded family and friends who want to criticize you for getting married, taking your husband’s last name, incorporating [traditional but patriarchal element here] in your wedding, etc.

Part of the problem here is people’s natural tendency to be gossipy and critical. Another part though, as Willis Aronowitz suggests at the end of her article, is the narrow definition that exists for marriage. I believe that you can change the institution from within, change the social expectations and implications of marriage by example, and the same with choosing not to get married. So though I understand the motivation for calling people out, it also just reinforces the traditional, rigid view of marriage and prevents it from evolving (in a social context — laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman obviously are the major legal roadblock to redefining “traditional” marriage).

And this judgmental attitude spans beyond feminists to pretty much everyone — I do not envy people who are engaged or married and constantly fielding unsolicited advice about how their wedding should be, what they’re doing wrong, why they shouldn’t get married, why their potential spouse is a dud, etc. Generally, we should be glad when our family and friends have found happiness and want to share it with us in whatever way is most comfortable for them, but instead we often bludgeon them over the head with our opinion of what would really make them happy and what they should be doing.

The lesson? Before interjecting your two cents, try to respect the people and the relationship you want to criticize, and consider that them doing things differently than you would doesn’t mean they’re doing them wrong. And if there is a ceremony, you can hope the officiant will ask if anyone objects and then you can go to town.

P.S. I hear it only gets worse when it comes to parenting.

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