Close your eyes. Wait... open them back up. I need you to read this. Okay, metaphorically close your eyes and picture this. George Clooney breaks up with his girlfriend. He is on the cover of Star Magazine looking sad and despondent. The headline announces "Abandoned again! Will George ever find the love he so desperately desires?" Spotted later with a lady companion, US Weekly speculates whether George has finally found "the one." After a summer of beer shared with his many guests at Lake Como, Star circulates images of his expanding mid-section, raising questions of a baby bump. Or... he breaks up with his woman and is still revered as the world's most eligible bachelor.... at 51-years-old.
Double standards based on gender and cultural expectations are nothing new, partly because of biological realities. Sperm can maintain their status as swimmers ready for the egg dash throughout most men's lives, while a woman's uterus is stamped with an expiration date. Our society envies the bachelor archetype, while the single woman sans child has historically been summed up as an old maid or crazy cat lady. The idea of the promiscuous man is simply easier for people to digest than the idea of a single woman getting laid. If she is married and spoken for, her sexuality is contained, but when she is unattached, her libido is almost threatening.
Women's identities are all too often still tied to our roles as wife and/or mother. Young girls prepare for their future position with toy dolls and plastic shopping carts. She is expected to fantasize about her wedding as a young child and make believe she is a princess waiting patiently for her prince. The indoctrination is so blatant it almost seems natural.
Yet marriage is not a natural state of being, but rather a convention that has become the social norm for reasons unrelated to romance. The history of marriage involves money, land, power, and ownership. Many cultures still view marriage as a business deal rather than an eternal emotional bond.
Although people marry for status less often now, it still factors into how we choose our mates. The successes of your significant other can also boost your rank, and their achievements become a direct reflection of you. "I am powerful because my husband makes bazillions selling the tears of third world children as face moisturizer" or "I am manly because of my wife's giant fakes tits and orange skin." The spouse then becomes a person whom we define ourselves with, as if attaching yourself to another means you have detached yourself from being solely responsible for your own identity. The other develops into an extension of the self, and you then own their triumphs -- hence the common cliché about people who marry for beauty or money. Being a couple then extends beyond combining love, and into the concept of uniting social currency. Ultimately this disempowers and distracts us from finding in ourselves what we want from our mates.
While I am grateful for the freedoms of modern Western society, with that freedom comes a degree of mental slavery to these paradigms. Contemporary American culture has heavily invested in the concept of living "happily ever after." Finding "the One" is a quest many pursue, clinging to the assumption that once you put a ring on it, then you finally become a whole person. Short of that, we are broken, caught in the search for our future "better half." Which is why that line in Jerry Maguire spoke to a generation as the ultimate romantic declaration. "You complete me."
Desire for companionship is an inherent part of being human. Our culture over time has evolved to fulfill that need through exclusive partnerships rather than broader community. Yet the plain and simple truth is we are born alone and will die alone. No one will ever understand or know you better than you know yourself. Marriage doesn't elevate this existential crisis, and married life can sometimes feel just as lonely as single life. Its unrealistic to hope one person can resolve this angst.
Both sexes feel pressure from the outside world to marry. But our lifestyles don't have to define us as people. Enjoy being in a committed, monogamous relationship? Fantastic. Love the independence that comes with being single? Rock on. Dig the polyamorous lifestyle? Yes! Do that. (Just watch out for that seventh leg, though, because who does that one belong to?) Marriage is not an achievement, and being single or divorced is not a failure. None of this has innate bearing on our integrity as humans. We are all crazy people running around this crazy planet trying to make sense of the time we have here. In the end, we can only complete ourselves.
Here's a unique take on the age-old cliché of a woman bragging to her friend about her "big news."