“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” —Thích Nhất Hạnh
I was catching up with a good friend, who happened to be out of town. During our conversation, she let me in on a family decision, that she wasn’t too happy about, that her father made. My friend had communicated her unhappiness to her mother, in hopes that she could change her father’s mind. Sadly, her only hope couldn’t intervene on her behalf and explained, “Your father is the head of the house”.
When I thought of it, I realised that this is often the same rhetoric amongst some of my close friends with married parents—the mother often cannot override anything the father decides on because…well… he is the head, so whatever he decides goes.
I grew up with a single parent, a household with a total of six women and there was really no marriages that I could look up to within my immediate or extended family. So, you can imagine that I was raised up without a blueprint of what a good, healthy marriage looks like. But with the few marriages that I have seen or heard of, marriage has never been something that looked too admirable, more especially for the woman. The only thing that has kept me desiring to get married is my extremely idealistic and die-hard romantic personality that has always hoped to salvage and redeem what the meaning of marriage is or should be…
“Sometimes I feel like marriage is not for strong women like me. Marriage is not for self-assured, independent women like me who have the great conviction that a woman’s worth does not and never will lie on a man.”
But I digress… The conversation with my friend is the bedrock of all my fears about marriage. Marriages in our deeply patriarchal society seem to thrive on the superiority of men over women. Whenever I picture marriage realistically, I picture myself as being a doormat—an accessory to a man’s convenience as the wife. Marriages seem to be based on what the woman can do for the husband and less on what both partners can lovingly do for one another.
I once dated a guy who said, “A woman who cannot cook is a liability to a man”. So how can I, as a woman, believe otherwise if this is the everyday rhetoric from men whenever we talk about marriage and the role each partner is to play in the marital union? How can I believe that marriage benefits me just as much as it benefits the man? How can I believe that my value as the wife will not just be reduced to my domestic abilities; that my mind and heart will matter more than how well I cook and clean up after my man? And also, why should it be my responsibility to clean up after and cook for my husband; as if he is an infant, incapable of feeding and taking care of himself? Now, don’t get me wrong, personally, there is nothing that will give me as much pleasure as seeing my husband satisfied from the lovely meal I had lovingly prepared for him, I believe in partners serving each other in a way that will make the other happy, not because it is ones “job”. A job because society says you are the man and you are the woman, therefore, you MUST do this and that.
Sometimes I feel like marriage is not for strong women like me. Marriage is not for self-assured, independent women like me who have the great conviction that a woman’s worth does not and never will lie on a man. Marriages are probably not for women like me who dare not tiptoe around a man’s fragile ego and masculinity just to keep him around. I’m terrified that marriages are not for strong-minded women like me who will not simply accept what a man says just by virtue of him being a man, because a woman like me will boldly challenge a man and not complacently submit to his whim and will just because society dictates “it is your duty as a woman”. I fear that marriages are founded on men’s weak and fragile egos that will break from the great weight of women like me; and a broken marriage I aspire not to. I fear that marriage requires that I have it all together as a woman (or risk having another woman replace me) while I am to “support my man through his hustle”. I fear that marriage requires me to smooth out all my rough edges while the man is allowed to be as unkempt as he desires “because men will be men”. I fear that marriage requires me to be in the background and giving up things that that the man will never give up. I fear that in getting married, I will be the stage in which the man strides and gladly tramples upon with no thought and consideration for my invisibility and suppression.
“Why should a relationship mean settling down? Wait out for someone who won’t let life escape you, who’ll challenge you and drive you toward your dreams. Someone spontaneous you can get lost in the world with. A relationship, with the right person, is a release not a restriction.”
—Beau Taplin, The Liberation
But despite everything, I have always believed in the beauty of marriage, I have always held firmly that, if done right, marriage can be one of the most enchanting unions that man can ever witness. Marriage for me is an arena where one can ever come close to touching God and experiencing the full magnitude that God’s love is. But for as long as we are insistent upon barricading love with our meaningless and restraining old traditions, marriage will indeed always seem like a suffocating cage.
It should never be society’s duty to dictate how a marriage should look like, a marriage should be as unique as the two individuals that enter it. Marriage should never be a prison but a limitless galaxy that allows each partner to freely rocket into their greatest and most authentic selves. Two married people should both be valuable contributors not just to the union but also to each other. Each person’s voice should matter. Both should support each other’s dreams and aspirations and be able to take turns in letting one partner shine or rather, be willing to shine together. One partner should not be the one constantly breaking their back for the other while the other sits comfortably without thought for the cares and heart’s desires of the other. Both partners should be able to reach common ground and take thought for the concerns of the other. Marriage should be a partnership, a team initiative and not some oppressive, hierarchical union where one individual is seen as greater than the other and having power over their spouse. This is the marriage that I dream of for myself; this is the kind of marriage I’m willingly to clench upon and the man that embraces such a perspective, I will unashamedly, fearlessly and unreservedly love and submit to him without him having to dominantly “lead me” into it.
Finally, we need to allow ourselves to let go of the chains of tradition and culture so that we can truly experience the freedom that love and marriage are able to bring… And perhaps, just one day, marriage will no longer be a union to be feared but something that we all anticipate to dive into and collide with its glorious magic.