Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Married Person's Cult

The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed slavery of the wife... Within the family he is the bourgeois and his wife represents the proletariat.

-Friedrich Engels, 'The Origin of the Family'.

Summer approaches and soon Claire and I will find ourselves at those places that married people congregate in, such as barbecues, dinners, and 'get-togethers'. We will stand around, drink alcohol, eat chips, and gradually be brought into the fold of the married person's cult. Hopefully, we will not have to sacrifice any single people and drink their blood from a ram's horn.

Don't get me wrong- I love being married to Claire. However, one of the strange things about being married is that you get marked out as a married person. Therefore, many other married people believe that they can relate to you on the basis of your similar situation. They assume that you are married in much the same way they are married, or in some cases the ways that people on sitcoms are married. For reasons that only the patriarchy understands, you can be single in any damn way you like, but there are only a few ways to be married.

Being the husband, which is a very narrowly-circumscribed role, I will hear hoary old cliches from other husbands who want to relate to me. "Doesn't it bug you when she has the remote control?", someone will ask. "Actually, I don't watch a lot of television because it makes me feel pukey," I will think to myself, while just nodding and smiling. "I'm sure you know, it's a good idea to let your wife do whatever she wants," one will joke. "Of course. I learned that from The Lockhornes," I will think to myself, while just nodding and smiling. Invariably, some fellow will quiz me about the things that I should rightfully be interested in- namely sports, electronic gadgets, or cars- and visibly get that sinking feeling in finding out that I'm not interested. ''Oh shit! Rufus is into fashion magazines, art films, old literature, and gardening. He must be 'on the down-low'!''

I realize that they're just trying to relate to me and I'm always polite to them. But I bridle at the weird assumptions and I wonder why they go along with marriage. It's as if being married finally settles the question as to your position on all gender issues- you must not be feminist if you tied the knot. I've had people assume, for instance, that the fact that Claire and I work so far from each other, and I sometimes have had to sleep in another town, must have made me crazy with jealousy. Their ribbing is good-natured, but it's never at a time in which I can respond, ''Nah, we have an open relationship. I don't care who she sleeps with so long as she gets pictures'', and expect that it will tickle their funny bone.

Where are the cool married people anyway? It's as if people get married and decide that, even if they were cool, they're now required to behave according to a certain time-tested role. I've said before that most 'identity' really amounts to internalized role-playing, and nowhere is this more true than in the family. But, Claire and I aren't like this. We're not jealous, or possessive, or petty, or afraid of the world outside of the living room. We're not obsessed with our jobs or the consumer items that we'd really like to have. Actually, we're a little weird. Our aspirations involve going to India or taking hallucinogens or inventing a holiday. We're still crazy kids after all. I don't mind that marriage is the beginning of adulthood, but I don't understand why so many people accept the idea that adulthood is limited.

Have any of you encountered this phenomena? Or am I just going to really lame barbecues?


gregvw said...

Yup, I know all about that. Your post reminded me of something. Required reading: "How to Travel with a Salmon" by Umberto Eco. It's funny as hell especially when he discusses how to deal with people who try to engage him in sports conversations. The book is a set of vignettes from the authors life in a style similar to the three Woody Allen books, only both more urbane and curmudgeonly.

Jen P. said...

Ah, you sound like my kind of married couple! And the people you describe are why the phrase "married people suck" is so often uttered by or near me ;-).

Anonymous said...

Just thank all that's holy you aren't female with children. I don't know how many times I have endured the recounting of childbirth experiences during the male-female segregation period of the married people get together. That and every pointless, disgusting element of infant care. Good god, if only it were as innocuous as banter about the remote.

Rufus said...

Actually, I did get stuck at one barbecue in which couples talked ad nauseum about the gender of their upcoming children. "Well, he wants a boy, but I want a girl." "Oh, we both want a boy. But, we'll be okay if it's a girl." etc. etc. etc. Finally, they got to me (we're not currently breeding), and I said, "We'd like to have a girl, but trapped in the body of a boy," which I thought was pretty funny. But they looked at me as if I'd just exposed myself!

But, no, I'm glad not to be the wife because I imagine the diaper talk is pretty grisly.

Rufus said...

Jen: Some of us married people say the same thing actually!

Rufus said...

Greg- I'll check it out. It sounds entertaining. Actually, one might describe you as a bit like a Woody Allen vignette, but more urbane and curmudgeonly.

sock puppet said...

A couple of years ago at my 15-year high school reunion, the women discussed childbirth and their husbands' habits in between bites of steak and lobster. The guys chimed in occasionally. No longer able to censor myself, I made a ridiculous and completely off-topic comment. One of the women tilted her head downward and just stared at me over the top of her glasses. A good thing I had 'someplace to be' shortly thereafter.

Rufus said...

SP: This is why I've avoided all reuninions.

Incidentally, my crapola computer doesn't let me comment on your blog, but I have been visiting!

gregvw said...

The bad news is, these conversations aren't actually going to get any better over time. They will gradually focus more and more on medical problems and griping about illegal immigrants.

No wonder I'm a freaking shut-in. Seriously, I make the Onceler look like an extreme extrovert.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's worse to become a hermit, or to become known as a snarky cynic with an enlarged irony gland. So far I've opted for the latter.

Rufus said...

Anon: I suppose it's hard to be a snarky hermit. They do seem to have lower blood pressure.

Greg: One whole section of my family does nothing but focus on medical problems and gripe about illegal immigrants. Even worse, they're my age.