By Deena Zaru
Warm weather is here and with it come sundresses, barbecues, beach trips and of course, wedding season. As a woman in my 20’s, I’ve learned a lot about the expectations of womanhood from the politics of being a wedding guest.
I’ve noticed that at weddings, like in politics, barriers surrounding privacy and discretion go out the window and women are often expected to reveal their age, relationship status and plans for marriage and motherhood even when questioned by a stranger. Whether you consider yourself to be in the running for a spouse or not, if you dare show up to a wedding with a bare ring finger, you undergo a firing round of questions that allow your interrogator to classify you as a good catch, a bad catch or someone who has no desire to be caught at all.
The pressure to answer to these inquiries exists in other environments but people feel more entitled to bluntly pry into your personal life at weddings. Some tips for survival: get on your phone to avoid them, take to the dance floor, hide behind the convenient displays of flowers or just run as fast as your shoes will allow.
If you are single, everyone jumps to reassure you that the “right guy is out there;” that you won’t be sad and lonely forever, assuming that one cannot be single and happy. You are barraged by unsolicited suggestions by family members and random people, alike on how to be a stand-out candidate and how to effectively advertise your singleness and find “the one” in such a large and complex universe.
If your plans to marry are set, your future spouse’s name recognition and occupation will have a direct correlation to how your own value is assessed so naturally, you are asked to disclose this information immediately.
If you and your partner have no long-term plans, an indiscreet woman in a lavender hat may evaluate how much time you have already wasted, while more restrained guests will give you a soft, encouraging look that, with all its good intentions, reeks of nothing but pity.
You are reminded through a strategic dose of fear-mongering, including references to an ambiguous ticking “clock,”that you don’t have all the time in the world to make these decisions. And, nothing yields more shock than disclosing that you might not want children. Your usefulness as a woman is questioned and you are immediately taken out of the running.
The problem with such pressure isn’t related to being fundamentally anti-marriage or anti-children but the concern that pressure will cloud our judgments and lead us into making decisions based on nebulous time tables, fear and insecurity, rather than thoughtful discernment and clarity.
Discussing career and educational goals at weddings has become an effective way to change the subject but I have found that quantifiers and judgments are not merely attached to marriage and motherhood.
Upon sharing goals that are unrelated to romantic entanglements, I am often greeted by a cheery, “Oh, so you’re a career woman! Good for you, honey!” Often followed by reflections on “women of today” and how strong and honorable it is to have a job and “not need a man to make you happy.”
Something about it has always been unsettling. An unmarried man can share his ambitions and interests at a wedding reception without being awarded the “you don’t need a woman to make you happy” trophy, no matter how old he is.
A man is not taught that he has to choose between having a career and becoming a father. And by having a career, I have not chosen to not have a husband or to give up motherhood.
It is not weddings, marriage, rituals or even the nosey lady in the lavender hat that truly trouble me. It is being confronted with the view that as a woman, my freedom has an expiration date; that unless I choose to give up marriage there is no time to live, learn and wonder; that by choosing a path, I am intrinsically giving up another.