The privilege of marriage

I left a rather preachy comment on APW drawing lawyerlike distinctions between the advantages of married/partnered life and the cultural privilege attaching to marriage. I felt a bit embarrassed afterwards – it always embarrasses me to disagree with strangers – but it seemed important to me to make the distinction.

(For the record I think the distinction lies in the fact that an advantage is a benefit that arises from the relationship itself – so if you’ve got a partner you get the benefit of, e.g., a buddy to go to the cinema with whenever you want. Whereas privilege is about benefits that arise from sources external to the relationship and that are institutionally enforced/reinforced: the fact that most people regard marriage as being more significant than an unmarried long-term partnership, the tax benefits, legal rights, fact that divorce courts are used to dealing with similar cases, etc.)

Perhaps it’s difficult for someone in my position – and many of the APW commenters will be in this position – to talk about the cultural privilege of marriage. As a lady marrying a dude it was clear from the outset of our relationship that if we wanted to marry that option was open to us. But then again, since we have decided to get married, clearly we are doing so because we want to access the privileges accruing to that status.

And it’s a bit tricky to define what those privileges are if you’re just going to focus on the social and cultural privileges and not the legal or economic. For a woman, marriage is definitely a social marker of success. I know Western feminists come under a certain amount of internal pressure not to marry – there’s this view that it means settling down, sacrificing your dreams, giving up your life for a man (I imagine this doesn’t apply as much to same-sex marriages) – but all the same, if you’re talking about external societal views, failure to marry by a certain age is seen as, well, a failure. (See, e.g., Kate Bolick’s much-publicised but boring article about marriage. I prefer Hadley Freeman’s treatment of the issue. You can tell Freeman is writing in a British newspaper because all the commenters think it’s hilarious that Bolick’s name sounds like bollocks.)

So when I told my relatives I was engaged my aunt said to me, “Wow, everything going well in your life, hah? Job going well, planning for your wedding … ” The implication was that everything was ideal because I had all the boxes ticked. If my career had been going well but I didn’t have that “engaged!” stamp, that wouldn’t have presented quite as rosy a prospect. I remember thinking bemusedly that yes, everything was going fairly well (though haha, I don’t know about the career, but never mind about that for the moment). But everything had been going well before the engagement. I’d already had an awesome partner, a decent job, and an occasionally-paid evening hobby/vocation that I was having some small success in.

I think this widespread view of marriage as an essential component of the good life, particularly for women, is the reason why my friends – most of them single, high-achieving young female professionals – come under so much pressure from their parents to find a dude and eventually get married. After all my friends (and I!) have been pushed from a young age to succeed academically, collect the right sort of extracurriculars, get into a prestigious university and get a good job. So of course we are pushed to succeed on the relationship side as well. What parents often say when they do this kind of pushing is that they want us to be happy, they don’t want us to be alone when we’re older, etc. But it’s not about happiness because my friends are happy and I was happy when I was single, and there’s no guarantee that a relationship will provide happiness – it’s just as likely that a relationship will introduce chaos and despair! It’s about success.

That said, I don’t think this aspect is really about the privilege of marriage; it’s more about sexism – women being viewed as less-than if they can’t get a man. The cultural privilege of marriage definitely exists, I just find it difficult to sort out what it is. Something to keep thinking about!

An idea of married life

I was going to call it “a dream of married life”, but that implies it’s an ideal, and it is in some ways (the enduring affection, the shared dream) and not in others (the dream deferred, opportunities lost).

But it makes me have a lot of feelings, and even more so now that married life is a reality I shall soon participate in rather than something hypothetical.

On a shallow note, I think her dress is really cute!

Wedding stationery is so much harder than you think

When I last posted about my save the dates saga, I was simmering with frustration over the problem peculiar to weddings of TOO MUCH HELPFULNESS. If only everyone could stop being helpful! I would tell them when they were required and precisely to what extent they were called upon to be helpful! At all other times, everyone needed to sit down and NOT DO ANYTHING.

So I had a set of save the dates with a design I really loved and implementation about which I was meh shading to very disappointed. There were a few different ways I could have gone from there, but I talked to P, whose two primary roles as my fiance and boyfriend are:

1) To like me best

2) To talk me off the ledge on a regular basis

Most of my friends think I’m pretty laidback. This is because they are neither my parents nor dating me.

My chat with P really helped. I decided that damn it, maybe save the dates are a stupid thing to get stressed about, but it was too late for me not to care about them. I already cared! I just had to accept I cared and get on with it.

So I decided to have the save the date design redone. To clarify — the Architect had produced a delightful ink drawing based on the vision I’d described to her. She’d modified it as a sop to my parents’ sensibilities.

(I’ve talked about my parents’ objection to its being in black & white, but their other, funnier objection was that the design displayed prominently the fact that I was born in the year of the Tiger and P is an Ox.

“Tiger will eat the ox!” said my mom.

Essentially she was worried people would think I was bossy and wore the trousers in the relationship, because the Ox is obviously a milder animal than the Tiger. Well, I am bossy and I do occasionally wear trousers, but neither of those things have anything to do with the year I was born in. I’d be bossy and occasionally-trouser-wearing if I was a Rabbit.)

The modification needed to deal with this concern was minor and quite cute, so that was fine. But then the drawing passed out of the Architect’s control. My mom, with the best of intentions, arranged for it to be coloured by somebody else, and printed off several sets of cards.

I think the somebody else did a good job, but it wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the cards my mom used for printing are pretty flimsy and probably wouldn’t survive being tossed about in a mail bag full of other post. So I had a perfectly practical excuse for having the design redone, and I went for it.

The long-suffering, ever-obliging Architect agreed to recolour the card. I gnawed on my fingernails and tried not to worry about timing. (P essentially thought there would be no point to sending out save the dates once Christmas came around, since the cards would be lost in the deluge of Christmas post.)

After some confusion the Architect sent her coloured version of the design through. And it is PERFECT. I’d say it is even better than I’d hoped for, but to be honest I know how good the Architect is and I hoped for a lot. And I got it!

We are almost there. THERE is so close I can almost smell it. @_@ I ordered a set of postcards from Moo after discussing the text with P — a surprisingly thorny issue, as we have two weddings and two overlapping but not identical sets of guests, and we need to keep numbers at the English wedding in particular under control.

So all that remains is for the cards to arrive and for us to address them and send them off. I’m crossing my fingers that the cards are OK. On the one hand, I feel an overly optimistic “woohoo, it’s all sorted now!” attitude might jinx it and the cards might not be quite as awesome as I envisage. OTOH, I don’t think I’m so super demanding — I mean, I totally was demanding here, but that was mostly because I was edged out of control with certain parts of the process. As long as it’s an imperfection that happened under my watch, I feel I can handle it.

I feel a bit guilty as — not counting the set I dumped which probably cost my parents nothing in real terms — the cards themselves, without counting postage etc., cost only £7 short of the budget P estimated for the wedding invitations including save the dates. But it’s not a huge amount of money and it will, I hope, be worth it. We shall see.

Wedding must-have: telepathy

Wedding planning is something of an exercise in mind-reading, which is a problem since I’m, you know, not a telepath.

It’s because nothing is ever just itself. The food isn’t just food; it’s how hospitable you are, how much you care about your guests, how much you or your parents can afford, whether you’re Look East or Westernised. The dress isn’t just a dress — it’s a lifelong dream or it’s something simple you’ll wear again. Everything says something, in languages I don’t even understand.

These engagement photos, for example. I had in mind that we would have simple engagement photos and we’d get them done by my brother, who’s a talented photographer and has even done a number of friends’ weddings. Will and Kate’s formal but simple photos seemed a decent reference point, though we probably wouldn’t have as fancy a room to take them in.

Also, P has more hair. Not that Will isn't a very charming young man!

But my mother wants us to have an engagement session done with a professional photo studio. They provide the attire, do your hair and make-up, and haul you out to a beach where you can take the old piggyback picture.

Put Robin Hood in a wedding gown and Friar Tuck in a tux and you'll have a photograph to be found in every Asian wedding album throughout the land.

I suppose packages vary, but as I understand it, part of the photography package is a number of dresses you can wear on the actual wedding day.

And I don’t get it. Why can’t my brother just do these? I suppose he doesn’t have a Swiss maid outfit and lederhosen lying around for me and P to dress up in, but that’s hardly compulsory. Is it???

My mother said, “Don’t you want a set of photos you can look at and say, ‘Oh, I used to be so thin!’ And in future if P becomes botak he can look at them and go, ‘Oh, that’s what I looked like when I used to have hair!'” But we can do that just as well with a bunch of photos of P in Bermuda shorts and me in a day dress in the nearest park.

So what is this about? A professionally-shot engagement session wouldn’t be for me and P. Is it that my parents want an album of formal pictures they can frame and keep? Or is it just that my mother thinks I’d regret not having this?

If the only reason I have for doing or having something at this wedding is “I might regret not having done it”, then my inclination is to skip it. Future me will just need to man up and stand by the decisions she made in the present.

My mother also thinks I should hire the services of an “image-maker”. “She’ll look at your face type and your dress and she’ll tell you what kind of make-up you should wear, how to style your hair.”

I pointed out that the one thing I’ve been trying to prevent is having people tell me how I should look.

“She’ll listen to your opinions, of course,” my mom said airily. “She’s very good! She’ll help you decide whether to have your hair up or down … ”

“It’s got to be down, hasn’t it? I don’t have enough hair to put it up.”

“Oh, that one very easy! They got fake hair so they can do any style.”

An image of me on my wedding day.

This is gonna be great.

Pinteresting

I have a Pinterest! I’m not entirely sure what it’s for, but it’s already afforded me rich entertainment in the deliciously silly things it is suggested you should have at your wedding. E.g.:

Lemon flowers! Why of course. And when the guests are thirsty presumably they can remove the flowers and have some delicious lemon juice. With decor like this, who needs a bar?

Oh the bodohity

This is quite pretty, but it’s so SILLY. I mean aren’t you saying to yourself: what a waste of artichoke. You could have eaten that!

The addition of the pink rose really brings it to the next level of absurdity. Consider the other options available to you: Savoy cabbage and chrysanthemum; asparagus and lilies of the valley; bok choy and bunga raya ….