Monday, 25 January 2010

"I Thought Marriage Would Make My Life Easier"

Now, my poppets, you know me. I'm not one to trash the holy state of matrimony. Neither am I one to trash married people, even the ones who forget their Single friends once they get married. The catechism says that virginity (read: single life) gives honour to matrimony and matrimony gives honour to virginity (read: single life), and that is that. And so far I have desisted from "This woman's marriage sucked, so count your blessings" posts, although I have, over the years, been tempted.

Teenage girls dream of marrying millionaires. This is not because millionaires are such fabulously kindly, sexy men in themselves, although they always are in romance novels. It is because it seems like the easiest way of getting rich without having to work very hard for a very long time at one of the few jobs that pays very well. I remember, as a teenage girl, running into a teenage girl I knew slightly at the mall. She was shopping on her much-older boyfriend's credit card. I was slightly shocked by this, although I was too innocent at the time to put two-and-two together about their relationship. I just knew it was dodgy and wrong to go on shopping sprees with an older man's credit card, no matter what he said. But teenage girls and money...

Sometimes joining economic forces with a man, in adult life, does indeed make you better off financially. I'm not denying that. In my own case, I live in about the same circumstances as I did before I was married, only with better architecture and wine. I have more household chores, though: boo! (That was my Inner Child talking, B.A.!) Meanwhile, if B.A. lost his job we'd be in a fix. And B.A.'s job is more of a labour of love than a labour of wealth, so no mad shopping sprees at the mall for me. Indeed, we both finger beautiful clothes in fine shops as I wistfully remark, "If my books sell...."

The reality of adult life, only dimly guessed by some shopping-mad teenagers, is that ordinary life is expensive, and for most adults, only a fraction of family income can go on cute stuff, nights on the town, snazzy vacations. For most, married life includes rent or mortgage, taxes, food on the table, the heating bill, the electricity bill, the phone bill, running a car or paying bus fares, and, if Baby comes, all the expenses associated with Baby.

And husbands get sick. Husbands get hurt on the job. Husbands get laid-off. Husbands get sacked. Husbands sometimes even die. I was once at the funeral of a 26 year old husband, a lawyer. His wife was pregnant. Husbands are no guarantee of lifelong comfort. In fact, since they have personalities and wills of their own, au contraire.

Here is the sad story of a woman I'll call Amanda because she deserved to be loved. She was a woman of African extraction at the calling centre we both worked at. I think she had come over from the Caribbean as a baby. At any rate, she had no accent and, seeing me from behind, she thought, "There's a new black girl!" until I turned around. (In Toronto, many black women dye their hair light red.) Dying to know if I was mixed race, Amanda struck up a conversation, and we became work buddies.

Amanda had recently brought over her husband from his country, one of the countries Canadians go to on cheap holidays. (She had, in fact, met him on one of these cheap holidays.) She had paid a lot of money to bring him over and had tackled a mountain of paperwork. She was a single mother, so this was a big, big deal. But she was passionate about her husband, who was slightly younger than she, and he had been passionate about her. Amanda was a big woman, and her husband came from a place where big woman are considered sexy and thin women are considered poor.

But things changed when Ronaldo (let's call him Ronaldo) came to Canada. Amanda found him a job in construction, and from hanging out with his new friends, Ronaldo discovered that in Canada big women aren't considered that sexy. It's thin women who are considered sexy. So Ronaldo stared nagging Amanda about her weight. And Ronaldo, rather than sharing daily financial burdens with Amanda, worked as rarely as he could get away with and spent his money on his friends and clothes. When Amanda complained, Ronaldo would feign lack of understanding and try to charm her into a better mood.

So Amanda, already the single mother of one child, was starting to think that she was now married to one, too. And she was growing increasingly frustrated. "I thought marriage would make my life easier," she fumed.

That poignant cry has stuck in my mind for seven years: I thought marriage would make my life easier. It's the story the bridal magazines, with their glorious photos of kitchenware and china, sell; it's the story life experience tells us is not a universal truth. And what adds to the sadness is that Amanda had a really terrible job. I hated that job. It stank. I quit as soon as I could. But Amanda stayed, busting her butt every day to put food on the table and a roof over the head of her child, herself, and her good-looking, charming, wastrel husband.


aussie girl in australia said...

I never thought marriage would make my life easier. Yes, I work now. If I was married maybe I'd work less outside the home (or maybe not) but there would be plenty of additional work I'd have to do. And if I had kids.....well it is always going to be more work of course. If you get married hoping that is will make your life easier you are in for a rude shock. My parents have a great marriage, however life has thrown them some curve balls. I have seen how hard my mother works at her marriage and to be a good mother. Does anyone (apart from a teenager) really believe married life is easier?

Francesca said...

Well... having been married for five years in my 30s (42 now), I can say that I *still* think marriage, to someone of the non-wastrel variety, is easier *in some ways*. Not every chore, every bill, every crisis, every everything, is yours and yours alone to deal with.

OTOH, there is freedom and peace in living alone, and since that's my current reality, I'm embracing it.


Kate P said...

Yeah, "easier" is not the word.

It's interesting: right now, I am watching two (different) decades-married couples, one with an unexpectedly unemployed husband and one with a wife diagnosed with a serious illness. I can't put my finger on the word, but it's definitely not easy to watch how the "other half" is affected. How they hurt for each other, and how they struggle to support each other and deal with needing each other. The dynamic of married life, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I think the notion that marriage makes a woman's life easier is of relatively recent vintage, especially for Catholic women. My mother was told by her mother, on the eve of her marriage, that she ought to think about not getting married at all, on the grounds that she was educated and could take care of herself. "Why would you want to marry?" my grandmother asked her. I belive my paternal grandmother said something similar to my married aunts.

Perhaps it was because they were always conscious of the religious option, of the possibility of joining an order and freeing themselves of bossy husbands and the burdens of pregnancy. I don't know. It's not as if conventual life was a bed of roses either. Still, it may have been easier than Catholic marriage in the first part of the 20th century.