I am not married, never have been and here’s hoping never will be; if it ever happens, rest assured, it will be under duress. Circumstances could compel me, and in that case it might be silly to stick to a principle. But principle it is. I grew up feminist, without knowing the meaning of the word, and once known, it was an indescribable liberation from worries about smudged eye-shadow, or fashion or femininity at all. Sex could be indulged with anyone who would have me just as soon as I could pluck up the courage, and marriage proposals go off the agenda for ever.
That was the 1970s, and things have moved on a little since. I have paid for my many mistakes in the sex department. But my aversion to all that anachronistic symbolism has not changed: the giving away of the virgin bride, the saviour knight in a white, or black, or silver sports car. Even without all the trappings, fear of others’ fantasies – parents’, even partner’s – filling in the reactionary details would inhibit me from going through with it. Marriage is about families, about property, about male possession of female reproductive organs. Nothing much has changed, symbolically, since Jane Austen’s time, and the really baffling thing to me is that most people like it that way.
But then we self-declared feminists, even in feminism’s heyday, have always been out on a limb. Now, however, there are further cross-cultural complications.
“Actually, we’re not married.”
I rarely say it, but it is constantly on the tip of my tongue. Half-term or other holidays spent with extended families – either mine or my partner’s – require “my son’s/daughter’s wife/husband” and “daughter/son-in-law” introductions, every time a relative stranger appears. Each time I duck my head and appear to be muttering under my breath. I need to get a grip.
It’s made worse by the fact that my “in-laws” (there you go!) are fairly Bible-thumping Christians. Actually, like many Africans they are enthused by religion in a general sense, my “mother-in-law” recently having converted to Islam. So she says anyway, announcing her conversion to me in the gleeful assumption that this will inflame my distantly Jewish heritage, which her son has no doubt made out more significant than it is. That I couldn’t really care less about Christian, Islamic or Jewish doctrine is beyond the conceptual grasp even, sometimes, of my partner, and certainly of his wider family.
It means I’m easy-going (except about Marriage) in a way that they are not. Who cares whether the old lady now prays to Mecca rather than Bethlehem? My partner, however, finds it mortifying, after being brought up strictly with Jesus. Well, he has rights to those feelings if anyone does. But she is nearly 80, probably just hedging her bets, amiable enough in every other way, and at this stage I feel he should be the one demonstrating indulgent maturity. But in this way, no doubt, I’m being too middle-class-Brit for words.