Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. I’ve got to write something, I tell myself. But what can I say? Inspirational messages aren’t really my bag, but neither is hopelessness. In truth, I’m a romantic. A skeptical romantic, but a romantic nonetheless.
Romance is awkward for feminists. It’s defined by bullshit like proposals and lingerie and heterosexuality and money. So being a romantic and being a feminist can feel incompatible.
I don’t want diamonds. I don’t want babies or showers or proposals or my husband’s last name. Nor do I want a husband, actually.
But I want love. Monogamous, forever, love.
This confuses people. I suppose it is a little confusing. Rational me (which unfortunately tends to be a little different than romantic me) thinks ‘forever’ is a bit of a joke. Rational me thinks monogamy is a bit of a joke, too. Who, really, can spend their whole life with one person?? And why bother?
Yet, I’ve always been monogamous. And it hasn’t been difficult. The relationships? They’ve been difficult. The men have been sociopaths, addicts, alcoholics, abusers and morons. There have been jocks and frat boys and rockers and rappers and anarchists and oldies. And hey, I’m no walk in the proverbial park. But monogamy was never a problem. Love was never a problem. I may have bad taste, but I don’t I don’t get bored. I don’t leave because I fall out of love. I leave because of assholes.
As much as I would like to find ‘love’, in the barfiest of senses, I don’t prioritize dating. My goal isn’t to find a man. There are a number of things in my life that are more important to me than a romantic relationship, including: my dog, my sleep, my writing, my happiness, my space, my private afternoon dance parties, and my sanity. But I want it.
I want someone to be with and someone to buy groceries with and plan life with and to think I’m the best. I want someone to do my laundry but also stay out of my way. I want a partner to live with who doesn’t live in my house. I want someone to give me advice I’ll probably never take (because, in the end, I know what’s best). I want someone to argue with even though we both know I’m always right. I want someone to cook for, not because I want to take care of someone but because I get sick of leftovers after the second day and cooking for one is a bunk deal.
When I tell people I don’t want to get married they assume it’s because I want to remain single. And I suppose I do, in a legal sense. I want to push back against cultural norms that force us into useless institutions built at the expense of women’s freedom. I don’t like the idea of signing a love contract and marriage no longer is meant to be (supposedly) a financial arrangement.
If this is all about romance, then why cling to the institution of marriage? And if it isn’t about romance than why all the white, sparkly, flowery, showy, bells and whistles? Why not just call a spade a spade (and you can tell me what that spade is, whether it’s fear of being alone, fear of being broke, or fear of what being unmarried means for your social status and self-esteem, particularly as women)?
And listen. I get the desire for a wedding. Weddings are the best. There’s no other occasion that you can legit force everyone you know to come to one place, stare at you admiringly, buy you gifts, and talk about you for hours on end. The dreaminess of the wedding is not lost on me. I, too, love parties and drinking and dancing with my friends. Weddings are happy fun times and I’m grateful for those who have them because 1) Free booze, and 2) When else do I get to buy a new dress?
What bothers me is not the celebration of love. Cynic that I am, I do think love is wonderful. What bothers me is the commitment to conformity.
Make as many excuses as you like but there’s no reason to get married before having kids (unless you’re concerned your male partner might leave you high and dry, in which case there’s something bigger to consider besides commitment, and that’s gender and economic inequality). There’s no reason to take your husband’s name (unless you find patriarchy romantic and think ownership represents love). There’s no reason to follow traditions like having your father give you away or wearing a white dress or exchanging crazy-expensive blood diamonds (unless you see yourself as a commodity to be traded from man to man, think virginity is a gift to your husband, or think tacky jewelry is impressive). There’s no reason your kids need to take your husband’s name. They aren’t going to get ‘confused’ if they have a different name than their mom or their dad. Kids know who their parents are.
I like romance. I like love. I want the stupid romantic comedy forever and ever bullshit, just like you do. But the rest is just a thinly veiled excuse for a, still, unequal society and for social acceptance in that society.
No judgement (ok, some judgement), because I understand what draws women, especially, to the romantic industrial complex. Count me among the hoards of women who feel excited and, yes, more valued, when their partner buys them flowers (which are, for the most part, pretty useless, wasteful, and unethical). Sadly, I will forgive all sorts of fuckery if someone buys me flowers. When I was 22, my silly, 6’7”, basketball-playing boyfriend bought me the tiniest diamond ring you could buy. Just because I wanted a diamond ring. Actually, he bought me two of them, as the first was lost in a tragic toilet flushing accident. It’s embarrassing, but true. I still have it (pictured). I, too, like wearing pretty dresses and parties thrown in my honour. I want someone to tell me they love me in front of a whole bunch of people. I want to put all of my friends in a room and make them dance to R Kelly songs. I want a big cake and a trip to Hawaii. I want happily ever after.
But I’m not getting married just to have those things.
There’s something messed up about the fact that so many women are still taking their husband’s names and defending it on account of what? Romance? Tradition? Simplicity? It’s none of those things. Not by a long shot. There’s something wrong with the fact that we associate romance with patriarchy and simplicity with making men (and men’s families) feel comfortable. It isn’t our job, as women, to make women feel ‘like men’.
There’s something messed up about the fact that *some* women think having children will fulfill them, as women. Sure, have kids if that’s what you’re into. But don’t excuse your decision (if it was, in fact, your decision) with some kind of ‘it’s my feminine destiny’ crap. You can be a woman -- happy and fulfilled and full of love -- without growing and expelling a human being from your body. If you have to adopt, you’re still just as much of a woman. If you don’t have kids, you’re the best. And bully for your vagina.
On my 33rd birthday I had dinner with some friends. I’d already had the party-till-dawn-party that weekend and now it was a Wednesday and I didn’t much care if I celebrated the day or not. I had received a heartbreaking email earlier that day and cried for hours, feeling all the more sorry for myself because it was my birthday and how could he. The man who sent it didn’t know it was my birthday and, in his defence, I deserved to be heartbroken, because even feminists behave badly sometimes. That night at dinner I got the impression my friends would have rather been anywhere but out for dinner. Maybe I was projecting. Maybe eating after 8:30 p.m. is a little too wild and crazy for a weeknight. Or maybe my friends and I have as much relationship baggage any 20+ year relationship might have.
I sat through dinner listening to women who were once my closest friends talk about babies and pregnancy and their husbands or husbands-to-be. Their lives. But not my life. They complained, just as I’d found myself complaining, while in a relationship, about their partners. Their boyfriends/husbands weren’t domestic enough. They had the wrong friends -- Friends who didn’t have kids and still wanted to have beers and jam on the weekends and go out to shows and come home at 2:00 a.m. and I thought: “I’m your boyfriend.” “I’m your annoying husband.” “You’re complaining about me.” I still want to go out on Saturday night and party with my friends and I still want to hang out with people who don’t have babies and I still want to be myself, even when partnered. Once you have babies and get married are you to stop associating with the yucky singles? It felt like we were changing in very different ways.
I didn’t tell my friends about the day I’d spent sobbing and hating myself for ruining what could maybe have been something good with someone good. The day I spent mourning the loss of potential romance, thwarted only by my bad decisions. They didn’t ask. I listened to them talk about babies and complain about their partners and knew I would have been happier and less lonely-feeling at home with my dog. It was depressing. The combination of getting older, having lost a maybe-love, and realizing that I had little in common with some of my oldest friends, was rough. Spending time with people who you feel like you can’t relate to is lonelier than being alone.
I read an incredible essay about online dating recently by Emily Witt. Though, in the end she gives up on OkCupid, realizing that computer technology isn’t the ideal way to build chemistry and, in the end, bodies are required, she concedes that:
"In the depths of loneliness, however, internet dating provided me with a lot of opportunities to go to a bar and have a drink with a stranger on nights that would otherwise have been spent unhappy and alone."
So here’s the thing. I’m not lonely. I don’t get lonely. Part of that may be that I have a few social circles there when I need them, but the rest is, I think, that most days I very much like myself. I enjoy spending time alone and rarely feel like I need someone else around. It hasn’t always been this way, not by a long-shot. But there it is.
My desire for love isn’t because I feel as though I have an empty space I need to stick someone in. It isn’t because I think it will make me feel more normal or whole or fulfilled. It’s about having someone in your life who knows you. Like knows you well enough to know that you’re kind of a shithead sometimes, but likes you anyway. It’s about having someone to look out for you and stick up for you and care about your well-being too -- but mostly I think it’s just about wanting someone to really understand you.
I wrote this because of Valentine’s Day and because I felt like I should say something… feminist? I wrote this because I’m not really anti-romance. As much as I don’t mind being single, I hate the fact that so many people around me are pairing off into boringsville. I’m anti everyone turning 30 and suddenly feeling like they’re caught in a race to some kind of heteronormative finish line. I don’t understand the fear that leads women to change their names and start panicking about their boyfriend’s proposals or about getting pregnant. I just can’t relate. But I can relate to stupid, irrational, dreamy, fantastical love. I can relate to wanting a partner in life, and not just because I need help with my chores (but I really, really do need help with my chores).
I’m not anti-romance or anti-love. Love is human. Institutions aren’t. Choose love and lose the bullshit. I think our lives are worthwhile regardless of diamonds and proposals and babies and our husband’s names. Men seem to have managed just fine without any of it.