Saturday, May 24, 2008

Celebrate This, Part II

Thinking about yesterday's post, I decided to take action above and beyond blogging about the problem of publicly celebrating engagements, weddings and births without also celebrating academic, professional and other other types of accomplishments -- accomplishments which are often much more rare and difficult to attain than getting hitched and reproducing. The following letter is being sent to the Head of School at the high school I attended - Sacred Heart Academy.

Dear Head of School:

I was pleased to receive the Spring 2008 issue of the "Cordecho" and I enjoyed reading about the various pursuits of my fellow alumnae. However, I was not pleased to see that, as an institution that prides itself on developing the spirit, mind and body of its students, so little emphasis is placed on alumnae accomplishments involving the mind. Specifically, I refer to the fact that the newsletter inappropriately and inaccurately classifies significant academic and professional accomplishments as mere "News," while awarding a much more approving and positive heading to the listing of engagements, weddings and births: "In Celebration."

For example, in reading the "News," I learned that not one but two graduates have received Fulbright Scholarships, and that another has recently defended her PhD dissertation, while yet another is a Chief Medical Resident who will soon join the faculty of a prestigious medical institution. These accomplishments are amazing, impressive and even inspiring. Are these not worth celebrating at least as much as private, familial developments (which, while no less satisfying and celebratory to the people involved, are certainly less rare and often take much less effort)?

I understand that headings used to organize alumnae updates are not intended to diminish or downplay the many wonderful things that our alumnae are accomplishing beyond the domestic sphere. However, going forward, I would urge you to consider correcting this outdated oversight by embracing a more contemporary and worldly view of what is worth celebrating. As a school community, we should be celebrating our leaders, our scholars, and our professionals just as much as we celebrate wives and mothers. As a practical matter, this could be easily remedied by adding the subheadings "Academics" and "The Professions" or even just "Awards and Accomplishments" to the existing subheadings, and adding mortarboard and diploma images to the baby pacifier, wedding-cake topper and engagement ring images presently displayed.

As we continue forward in this groundbreaking year, when a woman is making more progress toward our nation's highest office than ever before, we should be nurturing, encouraging and enthusiastically celebrating womens' accomplishments in the world no less than their accomplishments in the home. When young women who are hardworking, service-oriented and capable of leadership graduate from Sacred Heart Academy, they should be ready to engage with the world in positive and meaningful ways, secure in the knowledge that when their efforts are successful, they will be acknowledged.

Not only would these improvements be more in keeping with the mission and values of the school, it might encourage more alumnae involvement, communication and support from women who are proud of their accomplishments and would like to see them celebrated, such as myself.

By the way, you might also consider using the salutation "Ms." rather than "Miss" on alumnae mailings. At the very least, please change mine to "Ms." Thank you very much for your consideration.

I'll let you know if I get a response...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Celebrate This

Alumnae newsletters -- such joy! Especially the ones from high school -- as if it weren't awful enough the first time through, I still get periodically reminded of the four years I spent surviving in the Big House! (Catholic, all-girls -- need I say more?) And then they have the audacity to ask for cash...

The real highlight of all this, though -- better even than the fact that my name is preceded by "Miss" instead of "Ms." on the address label -- is the "Celebrations" page!!

Getting hitched and the births that result therefrom are under "Celebrations" -- separate from the rest of the "News" or "Notes" sections. Yes, getting married is worthy of a special, specific heading along with photos of a nicely-manicured woman's hand bearing a HUGE rock and a plastic bride-and-groom cake topper. Kool & the Gang pulse brightly in the background, "Celebrate good times, COME ON!!!"

So, if you got your PhD in biochemistry from a Ivy-League institution, where you are now on the faculty, that's only "news," but if you landed a man (never mind that he very well may be a paroled felon with no job prospects and bad hygiene) -- bust out the champagne! Or if you've worked hard, saved money and bought your own house -- sorry, that's novel, but we're not going to celebrate your REAL financial security as well as the fact that you accomplished it through your own efforts -- we will, however, get all excited now that your primary purpose as a woman on this planet has been fulfilled -- WIFERY! WIFEDOM! WIFEHOOD! We can all rest easy and feel happy because -- hallelujah! -- there is one less slatternly spinster out there.

Now, what I'd like to know is, why isn't there a special page for divorces?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

So why don't men want to marry anymore (if they ever did)?

I ask this not to try to solve the problem or fix the problem people, but rather, to shed light on why modern women might wish to re-evaluate the extent to which they will tie themselves into knots over tying the knot...

One answer is that (most) men are stuck between a rock and a hard place -- the rock that wives-in-waiting want to waive around, and the hard place in the mens' pants.

The typical fella, under the influence of the hard place, wants variety, spontaneity and frequency -- whereas women, well, we tend to put a much higher premium on exclusivity and permanency (as represented by that ever-coveted ROCK).

Read the following article -- and the comments that follow -- and see if you don't rethink the issue, even just a little:

"The Affairs of Men: The trouble with sex and marriage"
* By Philip Weiss
* Published May 18, 2008 -- New York Magazine

Click here to view article

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Who Wants Marriage Anyway?"

I read this post on Yahoo's new "Shine" site -- it really moved me, because it shows how conditioned we are to want marriage even when we already have all the things that we think marriage is going to do for us! The woman who wrote this post, Donna, sounds really nice, and I really felt for her on for her post and my response:

In this fast paced times, when everything can be automatic, ready made, and instant, questions of quality, permanence and commitment often comes out.

As an open-minded individual I am often confronted with different views from different people and sometimes I begin asking myself, too.

I grew up attending weddings. I was usually asked to be a flower girl back in those sugar coated days. I have been in different kinds of wedding small and simple, intimate and sweet, grand and extravagant, name it. But as a young girl it never occurred to me that I would be a bride someday.

After some time the little flower girl became one of the bride’s maid and once or twice I was asked to be the maid of honor. I came to realize the gravity of weddings, entourage and all the things that make up nuptials. But then again I never saw myself walking down the aisle in white.

As I grew up, talks about dream weddings, wedding plans, and ideal husbands always occurred. I thought about the different things I heard and learned from other people. I thought, “Maybe I don’t really need to think about it, too.”

It’s not that I’m loveless or a man-hater of any sort. I actually had one serious relationship before meeting my one true love. It just never occurred to me that a wedding or marriage is something to be pondered upon.

I know a lot of couples, and saw a lot of them throughout their relationships. Some of them grew apart and parted ways; some walked the journey together and tied themselves in marriage; while some of them enjoyed the journey and hang on, they didn’t marry and yet they’re still together.

Our society’s way of thinking regarding weddings and marriages differ. Others think that everyone is entitled to have a lifetime partner and get married (well, at least those who don’t have religious vocations of any sort). Others think that the type of wedding doesn’t matter (whether civil or in church) as long as the couples are married. And a very few believe that marriage is just a piece of paper, what is important is the relationship and how they will be handling it.

As for me, I had an unplanned pregnancy. I almost resorted to abortion. But my better sense and my faith in God took hold of me, I carried on. Growing up from a Catholic family and having attended a Catholic school all my life, it’s odd that I never felt I owe anyone an explanation for what happened. Even if I get different reactions and see mortified looks in other people’s eyes…I was unmoved.

I have my reasons. I am confident with my partner. I know that we love each other. Unfortunately he can’t marry me during the time that I got pregnant. He was in an institution which forbids him to do so while still in it. We had our plans beforehand. We even thought of getting married right after his graduation.

From then on I suddenly saw myself often daydreaming about a white, flowing gown, walking down a white carpet (take note, not a red carpet!), with fresh flowers on my hair as well as my hands. I would always give a second look on gowns on display in malls and in magazines. Sometimes I list names of would be bride’s maids and groom’s men and my maid of honor as well as our sponsors.

But then my daydream would be cut by a gentle tug at my hands and a cute voice calling “mama” would get me back to my senses. I am not a single parent. My partner and I live under the same roof. Both of us are well accepted in our respective families. We are considered husband and wife by everyone except the law and the church.

Often times people ask me, “Are you married?” I smile then I am tempted to answer, “Yes, I am…” but when I open my mouth a simple, “No, not yet” would come out and my smile would fade.

Graduation came and as much as I am happy that my partner has already graduated, my anticipation and excitement about the foresighted wedding can’t be contained.

I often make hints to obvious questions regarding our wedding, from which I receive a shrug or “later…” as an answer.

I am not holding any grudges from my partner, I love him and whatever reasons he has I understand and am willing to accept.

He loves me so much and has proven it a thousand times. However lately, I have been wondering if my daydreams would be a reality, though.

I started to steer clear when topics about marriage and weddings come out. I often find myself blushing when my friends talk about they’re civil or church weddings.

I started questioning myself…

Who wants marriage, anyway? We are like husband and wife who make a budget every month. We talk about our salaries and compensations and how much is our share for daily expenses. I ask help from him and he asks help from me.

Who wants marriage, anyway? Our families love us. His parents and relatives treat me as one of the family and love our son dearly. My parents and relatives do the same thing to him.

Who wants marriage, anyway? He religiously does his responsibilities as a father and a husband. He provides for us and takes care of our needs as well as our wants.

Who wants marriage, anyway? We have shared plans about our future: our future house, future car, maybe a daughter, 2 or 3 years from now.

Who wants marriage, anyway? He introduces me as his wife to everyone and I do the same thing. He never fails to acknowledge that I am his and he is mine.

Who wants marriage, anyway? I have an ideal partner who loves me unconditionally, who stays with me even if I am irrational and unpredictable at times. He respects my decisions and I respect his. He is faithful no matter how many times I saw temptations pass by and my loyalty for him has been tested and proven. We are very good friends, we joke a lot, we have fun together, we like each other as much as we love each other. Whenever people talk about happy couples our names are bound to come up. So what more could I ask for?

After all, marriage might cause trouble in our relationship. It might cause too much pressure that we can’t handle yet, so far we’re doing great in this kind of set-up. I don’t want to be like other couples who spent so much time, effort and money on their weddings but not with their marriages. I want to be different, I want something that lasts.

So tell me who wants marriage, anyway? … Well, I do...

My response:

You have a child with this man and what sounds like a relationship that really works for you -- be happy about that! The reality of the situation is that, these days, LOTS of men (perhaps even MOST) don't want to get married anymore (if they ever really wanted to in days gone by) -- and that's OK. It doesn't make them incapable of love, commitment and support.

Once you already have the love, commitment and support, it is tempting to give in to the social and cultural conditioning which tells you that the next logical step is marriage and that if it isn't happening, then Something Must Be Wrong!!! And you must Feel Very Bad About It, because Other People Are Judging You. This is not correct. I understand wanting the big party, the validation and praise and social approval -- who doesn't want that? And I understand wanting to fit in and feel validated. And I understand the desire to feel truly secure -- who wouldn't want these things? And who wouldn't understand wanting these things?

But the point I'm trying to make is that if you step away from these desires and stay focused on the day-to-day lived experience of being with this person, in a loving relationship, you can see what is really important. Also, remind yourself, if you are afraid he might not want to marry you because he secretly might want to leave you someday, do you think being married would make him stay? And even if being married would make him stay when he might want to leave, is that what you want? For him to stay with you even though he doesn't want to? What do you think the quality of such a relationship would be? Do you think it would still be loving and supportive? I doubt it...more likely, it would be lonely and toxic, for both of you and your child.

I can recommend a really good book, called "Unmarried to Each Other" -- about being in a long-term committed relationship without formal marriage. It may help you feel better and appreciate your present situation.

As you may have guessed, my boyfriend and I are unmarried to each other, and I struggled with that for a long time, but have grown to embrace it and feel both proud and grateful, to the extent that I want to support and encourage everyone to think about possibilities beyond those which have been handed to us and which may not work so well anymore, anyway (50% divorce rate holding strong!) -- you are not alone, and you can change and grow through this experience!!!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Coupling in California

The wheels of justice move slowly, but in California, they moved this week -- let's hear it for EVERYONE having the chance to become spousally-encumbered if they so choose!

When I was little, my mom worked in a doctor's office on the weekends and would often bring home issues of The New Yorker that were even too old to sit in a doctor's waiting room. I would pore over the cartoons, reading each and every one as though they held the secret to life, if only I could understand them. Now, I understand a few more than I did then, and one of my favorites is by Michael Shaw, originally published in the March 1, 2004 issue. It features a man talking to his wife and asking rhetorically "Gays and lesbians getting married - haven't they suffered enough?":

Prominent divorce attorney Raoul Felder, quoted this week in the New York Observer:
"You want my advice on marriage? I got three words: Pre. Nuptial. Agreement."

In the same article, another commentator observes, "I think gay marriage is going to be great for gay divorce lawyers."

Wise men say, only fools rush in...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hot and Husband-Free Hollywood

Did everyone check out the updated "Husband-Free and Famous" sidebar, Cameron Diaz?

As quoted in the June issue of U.K. Cosmopolitan Magazine:

"There are a lot of ways to approach commitment and relationships - and marriage is just one of them...I think partnerships are a wonderful thing in whatever form they take, and I definitely want that in my life, whether or not its in the traditional sense".

There's something about Cameron...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top ten things I love about my Husband-Free household

10. I can spread out my stuff – clothes, crafts, cooking, etc. – and really occupy the space.
9. There is no unwelcome media input – no sports, no porn, no channel-surfing.
8. I can emit gas from either end with total impunity.
7. Any messes are my own – to ignore, to deal with, or to expand upon.
6. All decorating and design decisions are all mine.
5. All closet, drawer and other storage space is all mine.
4. No one else ever eats or drinks the last of the [insert favorite food here].
3. Which is really just another way of saying the food is all mine, too.
2. Basically, it’s all mine, and that’s pretty cool.

And the top of my list is...
1. When a man is in my house, he’s there because he wants to be, not because he has to be or because he has no place else to go.

And that’s pretty cool, too!

Monday, May 12, 2008

What She Actually Said

After trying to describe to a friend what Calista/Kitty said at her gay brother's wedding, I reviewed the episode on and hurriedly transcribed the following:
(Kitty speaking about her brother Kevin to the guests at the wedding) "When we were kids, we used to play wedding...I was the mom and Kevin was the dad because that's what our family looked like and that was all we knew. And now here we are at Kevin's second wedding and the rules are different and the things that we thought were true turned out not to be and it seems that when we give up on what was, well, that's when things that we thought improbable or impossible, even, happen right before your eyes."

Pretty good, right? When you give up on playing wedding in your mind (because that's all you ever knew) and you accept that the rules have changed and things aren't the way you thought they were, that's when good things, wonderful things, can finding yourself happy, healthy, whole and Husband-Free!!!

Unfortunately for the episode, a mere one minute and fifty-nine seconds (I set my stopwatch) passes and we find an older, divorced sister ruefully lamenting in the kitchen to a younger sort-of-sister, "Looks like you me and mom are the only single girls left..."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Brothers and Sisters and Singles

OK, I know I said I'm not a big TV person, but what I am is a big cross-stitch person (hobbies are VERY Husband-Free!), and cross-stitch goes better with background noise, so...Sunday night, no cable, it's ABC, DMC (does anyone get the cross-stitch joke?) and me. Anyhoo, tonight's episode of Brothers and Sisters features a gay wedding, and last Sunday's New York Times featured gay weddings on the cover of the Sunday Magazine, and I thought, well, we have evolved to the point -- THANK THE GODDESS!!! -- where we can see gay marriage on mainstream TV and in "all the news that's fit to print" (hell, the NY Times even includes gay couples in their wedding pages!) but being single is still lamentable...some nice sentiments applicable to Husband-Freedom in the episode, though, I recommend it -- check out the character played by Calista Flockhart's speech at the wedding ceremony!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Husband-Free Betty

I came a little late to the game and I'm not a big TV person to begin with (no cable -- can you believe it?) but ABC's Ugly Betty is a treasure-trove of Husband-Free tidbits! From tonight's show -- Betty's papa (LOVE HIM! Who wouldn't want a papa like Betty's papa???) is taking her horn-dog boss Daniel for a walk so they can *TALK* about his self-defeating womanizing, and papa says "It wasn't until I felt good about myself that I met someone special." Then he explains how he used to be a lot like Daniel, looking for happiness in all the wrong places but then discovered his passion for cooking, etc., etc., and then he says to Daniel "What makes you feel good about yourself?" -- a very important question! Much, much more important than "What are you looking for in a partner?" Now, why does ABC also air The Bachelor?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Are you married?"

At my job, I am still meeting and getting to know a lot of the people who work there, and I have noticed that one question that comes up a lot, and early, is "Are you married?"

I have also noticed that it kind of drives me nuts when this happens, but I don't want to scare anyone off, since we are all still sniffing each others' butts, trying to weed out the friends from the foes. And announcing, "I'm Husband-Free!" might start a follow-up conversation that is longer than I have time for in a lot of these brief encounters.

What to do? I came up with an answer that works equally well with men and women: when asked, "Are you married?" respond with a smile, feign a blush, look coy and say, "My goodness, are you asking me out? I'm so flattered! Let me think about it..." It gets a lot of laughs and seems to gently yet succinctly, point out the stupidity of the question, unless someone actually DOES want to go out with you...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Little Bit of Fiction to Tell the Truth

"For a marriage to last, Ronald believed that both partners should possess a stubborn will, fear of failure and a strong sense of shame of breaking from convention--mind you, this was not a recipe for a happy marriage, but it could make two people stay married. If two people had a lot of sex, that was helpful. Having many children did not keep a marriage going, despite all the for-the-sake-of-the-children talk to the contrary. In fact, the more kids there were, the more likely the man would cheat and the woman would be too busy to notice or too tired to care. Men left when the children were not so adorable, and the women were too old to marry again..."

This passage is from a novel written by a woman whose back-flap bio mentions that she lives with her husband and son...go figure.

And why do author bios almost always include mention of a spouse, if there is one? How does this help us understand and appreciate their literary contributions?

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Few Words About a Few Words

In this time-starved culture, my posts have been wwaaayyyy too long for a single blog entry, so I'll try to cut to the chase. Words matter. Ask anyone who's ever been teased about some feature of their physical appearance (Four-Eyes right here) or subjected to derogatory slurs based on ethnicity, race or gender. As we move into the "wedding season," it's more important than ever to know who you are and assert your dignity as a Husband-Free woman of substance and value, not some pathetic Cathy-cartoon-caricature or sexually repressed spinster. Fat-free. Smoke-free. Hassle-free. Husband-Free!

Husband-Free Habit -- if you're really not happy for a couple who has invited you to their wedding, just don't go. And if you do decide to go (whether or not you're happy about it), bring a gift that you can actually afford, or, if you're crafty, something handmade. They have each other; they don't need you to participate in the involuntary transfer of wealth. Lastly, a Husband-Free way to wish newly-weds well, instead of the traditional "Congratulations!" (as though they have accomplished something already) try a heartfelt "Good luck!!!"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Unmarried Untruths

Take a moment to consider virtually any word that commonly carries the “un” prefix. The condemnation conveyed by the combination of these two letters is unavoidable. From tacit disappointment to bitter disgust, the speaker feels superior when uttering an “un” word. Most “un” words derive their meaning from referring to what they are not, and they are negative almost without exception. There are dozens of them – unhappy, unfashionable, unfeminine, unsatisfying, unworthy, unsuccessful, unattractive, unfulfilled, unappealing...unmarried. Coincidence? I doubt it!

Gender, race and age are just about the only characteristics that precede marital status in our identities, and none of these have an “un” form. A woman may be described as female, but not as “unmale”. An African-American person may be described as black, but not as “unwhite”. A senior citizen may be described as old, but not as “unyoung”. Yet with marital status, married is quickly and easily altered into its opposite, unmarried. While you can say that a person is single, once they marry, they do not become “unsingle”.

Clearly, married is the standard whereas unmarried is the deviation, the failure, the problem. If you are unhappy, it goes without saying that you would rather be happy. If you are unhealthy, you do what you can to become healthy. If you are unmarried, of course you want to get married. However, any single woman knows all too well that there is an inherent double standard in this belief.

For a straight man, being unmarried generally makes him sought after, fawned over and revered as if he is on the brink of extinction. He is intriguing and his unmarried status is enticing, like a mystery waiting to be solved, a question begging for an answer. Who’s the lucky girl? Many plausible explanations are offered for his unmarried state. He has not found his better half so he is still searching for The One – an incurable romantic, Romeo. He is not ready to settle down – adventurous, sexually desirable, a real James Bond. He is a career man – ambitious, driven, the next Donald Trump. The unmarried brand might as well be an “S” for Superman emblazoned across his chest because he is perceived as just that. He has his whole life ahead of him to find a bride in a sea of ready, willing, and eager women who are perpetually hoping to find the proverbial needle in the haystack: the unmarried, heterosexual, emotionally available male.

For the single woman, however, the unmarried brand is quite the opposite, a scarlet letter “S” for spinster! Face it; describing yourself as unmarried, particularly as you age, is akin to announcing that you have decided to join a leper colony. You know that look you get when you describe yourself as unmarried. It starts off complimentary – a slight tilt of the head with an inquisitive smile, as if to say “You are such a great catch, why are you still on the market?” However, in the absence of a satisfactory explanation, the look quickly transforms into a perplexed, furrowed brow with pinched lips, clearly conveying “Wait a second, what’s wrong with you?” or, more likely, “Something must be wrong with you!” They try to figure out what that something could be – Lesbian? Frigid? Infertile? Abusive childhood? Depression? Drug addiction? Man-hating? Feminist? Man-hating feminist? Promiscuous? Lazy? The possible diagnoses are endless. As an unmarried woman, you are mentally unhealthy, unbalanced, unfeminine and unchaste.

The look then becomes one of pity once you offer an explanation (because, of course, you always offer one) and your questioner then tries to comfort you with lame clichΓ©s of encouragement (“Don’t worry, there’s a lid for every pot!”) or to hook you up with some male misfit (“I can introduce you to so-and-so’s nephew’s stepson’s cousin once removed from a wasteland.”). You often play into this ridiculous game by saying “unmarried” like an apology for being unfinished, uncooperative, unconventional.

Even unpatriotic and un-American! The government has contributed to the stereotypes that continue to plague the single woman. Politicians unveiled strategies to address the surplus of single women throughout the 19th century – from shipping them off to other states, to literally selling them to other countries. In his pre-presidential heyday, Theodore Roosevelt accused the unwed woman of contributing to the demise of the Caucasian race by failing to produce healthy white infants while the immigrant population continued to rapidly multiply. Later, during the Depression Era, it was widely believed that jobs were only for men. Thus, the single working woman was seen as a job thief – uneconomical and unprincipled to say the least, rather than a resource.

Today, the government still actively promotes proposals as public policy. Attempts to force marriage on the population at large are commonplace. The Family Protection Act of 1981 sought to promote marriage and motherhood as viable career goals for young women, and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 touted matrimony as being the antidote to welfare dependency. The not-so-subliminal message is that marriage is normal and anything else is deviant.

Talk about history repeating itself! It is not just you. You are not paranoid. The bottom line is that there is a historical basis for the unfair stigma associated with being an unmarried woman. This brand places unfair, underserved and unrealistic expectations on you and then you are left to deal with it, unsupported, unsure, unwanted.

"Husband-Free" is starting to sound pretty good, isn't it?

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