Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Getting Married is So an Accomplishment

An engaged friend read this HuffPo piece and worried that maybe she was out-to-lunch, for she thought getting married was indeed an accomplishment. She got me to read the silly piece--note that the author is "Vice President of Client Relationships for...a community bank advisory group"-- and was delighted to hear that getting married is SO an accomplishment.

Everyone used to know this. The funny thing is, though, marriage  was once thought to be an accomplishment for men, too--perhaps especially men. That's why we congratulate men on their nuptials and tastefully say "Best wishes!" to brides. The tacit understanding is that men hunt down and catch women with their personality, skill and proven ability to be good providers, and that  all eligible women are prizes any sane man would want. (One suddenly remembers the country bumpkin who took a shine to Anne Shirley, future MA, and demanded "Will you have me?")

Convincing a woman to marry you--to risk her life having your babies and to spend her life doing laundry (if you can't afford servants) and the marketing and whatever else on top of whatever paid work she wants or has to do--that's quite an accomplishment and always has been for anyone who did not come into a fortune at the age of 21. A recent television show about Georgian-era British domesticity showcased the letters and diaries of men desperate to do well, or at least overcome vices, so that they can be married and supply their future wife with a proper house.

Naturally, male thinking on this has changed since the Second World War. (My dad was born before the USA entered the Second World War, and he carried out the old program. Workity, workity, workity, meets pretty girl, workity, workity, workity, marries pretty girl, rents flat, workity, worktiy, babies, buys house, workity, more babies, workity, workity, turns 70, work, work work.)  There were a number of factors for this dramatic reversal: no point repeating them all again.

So now convincing a man to marry you is now rather more obvious an accomplishment for women. Women are no longer trained to resemble the Dream Woman to put in the Dream House, so the few men who still sit around dreaming of Perfect Woman don't notice the perfectly wonderful women around them and, sadly, fixate on women who are nothing like the Perfect Woman of their dreams. Generally western men now just marry their live-in girlfriends, so convincing a man to marry you before you have sex with him is really quite an impressive accomplishment indeed, especially if you marry an man who is not at all religious. Hats off to you. Hats off and gift certificate.

But what the HuffPo writer doesn't understand about marriage--actually she understands so little about marriage I fear for her own, but one of the things she doesn't understand about marriage and why everyone is so much more excited about her wedding than the fact she is Vice President of Client Relationships for a community bank whatsit is that marriage is a public service. A marriage is not a private act or just your personal life but a new brick building up society. To be able to sensibly create and fit that building block, to be able to form a stable household and a union which contributes to society, is an achievement which society can really celebrate because it honours and helps society itself.

Marriage is also transformative in a way that becoming VP of CR for Whatsit is not. Presumably the author does not mean to have the same job for life, whereas she does mean to be Mrs Craig ever after. Being the kind of person who is ready, able and willing to take a permanent vow of fidelity and service to another person is indeed an accomplishment. (And one reflects that Mr Craig may feel a sense of accomplishment of having won a woman who is VP of CR for Whatsit and could theoretically have married the P of CR for Whatsit instead.)

So although getting married is by no means the only accomplishment (and even in Jane Austen's day knowing how to sketch, play the piano and speak modern languages were considered women's accomplishments) or the best accomplishment, it is still an accomplishment.  Indeed, having a nice wedding that does not break the bank and keeps the guests relatively entertained is also an accomplishment. And naturally, given these degenerate times, staying married is an accomplishment, too. In my perfect state, married couples would be given a cash award on their 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries.

My married brother is a very accomplished man. He is an accomplished pianist, and an accomplished computer scientist, and even as a boy he was good at many things: sketching, composing, writing stories, singing, marksmanship. His extended family enjoys memories of concerts past and looks forward to concerts of the future. However, perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is that he managed to add a really splendid, clever, hardworking and child-loving woman to our family and, despite coming from a super-traditional background himself, my brother has managed to adjust to the modern two-income model in which the wife's career can come before his own. Now that is certainly an accomplishment. I'm really proud of him.

Oh look--first person singular. Never mind. It's worth breaking my blog rule to say that. I'm so proud of my father and my brothers. And when I met my now-husband, the best way I could sum up his charms was to say that he would get along really well with them.


  1. Yeh, her HuffPo article is well written, but she completely and utterly does not understand the value of marriage as an achievement in building society.

    And Natalie seems not to have noticed the whole world in the last half century has been obsessed with celebrating women's achievement in education and employment.

    While marriage and engagement and relationships may be what she is asked about most, that is because those questions are about her acquaintances forming deeper personal relations with her. Which is a lot more fun than asking Natalie about her work and getting a 30 minute sermon about something we either don't understand or don't want to understand ;)

    Marriage is one of the few achievements in the last 50 years that has been derided, sneered at, and decried as pointless and oppressive (and then demanded by the gay marriage lobby!).

    So the whole article came across as stunningly unaware of reality.

    Hopefully she will come to understand what you have written about above once she is married.


  2. I'm getting married on Saturday!

    If someone asked me about my work last week, while I was panicking in the middle of all the stuff piling up in my email and I was desperate to disconnect and get to "honeymoon mode" already, I would have punched him in the face!

    I'm not sure how "accomplishment" is defined here, but getting married (to my fiancee, specifically) is the most important decision I'll ever make. I have a masters degree, she has a masters degree; we could well be doing completely unrelated things 5 or 10 years from now, but the consequences of this Saturday's event will carry on for decades to come.


    1. Congratulations! I hope the weather is fine on Saturday.

  3. "While marriage and engagement and relationships may be what she is asked about most, that is because those questions are about her acquaintances forming deeper personal relations with her. Which is a lot more fun than asking Natalie about her work and getting a 30 minute sermon about something we either don't understand or don't want to understand."

    Nailed it, SB.

    The reason why I'd prefer to talk to Natalie about her wedding than her job (if I had to talk to her at all) is because talking about the wedding is likely to be more fun than talking about her office job.

    Cake! Dress! Ring! Yay!

    Client data management software! Your thesis about nothing! Key performance indicators! Occupational health and safety! BOOOOO!

  4. I can't believe she wants me to be just as excited for my friends when they land some promotion as I am when they get engaged. If you want me to get THAT excited about your promotion, hold a party for it and make people dress up.

  5. haha - Julia, I can think of a few academics who darn near DO hold black tie parties when they get promoted!