The snide, sarcastic and just plain rude comments from other people about marriage started pretty much the second after my husband slipped a ring on my finger.
“Enjoy the last few years of happiness before the kids come,” one family member “joked” to us at Christmas dinner that year.
“Ready to get fat?” another acquaintance asked me a few weeks later after glancing at my ring and mustering up the least enthusiastic “congratulations” I’ve ever heard in my life.
About two seconds after my engagement announcement, the unsolicited marriage “advice” also began rolling in. Keep a separate checking account, one divorced woman whispered to me at a family party. While I innocently attempted to glide from table to table sipping a mango cocktail during my bridal shower and getting a buzz on, a woman (also divorced) approached me to say “congrats” and then followed up with, “Don’t take his shit.”
No shit. Really. Automatic buzz kill.
This year I celebrated my eighth year of marriage with a man I’ve been involved with for 11 years and have known for 18 years. He will never admit when he’s wrong, leaves our bathroom towels all over the floor after a shower and is often so arrogantly set in his ways and opinions that I purposely throw out the most ludicrous counterarguments just to piss him off. He’s also the same husband who has raced home from work with a slight fever and brushed it off to take our 5-year-old daughter to a robotics fair at the local school. He leaves random love notes for me on the kitchen counter and always calls me out when I’m about to throw in the towel on a project out of fear of failure. In other words, he’s a spouse who is beautifully complex, flawed and perfect for me.
But if you judged our marriage based solely on the way some friends and even strangers describe marriage as a general concept, you’d wonder what the hell narcotic I had been abusing when I temporarily lost all sanity and agreed to marry this person.
He is going to steal my money.
He is going to look at other women, all of the time. This will start around year seven and I will have to be on my guard. Trust no one. Not your husband and not other women.
He’s going to expect you to become his mother because all men are really just looking for their mothers so they can return to a state of infancy.
In one form or another, I have been told all of these things. At first, I would listen, nod my head and give thought to whether there was some truth to their statements. The majority of the women (with a few men thrown in for good measure) were older than me and, I assumed, wiser. My attitude began to change when one woman I know snorted after I told her I was planning on changing my last name.
“Why would you do that? You don’t have to do that anymore, you know.”
I immediately became defensive and started throwing out reasons why this was the right choice for me. I wanted to have the same last name as my children. I liked the idea of a common family name bridging us together — silly symbolism, maybe, but I dig it. It would make paperwork easier and avoid confusion when the kids started school.
And then I stopped mid-sentence and realized I didn’t owe anyone an explanation.
“You changed your last name,” I told her.
She didn’t look surprised or “caught.” She was a very intelligent woman who was a young teen when Gloria Steinem had posed as a waitress at the New York Playboy Club. But she had been raised in a traditional Italian family just five miles away from that club and her family still valued their girls getting married over matriculating at a college. She hadn’t assumed I would gloss over the facts of her situation and, unlike me, she didn’t get defensive.
“I always regretted it,” she revealed. “If I could go back in time, I would have kept my name.”
She and her husband had separated a few years back and were continuing to work things out. She had cheated on him. He had been emotionally distant to her for years before that. Her advice or criticism or whatever you want to call it was based on her life experiences, not scientific or factual information about what makes a happy marriage. She wasn’t trying to be malicious — she was giving me all she could offer me at that time. I had the choice of accepting or refusing it (yes, I still changed my name).
More: I’m anti-marriage and anti-kids and have no problem with it — but men do
I’m older, wiser and am no longer affected by others’ negative talk about marriage. Instead of getting angry when someone passes a comment about the oppressiveness of marriage, I try to remember that they’re just speaking their truth. It’s up to me to create my truth and, when it’s my time to give “advice” to a young newlywed, I’ll either keep it simple and positive or — better yet — smile and say “congratulations.”