Earlier this week, I finished reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. When Elizabeth tells her family of her engagement to Mr. Darcy, her sister Jane and her father are incredulous: both are adamant that she must marry only for love, and both take some convincing to accept that this is, indeed, what she is doing. Increasingly, I’ve been wondering what Austen is doing here. Is she, on the one hand, emphasizing the extent to which Elizabeth and Darcy have transformed, completely privately, and how much they are now set apart from the other characters as a unit? Or is she planting seeds of doubt: can this really work? Should we, with Jane and Mr. Bennet, be skeptical? Despite all the fanlit sequels, we’ll never really know: the door on that marriage is firmly shut in our face at the end of the novel.
Now, though, it seems that how we conduct our marriages is public business, the newest piece of cannon fodder in the Mommy Wars, joining whether and how much we work outside the home, how our babies are born and fed, where they sleep and how we get them to sleep, and just about everything else about parenthood for women to use against each other. (Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen any fathers weighing in on this topic.)
It feels so artificial, though. In real-life, my friends run the gamut in this as in everything else, and no one’s feathers seem to be particularly ruffled by anyone else’s lifestyle. I have one friend whose in-laws have the children from supper-time Friday until noon on Saturday every single week, and she and her husband travel without the children several times a year. And I have other friends who, whether by inclination or by necessity (lack of funds, lack of local family to help with babysitting), have rarely been out without the children, let alone away overnight. And then there are all the in-betweeners. Most of them seem happy; statistics suggest that some of them won’t last; and my entirely uninformed guess is that no outsider can predict which marriages will founder based solely on the number of date nights. I just keep my fingers crossed for us all that we have each figured out what our marriage needs to keep the flame going.
Marriage is after all built on highly individual choices: we’re all fine with the fact that we can’t imagine being married to some of our friends’ spouses, so shouldn’t it stand to reason that we can’t imagine living their marriages either? It’s the denial of individuality that tends to irk me in debates like this. In the on-line world, if not in the real-life world, there often seems to be an element of judgement in the responses to Rancic and her ilk, both in those defending her and those attacking her. Some commentators seem to take the stance that there is only one right way to negotiate the rich, complex, intertwined emotional relationships that constitute every family. And they also seem to assume that there are easy ways to read and interpret the choices that people make: to suggest that those who value solo outings are the only ones who nurture their marriages, that those who stay close to home are the only ones who are passionately devoted to their children.
This week, my Facebook feed has gone all pink-and-red with profile pictures changed to support same-sex marriage, in reference to the US Supreme Court’s deliberations on the topic. It is in that spirit of diversity that I look at the “marriage vs. babies” debate and shrug: chaçun à son gout.