Happily ever after isn’t for every woman, nor does it need to be.
So, when are you planning on tying the knot? Settling down any time soon? Any boyfriends? Shame. Why not? You should have a boyfriend! So when, in your near – but not too near, (you don’t want to have them too young) – future, will you be having children with your future husband? Imagine it! Little versions of you and the love of your life! Wouldn’t that be lovely? Oh right, sorry, that’s none of our business.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because as a woman these questions are par for the course. Family, distant relatives, friends-of-family, and even complete strangers are innately curious about the status of your personal life. Why? Well, they just want you to find your Prince Charming. It’s either that or it’s deeply rooted in marriage still being the ultimate status symbol.
It’s during childhood that we’re bombarded with the prospect of the idyllic fairy tale. A handsome, strong man (preferably a prince, but we’ll settle for rich) will fall in love with us, sweep us off our feet and then – well, we don’t know what happens after that aside from “…And then they lived happily ever after.” All this is also contingent on the fact that we’re not ugly, too old, or too fat – we still have to suit the ‘wifey’ bill, after all.
Though it may not seem it, this article is not intended to bash love in any of its forms, monogamous or otherwise. It’s the bizarre conventionalisation of love that society still maintains that we should be worrying about. The deeply entrenched stereotype that simultaneously victimises and vilifies women who do not fit into life’s rulebook of ‘Step 1: meet soul mate, Step 2: marry soul mate, Step 3: have children, Step 4: try to die before you give up and file for divorce.’ There also isn’t room for women lacking a single maternal bone in their body, or who would rather use the second bedroom as a shoe closet instead of a nursery – they’re selfish, apparently.
The idealistic concept of finding ‘The One’ has made dating and matchmaking websites, apps, and services billions. Instilled with that childhood embedded belief of the soul mate, websites, apps, and services make money from people’s insecurities. We need a mystery stranger on horseback, armour gleaming in the sunlight, in our lives to make us complete – or else face the inevitable cat-filled house, reeking of cabbage soup. The man on horseback has to stick around forever though. You can have a few romantic trysts and short-term relationships, but only until a certain point. Without a life partner, we’d be half empty and dreadfully unhappy.
Better get those short-term romances out of your system before you reach the ripe old age of 30, or often even younger in many Asian countries. That’s when you’ll be nearing spinsterhood, and while the younger men you’re dating will be called ‘toy-boys’, your biological clock will be ticking so loudly your entire street will hear your shame. Though it may sound a little extreme, the pressure is still very much there for women. Recently, the skincare brand SK-II ran a campaign named #ChangeDestiny, and in one moving video depicted the lives of those labelled ‘sheng nu,’ which translates to ‘leftover women,’ in China. You can watch the heartbreaking video here:
The young women in the video face extreme pressure from their family, and society in general, to marry before the age of 27 for fear of being shamed as a ‘leftover woman,’ not good enough to find a husband. Seems outdated to us in the west, no? Actually, not really. Though 27 is still relatively young in the UK to marry – the average age to marry in 2010 being 30 for women – the pressure is a little more insidious. Instead of parents outright shaming their children on camera (as in the #ChangeDestiny video above), the pressure comes from parents saying: “I want to live to see my grandchildren grow up!” It stems from your best friends’ country weddings on Instagram, or Facebook posts of Barry and Mandy’s romantic 3rd anniversary dinner covered in rose petals and the bilious hashtag: #powercouple.
In an age where women can work, own property, and generally support themselves, why is there still pressure to get married now? (Heterosexual) marriage – a concept that transcends all cultures, religions, and countries – is defined as ‘a contract between two people to live as husband and wife’ according to the Collins English Dictionary. A marriage is historically a functional promise to tie two families together, forming an alliance. The involvement of the family was vital in the union. Women weren’t allowed to own their own property, so marrying her off was a way for her parents to essentially get rid of her, passing her off to another man to deal with her affairs. Then as the economy evolved from agricultural to a market economy and women obtained more rights and a greater economic role, couples gained more independence from families and were able to insist on marrying whomever they pleased. Families needn’t get involved at all any more, yet they still feel they do.
The promise of lifelong devotion is still an offer too good to pass up for some young couples. “It’s nice to have security,” said Jae-eun, 25, married earlier this year and couldn’t be happier, “I love him so much. We’re not interested in having kids at the moment but… it’s just nice to call him my husband. Like he’s mine! Haha!”
For others, the fact that they’re sure they’d be together for life meant that marriage was just an obvious second step. Hannah, 31, wed her husband four years ago. Their first daughter was born last year. “I didn’t know we’d be married so early to be honest, we’d never talked about it or anything. One night we went out for dinner and he got out the ring and asked me, I was shocked for sure but had no reason to say no. I knew we’d end up together anyway. Now that we have a child though, I guess it’s a good thing – we feel like a family.”
The perks of marriage are its ability to bestow security, especially on a family unit. People don’t always get married from mere low self-esteem, family pressure, or insecurity either. Hillary Clinton stayed married to Bill despite his infidelity, and she had the confidence and tenacity to be presidential runner-up for the United States. However, many incredible women throughout history have also steered away from relationships and marriage for the same reason, including the legendary Coco Chanel, and Susan B. Anthony – a woman pivotal in the fight for women’s voting rights in the US – who once remarked: “I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself.” Each to their own, it seems. Marriage doesn’t have to be a vital life step, especially if you’re a woman who doesn’t want kids.
Wait a minute. You might not want kids??
A woman who doesn’t want children will already have plenty of defences ready in their mental arsenal for the inevitable: “Oh, you will, just wait. You just haven’t found the right person yet.” No question of why. Just the assumption that you’re out of your mind, that you need to grow up a little and shake off your selfish ways. In a recent interview with E! News, Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Kendrick recently had to deflect questions about her not wanting children by joking about her defective genes being futile in the upcoming water wars and zombie apocalypse. Hilarious, yes, but it really shouldn’t be necessary.
With life expectancies rising each year, the reality of a ‘successful’ marriage now is that it’s also going to last a really, really long time. People are living longer than ever, and many in our generation will live past 100 years old. That means if you’re married by 30, and your children – that you may or may not have wanted in the first place – have left home by the time you’re in your 50s, you could easily be living with the same person snoring next to you, refusing to empty the dishwasher, and refusing to acknowledge the new curtains for the next 50 years. 50 years! That’s not to say you don’t want them there through thick and thin. It’s only that if you don’t, the only way out is divorce. Or by spending every waking moment gardening (is that why retirees are so obsessed with daffodil bulbs and greenflies?). Or death. All because your parents wanted grandchildren, is it really worth it?
2016 is often remarked as being the year of feminism. Following Emma Watson’s moving UN #HeforShe speech, men were finally able to admit that they were indeed feminists, and that the movement was mutually beneficial. But with the rise of professional females wanting careers and to be treated equally by men, whilst still being hounded by societal and familial pressure to be a wife, a homemaker and a Mum, something’s got to give. Though for many women, the romance of finding the love of their life, having that fairy tale wedding, 2.3 kids, and the family spaniel named Garth is the dream, some of us don’t want it all. We’d happily give up the family and everything it promises for a job, a one-bedroom flat in London, no children, and a partner we only see on the weekends, and not feel like we’re missing out on anything. For some women, that has to be okay too.
What do you think? Let us know by commenting below, chatting to us on our Facebook page or tweeting us @santmagazine.
Words: Mimi Davies
Hashtags: #relationships #marriage #single #feminism
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