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Why I Stayed in a Wretched Marriage

IIn 2009, I married my boyfriend for health insurance. I was her 24 and she had been dating Aaron for less than 2 years. I couldn't even think of getting married. I wasn't even sure I believed it. However, I recently got a reporting job offering insurance. So, as a sign of love from the insured to the uninsured, we tied the knot at City Hall in Chicago.

We tried not to take it seriously. I wore black he wore white We snapped goofy photos and sipped champagne glasses at the rooftop bar. We texted all our friends, "By the way, we got married. See you at Gold Star, the dive bar where Aaron worked." We drank free Old Overholt all night and squatted on the pavement and ate pulled pork sandwiches. We fell into bed feeling happy and irreverent.

Everyone will be touched by this story. I'll admit that its rough strokes are romantic, organic, and unconventional. I talked about it for years, mostly because it was an occasion to brag about how our insurance wedding exposed a farce of traditional values. I framed my marriage of convenience as a defiant gesture, meant to ridicule not only sentimental marriages but outdated institutions such as the cruelty of a failing health care system. To form my identity as a person who is pure yet mutable, independent of binding contracts, and ironically untainted by registries, honeymoons, financial guarantees, etc. became the key to

Read more: Men are now more likely to be single than women.

Unfortunately, marriages, even marriages like mine, weren't that simple. After about two years, I realized that our sexual and intellectual connections weren't strong enough to sustain a lifelong partnership, and I was unsatisfied. Yet I stayed. And stayed and stayed. In no time, I was deeply involved in a miserable relationship for eight years and could not end it. How is it that I, a self-sufficient progressive feminist, don't want to give up on an unhappy marriage that started to screw you into an insurance company?

The most iconoclastic among us think we are immune to the lure of marriage, so ironically, even if we buy just for profit, I think it's safe. The facility meant nothing to me, so I thought I could bend it to my whim, reject that aspect, and use it as I saw fit. But no matter how disrespectful I thought I was of our trading union, it managed to take on a life of its own. As I quickly learned, there is no easier way to neutralize Radicals than with a status bump lure.

When I was in college, my thoughts about marriage were somewhere between indifference and hostility. My classmates and I were never forced to run to the altar after graduation. We waited tables while nursing music careers and attending law school to avoid recession. Then, starting in my late twenties, I started receiving wedding invitations with memorable clips from the same people whose jaws dropped at my impromptu wedding. Many of those college drifters "got serious" in high-paying careers and were often paired with each other. Virtually no one in my inner circle chose to be a single parent.

These friends must have married for love. Their couple was what writer Emily Witt called "newlyweds." While far from the "housewife-mother dynamic" for the most part, these couples acknowledged the need to maintain some degree of autonomy. But their wedding was also a consolidation of their money, power and social capital.

Aaron's Social Her circle looked very different. He finally got his bachelor's degree at the age of 29, but his parents didn't graduate from college, and many of his friends from middle-class suburbs and those who work in the service industry didn't go to college either. had not graduated. For them, marriage was a distant goal they might think of when they started making money or had a "real" job. A few who got married divorced within a few years. Some had children and couldn't be with their partners. In his crowd, we were an example of a stable upward partnership.

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Marriages span thousands of years class of. During the Victorian era, middle and upper class women were expected to put morally pure energy into caring for their homes and families. Enslaved people, or the poor of any race, did not have to apply to married bliss. In fact, it was their very existence as farmers, domestic servants, nannies, and exploiters that allowed wealthy white women to put aside harsh domestic chores and focus on "uplifting" their homes. . By 1850, the number of servants per white household had doubled from what he had just 50 years earlier.

Lower-class workers and former slaves could technically marry, but their unions could not hope to approach the ideals of the time. Mary White, a suffragist and early member of her NAACP, Ovington, in her 1911 studyHalfa Herman, noted that black women in New York who successfully married also left home. I wrote that I had to work in Her marital relationship is not entwined by financial dependence, so she has no fear of breaking up with him. ”And unmarried women were financially independent. As Jane Austen wrote in a letter to her niece, in her reluctant defense of marriage, "single women tend to be terribly destitute."

1950s America was a veritable marriage propaganda machine, inseparable from peak consumerism. After 20 years of the Great Depression and War, times have never been better. By the mid-1950s, nearly 60% of the population was middle class. In 1955, less than 10% of Americans believed that unmarried people would be happier.

Of course, the nuclear family of breadwinner housewives was not for everyone. Recognition of this "universal" norm puts families who failed to achieve it: the working class and virtually all people of color who cannot afford to be single-income households in the position of failure. rice field. Women who toiled in strenuous work often envied housewives and saw home, not work, as the fulfilling aspect of life. Black women's response to white feminist demands for labor was often, "We want more time to share with our families." of alienated work. ”When you've spent years improving other women's home lives for a meager salary, living with a stable partner feels like a sacred privilege.

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White wealthy people have long used the virtues of marriage as a way to smear low-income black families under the guise of concern. I've been In the same her 1911 study, Ovington wrote that most black women in New York suffered from "sexual immorality" and were deprived of "the full status of women." In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Labor Department official in the Lyndon B. It was clear that this attitude had endurance. Governments have continued to tout marriage as a panacea for poverty. The George W. Bush administration's Healthy Marriages Initiative, which will continue to fund the program nearly two decades after its inception, will focus hundreds of millions on promoting marriage rather than alleviating existing family poverty. pouring in dollars.

Despite this persistent message, the cultural narrative of recent years has been about the decline of marriage. Last year,the Pew Research Centeranalyzed Census data, and found that in 2019, 38% of American adults between the ages of 25 and 54 were married. I discovered that I didn't live with my partner. Population growth since 1990 has resulted "not from divorced people, but from the growing number of people who have never been married."

One might think that social acceptance will continue as singleness is becoming more common. However, as a result of the decline in marriage, marriage has become a privileged luxury. Today, college graduates are more likely than high school graduates to get married and stay married longer. Educated people wait longer to marry and have children. This not only affects income, but also improves the prognosis of marriage. The Pew report notes that blacks are the least likely to be partners, with lower median incomes and lower levels of education for singles. As with many status symbols, the power of marriage lies precisely in its elimination. It remains desirable to millions of marginalized Americans, but is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

In her 2013 study from the Universities of Virginia and Harvard, the shift from authoritarian marriages to peer-to-peer "mate" marriages literally comes at a price. found to accompany Couples who can throw money at their problems, from therapy to date nights to babysitters, are more likely to survive. Financially stable married people invest in each other by pooling their resources. Researchers also found that financial instability is directly correlated with relationship distrust and instability. Many of the working-class interviewees focused on their own economic survival rather than on providing "for others, both materially and emotionally."

Other than tax breaks and health insurance guarantees, marrying Aaron wasn't an investment. Our marriage was in the depths of a recession and our bank account was hovering in her mid triple digits all the time. Years later, I still felt too poor to have children or save up to buy a property.But our marriage announcement unlocked something more puzzling and therefore more insidious than financial gain. A compelling social acceptance that proves difficult to resist.

I noticed the difference immediately. After posting some photos from City Hall on social media, people who hadn't said much to me suddenly showered me with congratulations. My out-of-town colleagues seemed relieved to see me. Aaron's family started treating me. Well, like family. He was inundated with advice and proposals from acquaintances. I'm starting to understand the magic of weddings. Everyone is very happy for you.

Over time, I discovered that using the word "husband" when dealing with bureaucrats was effective. These words also helped me in my journalism work. When I was interviewing older people and Christians, using "husband" helped me find common ground. I have now made an ironclad comeback for a mean man who never stops attacking me. (I hadn't yet realized how depressing it was that identifying myself as someone else's property was more persuasive to the harasser than "not interested".)

But it wasn't just these little sparks of social capital that I could reach out to calmly and only when I needed to. Horrifyingly, I began to feel really complacent. My marriage was never a happy one, but I felt "settled" in a way I never had before. Our partnership has been validated and recognized as solid. The elders went from treating me like a child to treating me as an actual adult. Even in the privacy of our own home, Aaron and I talked about our relationship as positive beings that ultimately lead to children and a mortgage.

To be clear, a stable partnership is not a bad thing per se. The devotion and acceptance that Aaron gave me during our marriage was profound. Looking back, it's my own self-righteousness that gets me in the way. For a woman, "the status that marriage confers somewhat isolates her from rejection and humiliation," my mother, an early radical feminist, wrote in 1969. "At least one man certified her Class A goods." After 40 years, marriage still provided me with the ticket to acceptance. Even gossiping at sleepovers with quirky friends reminded me of my innate desire as a middle school floater to be liked by popular girls.

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My relationship with Aaron is broken, self-righteousness turned into fear. When the early flirtatiousness of our romance began to fade, when I realized our connection wasn't as strong as it should have been, long after I knew this wasn't a match for eternity, that fear was my suspicion suffocated. Having tasted the privilege of marriage, I didn't want to part with it.

I was ashamed of my reluctance to end the marriage. What kind of confident, independent woman was afraid to be single? A sincere person who publicly celebrates the concept of "single at heart" and secretly sympathizes with unattached women. Perhaps her class-conscious left clings to her semi-accidentally bestowed privileges at the expense of her own happiness.

I had these personal feelings as much as the cultural celebrations in honor of single women erupted. The “smug married” narrative that speaks to singles like Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw has given way to cultural touchstones like Rebecca Traister'sAll the Single Ladies. , made a compelling and sweeping case about the emerging political power of single women. , Kate Bollik's Spinsteris an anthem depicting modern-minded gentlemen like Edna St. Vincent Millais and Charlotte Perkins her Gilman. (Note that all the "unmarried people" in the book eventually got married, as did Bridget and Carrie.) Research shows that a woman's earning power is eroded the moment she marries. It became clear. Single women are not only enviable, especially if they are educated. They were powerful both politically and economically.

On the other hand, quite a few of my friends were single. Whether they wanted to get married or not, their lives were full, busy, and fun. They also had an autonomy that I didn't have, even with a living partner like me. Yet I rarely envied them, even though I had more public affairs with them than with my married friends. Instead, I feared the uncertainty and vulnerability of being an unpartnered woman in her 30s. I chose to ignore the joy of their spontaneous decisions and the blissful morning they spent alone in bed.

Finally, a few years late, we got divorced. I decided that neither the promises of social approval nor the culturally-supported fears of loneliness and abandonment were worth stifling my desire for another relationship, another life. But I could also understand why many people, including confident and autonomous women, choose to stay in unsatisfying unions. Even after years of adjusting and expanding to modern society, marriage is still a social and economic aspiration, something of a bribe for the full benefit of society. It continues to stigmatize singles by promising them membership in certain clubs with seemingly endless perks that are not fully known until they actually join.

Roe v. Since thedownfall of Wade, Congressional Democrats have sought to strengthen other rights that may be under threatin 2015 Obergefell v. Same-Sex Marriage Rights Recognized by HodgesThe decision was a civil rights coup for the LGBTQ community, but it was also a victory for the cult of marriage. “There is no union more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

People — noted that Kennedy's hyper-sentimental framing was a strike against alternative models of intimacy. Domestic partnerships and civil unions were “an opportunity to order our lives in a way that gave us greater freedom than the one-size-fits-all marriage rules,” says Catherine M. Franke wrotehe wrote in The New York Times the day before gay marriage was passed in New York State. "It is nothing to celebrate that our relationship is licensed and regulated by the state."

Obergefell v. We appreciate the Hodges case and hope that same-sex couples' right to marry is protected because discrimination is immoral. But righting wrongs by enlarging an oppressive system still resents me. Instead, we want a world that respects all kinds of love and completely neutralizes the power of marriage.

BAD SEX: Truth, Pleasure, and an Unfinished Revolution by Nona Willis AronowitzPublished by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. increase. Copyright © 2022 by Nona Willis Aronowitz

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