What’s So Wrong With A 19th Century Marriage Narrative?

In response to Jamie Peck’s post: “Dear 2011: The 19th Century Called, It Wants Its Marriage Narrative Back

“Maybe we, the media, just need to pull back a little bit and try out some new narratives for a change. Maybe then, we can come back around to marriage not as the single culminating event of a woman’s life, but as something two people who love each other might decide to do together if it’s right for them. But I’m afraid that wouldn’t sell very many magazines.”

There’s a great misconception about what marriage, today, actually is. People who look at it from a societal perspective or from a historical perspective tend to view it through crap-colored glasses. The concepts of “women as property” and a “wedding as the culmination of a woman’s life” while certainly are enough to rub any modern woman raw, are no longer relevant. I’m sure they exist some where in every culture and society and that’s horrendous. But fixating on these concepts as truth rather than archaic occurrences is what keeps many modern women from wanting to be married – and modern men using these reasons to refuse to commit because they’re being “sensitive to women’s issues.”

I can tell you for certain that in 99 percent of the marriages I know “gender essentialist” narratives don’t exist. In every marriage the couple makes their own rules, and usually that means playing to their own strengths. In my parents’ marriage, my Dad does the dishes and my Mom pays the bills. In my marriage, due to crazy life stuff, my husband has been “under-employed” for two years and I’ve been the one with the steady job.

Today’s successful marriages recognize that we live in a world of evolving roles and these marriages still thrive. In a marriage where the spouses accept and love each other where they are and where they can be, time and societal constraints have no limiting effect on a couple.

Ms. Peck is correct: marriage is often viewed as the “Happy Ending” of the story – look at Shakespeare, Austen, and just about every Disney movie. Which is one reason why I believe that there is such a high divorce rate. People expect happiness to remain after the wedding. They’re kidding themselves. Marriage is not a wedding. A wedding is a big ceremonial hoopla to begin a marriage (much like a graduation from high school to begin college), which is why my husband and I wanted to elope.

“Who cares!?” we’d bemoan. “We just want to be married.”

We had a wedding because it meant so much to our families. And I did find a rockin’ dress! But since the day I donned the dress, my life was not a fairy tale. And most couples will be able to relate to that. I understand that some girls need the fairy tale day of a wedding, if they know that after the honeymoon they will face a new reality for which they may not be prepared.

Ms. Peck is correct about one more thing: we, the media, need to try out some new narratives – say, for example, the truth about what marriage is really like.

“Well,” some will say, “truth is subjective and every relationship is different.”

True, every relationship is different. But if my married friends and I share anything in common, it would be the similarities in our marriages.

And as for selling magazines – magazines are either recycled once the next issue comes out or saved on a coffee table for a year before discarded. But go to your nearest Barnes and Noble and there will be shelves upon shelves of marriage related self-help books. There are seminars, counselors, movies, TV shows, Victoria’s Secret catalogs, Sandal’s resorts, florists and jewelers who all make money because of marriage. I think there is a market and an audience to hear a fresh, realistic narrative on marriage.

So let’s hear it ladies, do you want to know what marriage is really like?

You might be surprised: it’s not a fairy tale, but it’s not a nightmare either. It’s life shared with someone worthy of the awesomeness that is you.

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    • Jamie Peck

      I would argue that “wedding as the culmination of a woman’s life” is indeed relevant–not because it’s very many people’s reality (or at least I hope not), but because the media insists on telling that same story over and over again. I would certainly be interested in reading some more nuanced stories about what marriage is actually like for people. I wasn’t trying to disparage people who get married, and I hope I made that clear! Just our collective cultural obsession with the idea of marriage (and NOT the reality).

      • Jamie Peck

        Also, it sounds like you basically agree with me, which is good for you because I’m pretty much always right.

      • Cassie Ladd

        Jamie, absolutely!

        I’d add to your thoughts that part of the reason that there’s such strong misconception of marriage, and therefore a really high divorce rate, is that the media only tells about the big parts of marriage, the begging, children and then the end – which is almost always sad.

        I hope I made it clear that you were right in many ways. I was merely taking the opportunity to add my married perspective to the topic with in the realms of reality.

        And on a side note, I love the way you write! It’s so zippy and very fun to read.

    • Heidi

      I’m confused; are you advocating for a return to 19th-century views of marriage, or reworking the marriage narrative to be more truthfully reflective of modern marriage?

      • Cassie Ladd

        Hi Heidi, by basic point is that marriage evolves because people evolve. Ms. Peck was right – the old narrative is not what people need to hear any more and marriage as it was in the 19th century wasn’t all great – we need to take the good and leave the bad by filling in what works for modern time and modern thought. Hope that clears up my point.

      • Heidi

        Perhaps you should have thought more carefully about your headline, then, as that’s where most of my confusion was coming from. I enjoyed the piece as a part of a conversation about how to approach the marriage narrative, but assumed from the headline the purpose was to defend the 19th century version.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Heidi -

        I choose the titles. Writers rarely choose their own titles, and I wanted to make it clear that this was a response to Jamie’s piece. I’m sorry if it made Cassie’s point seem unclear, it was not her decision, and should not reflect on her argument.

    • Eileen

      I didn’t think Jamie’s article was about why marriage is a bad choice – just that the narrative (that you criticize as well) commonly used to describe it is a bad idea.