Here’s the thing. It’s kind to share in the joy of others. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that it’s considered polite in our society to congratulate people who’ve gotten engaged or married or are having/have had a baby. These experiences
are can be beautiful, wonderful things.
I mean, why shouldn’t I be happy for someone who’s chosen to embark on a journey of life-long happiness and joy? Well, for two main reasons. Firstly – because I’m not convinced that’s what it’s necessarily about or going to be (we can’t really know that until things play out). Secondly – because the expectation that I should or must react with unbridled excitement is a mechanism by which society ensures conformity. We socially reward those who accept that marriage and the establishment of a family are the panacea of happiness and success while unfairly neglecting and judging those who don’t. The fact that I felt the need to concoct that ridiculous disclaimer is proof enough of this, I think.
Look, let’s be frank. Almost all relationships fail. I know we don’t want to admit this while we’re in a relationship because we want it to work out. Who can blame us? We’re sick of going through the emotional wash cycle. In the aftermath, we agonize over things like how much energy we invested and how impossible it seems that we’ll get through it without some serious scars. We’ve been there before and the last thing we want is to consider the probability that we’ll be there again. And yet despite telling ourselves it’s the last time we’ll get burned, eventually we jump right back in. What this means is that we place an immense amount of pressure on the next person we date to be The One because we hope that this time, finally, things will be different. How can we know this? We swear we’ve never felt the same way for anyone else before. Most people prefer this story to acknowledging just how fickle, flimsy and based on deception and expectation relationships often are. Recently while retching over the playlist in a grocery store, I noted how bipolar love ballads are. In one song, the singer is crooning about how their lover completes them and how they can’t imagine life without them. In the next, a lament of disillusionment, hurt and betrayal. People under the spell of passion exhibit a kind of temporary insanity. That’s why they call it ‘falling madly in love’.
How many people do each of us know (perhaps ourselves included) who get involved with people who aren’t right for them because they haven’t learned to make decisions based on reason before emotion? People largely ‘fall in love’ – some with the idea of being in love – because of the intense and very human allure of security, stability and acceptance. Ultimately this is rooted in insecurity; it takes a surprisingly powerful urge to make people willingly engage in masochistic behaviour. It gets so serious that friends stage interventions and have to monitor the subject closely in a desperate attempt to prevent them from succumbing to weakness (and having to coach them through the process all over again). Plus, people are horny – let’s be honest about the huge role that lust plays in all of this!
It’s true that you can’t get to know a person until you get to know them. It’s a blind, risky process but the wisdom it can bestow upon you is worth every agonizing minute of heartbreak. But the fact is that unless you’re ridiculously lucky in finding someone who will fully and eternally remain loyal to you, and the trials of life don’t pull you apart, love as we seek it is nothing more than a myth.
I saw a Barbie commercial the other day that reminded me of just how much girls are bred from the beginning to think it’s normal and reasonable to frame their worldview on the princess, prince charming and happily-ever-after narrative. As soon as you log on to the Princess Palace website, Barbie says, “Sometimes, a girl’s just gotta wear a tiara”. You can’t tell me that this kind of not-so-subliminal messaging doesn’t warp females’ minds before they have a chance to get rooted in realistic, healthy expectations about gender, social order, relationships and love. Grown women still very much buy into it (e.g. think fairy tale weddings). Some of these women in turn project their sick fantasies on their daughters (Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone?).
This is an important perspective to consider against a backdrop of our insatiable appetite for romantic love. It’s big business for a reason – Psychology Today identifies love as the toughest addiction to overcome. The brains behind marketing and advertizing know this and prey on our insecurities and hopes accordingly.
You have to wonder how many couples have babies because they think it will pull them closer together, legitimize their relationship or fulfill a prescribed role for someone of their gender and age. I don’t know that a lot of couples think carefully about what it means to add another human being to the planet, or question whether their motivation is to continue their bloodline, have someone to keep them company and look up to them, or to raise a decent, productive individual who won’t become a narcissistic lawnmower of consumption.
I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but… There’s just something about a woman who flashes her hand to show all her friends she got engaged (knowing that they’ll fawn over her) that on some level makes me think, So what? Is there something endemic to the state of being in a relationship that’s desirable and admirable? Did you accomplish something formidable that benefits people? Do you even deserve the guy who put that ring on your finger? Does he deserve you? Why does he capitulate to the tradition that dictates that he has to fork out a wad of money just to make you happy? Where exactly did that diamond come from? Do you care? And why on earth should I be expected to applaud the fact that two people, due to sheer luck, feel a certain way about each other? Does the fact that I think this way mean that I should have been born with a penis? And what does a ring actually prove? Maybe in a guy’s mind it represents his commitment at a certain point in time. But there’s no way it can guarantee how he’s going to feel in one, five, ten or twenty years. Show me consistently that you’re trustworthy, flexible, honest and genuinely care about me and I will do the same for you. And I might even let you turn my uterus into a bulbous mass of amniotic fluid. I don’t want a stupid ring. To me, it’s just another meaningless token. If you’re a woman who thinks it’s some sort of trophy and that I should congratulate you for duping some dude into buying for you, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
Regardless of whether you’re attached or are a future or current parent, I sincerely hope that things go well for you. If you have your shit together and you’re conscious of precisely why you’re getting married or procreating, I’m ecstatic for you – but not because you have those things.