There was a long thread (200+ comments) over at Pandagon last week about the pressures on both men and women regarding marriage expectations, which was quite fascinating. Amanda was reading a book about proposal angst and was worried that people might think she was reading “bridal p*rn” because of the picture of a woman in a wedding dress on the cover, and that they would then conclude that she was one of those who’d bought into the hype of needing to be married, the fear of being “left on the shelf”.
The post concentrated particularly on the romantic and dramatic expectations regarding the proposal itself:
- how long into the relationship should a proposal be expected?
- were guys who didn’t propose after several years together playing some power trip?
- was a woman resorting to a “propose to me or I’ll find someone who will” ultimatum being unreasonable or just communicating clearly?
- is a man who responds to such an ultimatum being trapped, giving in or just being brought to a realisation of what he might lose?
- was a woman who asked a man to marry her forever going to be held up as desperate by her community?
- was it OK for a man to propose without having chosen the ring and having it on hand?
The responses surprised me, and I wondered whether the answers would be different here in Oz: there were a lot more traditionalists about who should propose than I expected, although there was also a strong showing of women who asked, and couples who just discussed the issue and came to an agreement, without a big dramatic question being involved at all. The really big surprise to me was the very strong expectation that the man would choose the ring before “popping the question”, or if he got surprised into a low-key proposal he would “make up for it” by enacting the whole romantic cliche complete with diamond presentation as soon as possible. There were couples who’d bypassed that who had to defend their relationship to people around them, as if with the romantic gesture the proposal somehow meant less, and the relationship therefore must as well.
Then it got onto dresses and weddings and the whole Wedding-Industrial Complex. Apparently there are people who believe that if a woman doesn’t become a Bridezilla she’s not sufficiently excited about getting married and mustn’t really love her husband-to-be. If she wants to keep her own name after marriage? – she must be one of those cultic feminists Pat Robertson warned us against:
<"Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."- Rev. Pat Robertson (1992 GOP Convention)
Now Americans generally get married in higher proportions than we do, and they’re generally a(n even) more consumerist society, so the tentacles of the Wedding-Industrial Complex wrapped around this most personal relationship to this extent is perhaps not surprising. But I nonetheless was surprised – maybe because I was never really the girl who dreamed about My Perfect Wedding (TM). When other young women at places I worked at got married and pored over bridal magazines and asked my opinion, I wouldn’t mind the first three or four dresses, but then they all merged into a white frilly mass.
That said, I did wear white for my wedding, my father did walk me down the aisle, and I did toss my bouquet in the direction of unmarried women, so I hardly had the perfect rad-fem wedding. But: it was via a civil celebrant in a friend’s waterfront garden, the reception was very low key in a local community hall (decorated only with helium balloons tied to the chairs) and we paid for it, not my parents (so at least I didn’t succumb to the Wedding-Industrial Complex entirely). I kept my own name and I refused to have an engagement ring (we had matching gold bands which we wore on our right hands during the engagement and put on the left hand during the ceremony).
As for the proposal, we were the type who came to a mutual agreement about the time being right to get married after several previous discussions where we knew we were both looking for a coparent and felt good about each other but wanted to be sure. When we decided that yes, we wanted to have kids with each other and nobody else, I actually would have been happy just to cohabit. However mr tog wanted a marriage certificate and I had no objection to the associated party, gifts and honeymoon, so I agreed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the powerful emotion of standing before kith and kin declaring love and commitment, which I would highly recommend as a ritual moment even for those who don’t want a piece of paper from the state. This is not to say I didn’t later envy the relative who had a quiet ceremony during a holiday abroad (in order to avoid his intended’s family’s ginormous traditional display wedding expectations), and who then had a big joint family party to celebrate the wedding a month later after their return home to Australia, which was just a big jolly feast instead of the huge Bridezilla production.
So, hoydenistas, I’m curious about your views.
- Is marriage a trap (either of the patriarchy or of clutching women), or is it that without which a woman is unfulfilled and a man is never mature?
- Do/did you dream of a big wedding with all the works, or is/was it your nightmare?
- Were you forced into the upper/middle-class wedding extravaganza and resent it, or was it actually fun?
- Did any of you blokes do the full romantic cliche of ring in your pocket and bended knee?
- Have any of you girls had to reject a bloke who went to all that trouble?
- Where are the girls who proposed?
- Where are those (men and women) who will never propose and never accept?
- Who’s going to keep their birth name, who can’t wait to get rid of it, and who really wishes their partner did take their name?
Now I know the questions above smack hugely of heterosexism, so I’m intrigued to know how gay partnerships have negotiated the shoals of ritual partnering arrangements too. I know there are some radicals who reject the idea marriage or a form thereof as irrelevant, and others who take a more traditional yet liberal view of the joy and power of a public declaration of commitment, and others who view insisting on homosexual marriage recognition as a political act. How has that affected the courting and proposals?
Last but not least: has anybody ever really thoroughly enjoyed themselves at a monumentally consumerist Bridezilla wedding?