Thursday, September 14, 2006

That stuff about Manchego and marriage: I mean it.


Jessica Smith said...

i believe you.

my aunt sent me brownies!

i have very mixed feelings about the marriage issue. having been raised in a marriage-and-babies culture and being one of the oldest unmarried girls from my high school and having romantic idea(l)s about marriage there's some pressure. but then--i recognize that those standards are culturally relative, i'm afraid of getting into *anything* that involves a contract, etc.

the worst part about marriage is that once it's contractual it's very hard to get out. that is why people should be very careful about it and not marry too young. it's that senior year of college that seems to be the danger point, so maybe you can remind your sisters around then.

so when are you and mark getting married? ;-)

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Yay, brownies! We're having a friend over to dinner this evening, so that's another excuse to bake something.

I have my fair share of romantic ideals, but I don't have them about marriage, or if I do have them about marriage they're not about actually getting or being married, and there's no white dress and princess veil involved.

Gongs, maybe. And sunlit homes on the Mediterranean, but no white dresses, churches, or legal paperwork.

kim said...

i think the problem with marriage is most people just want a wedding, not a long term relationship. at least most of the people i know who have gotten married and divorced quickly usually have no idea what being attached to someone is actually about, they just want a pretty dress and a nice party and lots of presents.

it's funny, josh and i married when i was 22, but i went through all sorts of torment and infidelity until i finally grew out of it around 25 and since then we have been happy but before that... not so much. i'm still glad that i was attached to him legally at the time. had i been easier to get rid of he might have, and that would have been very sad. i like your advice on not marrying young. i think it is quite rare that we managed to get through that rough spot and stay together. josh is exceedingly forgiving and mellow, which helped.

K. Lorraine Graham said...


It's so very cool to be back in touch with you, and I'm glad to hear that you and Josh are well!

I think you're right that many peoples'ideas about marriage don't extend beyond the party.

And I also think you're right that, in certain circumstances, an actual legal marriage encourages people to work out their problems together rather than simply blowing each other off.

But what's been on my mind so much recently is how many young(er) women and men I've met who have already been married and divorced. There's even a term for this--"starter marriage." It sounds kind of like "starter home." Eeek. Like, no amount of commitment, either legal or otherwise, made any difference.

marwal said...

One of the things that's important to acknowledge, I think, is the immense power of the cultural mythology regarding marriage.

Marriage may be right for some people, and wrong for others, and it certainly has both emotional and financial advantages and disadvantages, depending on the case. It would be great if we lived in a culture in which people were making thoughtful decisions about whether it was right or wrong for them.

But the overpowering cultural mythology of it means that many people feel it as a huge desire and even need simply because of that mythology. It can show itself as the pressure to marry--whether that pressure comes from others or from ourselves or both--or as the desire "I want to be married" spoken by someone who doesn't even know who they might want to marry--that is, they want to marry the idea of marriage more than they want to marry anybody in particular. And given how closely the mythology of marriage is tied to the mythologies of responsible adulthood and success, then it becomes even harder to make a decision about whether you actually want it or you're just doing to prove something to yourself or to somebody else.

And one last thing: it fascinates me how invested people get not so much in their own marriages but in the marriages or possible marriages of others. I think that's when I most see the power of the ideology: how the language of marriage empowers people to believe that they have an important stake in the marriage status of people with whom they themselves aren't romantically involved.

Ryan W. said...

In my hometown I witnessed what I'll call the marriage pump, mostly in the person of my sisters and their friends. People get sucked in by a draft caused by whomever else married most recently and had a big dramatic holiday about themselves. Once the pump gets primed by the first person out of high school who has no idea what else to do with their life, it doesn't stop until 2-6 years later when the pump reverses and starts spitting out divorces. The reversal is usually caused by a single person taking too many sick days from work to play video games... after the first divorce a succession of others follow purely on the force of the suction originating from the first one. I'm shocked and disappointed that you're tacitly encouraging marriage starting at 25.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Marriage and divorce pumps. Yes. An apt description!

But Ryan, I don't encourage marriage at all (but that doesn't mean I don't obsess about it). I know that marriage is going to occur regardless of what I encourage, and I have to fight hard to not become an overbearing older brother-like older sister.

marwal said...

Marriage must become total before we can stop it. So please, everybody, marry the first person you see this weekend and get the ball rolling!

Jessica Smith said...

- on "I want to be married": totally, and one hears this all the time. My brother (22) told me last year that he wanted to get married within 2 years. At the time he wasn't dating anyone, and he still isn't. But he's in the Social Track: college, job, marry, kids, etc. and i'm like, "you'd commit your life to someone after less than 2 years of knowing them?" i dunno... but it seems to happen a lot. you hear on personals ads and such how people are "looking" to get married. so two people who want to get married get together and get married and then they're complete, somehow. i dunno.
- on people getting "invested" in relationships other than their own-- yes totally, this is crazy, but it happens even without marriage. there's so much emphasis on "staying together"-- like it's anyone else's business.

i want to get married in the mountains in autumn in a red dress but not now. it also makes me uncomfortable, as ryan put it the "holiday about themselves," not that I mind having a holiday about myself, but that i mind that there aren't other social occassions for important unions and secessions. celebrate anniversaries of book launches, friendships, personal accomplishments (martin and i celebrate when i left aaron, 10/31). one thing that comes up often in trauma self-help stuff is the idea that one needs rituals for things other than the major christian rites (baptism, confirmation, marriage, last rites, eucharist, etc.)--that one needs to ritualize or communalize (ee?) things in one's own way...

i don't know if i had a point.

marwal said...

If I read you right, Jessica, I think your point is excellent.

Ritual--the coming together of people over events and experiences that they value--gives people a sense of meaning as a function of interconnection and interaction with others, and most people seek out those rituals. But for many people, the only source of such community rituals are traditional ones like, say, the Sunday church service or the wedding or the Saturday night party or--get ready for it--the institutional committee meeting or "retreat" (and I'm sure a few others).

Alternative possibilities do exist, and of the kinds you're suggesting. For me at least, poetry readings and communities have always had such a ritual value, even when our relationships with the people in them get complex--and of course it's not like people in a church don't have a "scene" where gossip and tension can get intense. The point of the reading is obviously partly to respond to, celebrate, and participate in the work of whoever's turn it is this time around, but it's also for people to come out and be together and say we're doing this because this is what we value and we want to talk to each other. One of the great things about being a poet is not only community at home (when we're lucky enough to have it) but also getting to travel all over the world and give readings and hear them--that is, to be somewhere where you don't really know anybody personally and yet to find yourselves caught up with them in an activity that you all value.

Jessica Smith said...


Ryan W. said...

one of the most absurd things I've ever witnessed was at a wedding. the emcee told us we all needed to leave the hall where we had just finished eating and go out to the courtyard. we were arranged in a giant semi-circle and given sparklers. People w/ lighters worked their way around the semi-circle lighting our sparklers. by now it was dark and the idea was that some dramatic music was going to play while the couple walked around the semi-circle followed by their videographer. only the sparklers wouldn't stay lit long enough for the people lighting them to get all the way around and get them all lit simultaneously, and when this became apparent, did they give up? no... they handed out more sparklers and tried again, as if there were no inherant limitation with these sparklers that was foiling the whole thing. this was all incredibly awkward and ridiculous, how manipulative it all was, how we were being made to take part in a theatrical performance that was designed to give future watchers of the video a very different idea about what had actually happened. meanwhile if the whole thing were done in a different attitude, of course, and if the aesthetics had been different, it could have been great. I mean, what's not great about being made to participate in some theatre? it was just really bad theatre in this case. actually the doubling of reality that always goes on with weddings, and the poor way in which people go about doubling the reality, is one of the most off-putting things about a lot of weddings, along with the emphasis on spending money. recently I got a wedding invitation and I was really excited about it. it will be a very fun wedding.

Jessica Smith said...

in honor of this conversation and because i only get 2 channels i am now watching Runaway Bride

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Murial's Wedding would also be appropriate.

In spite of my rants, or maybe because of them, I haven't been to many traditional weddings. My family isn't Christian. I was a "junior" bridesmaid at a very 80s style wedding--I wore a puffed sleeve peach satin dress and liked it. A year after the wedding the husband came out as gay, and that was that.

Ryan, I think you're right that "the doubling of reality that always goes on with weddings, and the poor way in which people go about doubling the reality, is one of the most off-putting things about a lot of weddings, along with the emphasis on spending money."

I don't have much to add except that, well, I'd rather travel with the one I love than spend money on a wedding. I like the idea of having a party to celebrate love, but in practice I can't really envision a non-wedding love party, because it would not survive the wedding demands made on it.

Ryan W. said...

I would like to say that I am in West Virginia so I get zero channels. I would also like to say that the other problem with marriage is that it's not legal for all people in America. I'm going to listen to football on the radio now, in honor of all of you.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

"I would also like to say that the other problem with marriage is that it's not legal for all people in America." Yes, although one reason why people fight to make marriage legal for same-sex couples is because of the financial and legal protection denied to unmarried couples. So, while I'll all for same-sex marriage, I'd rather see everyone have health care and the right to visit people they love in hospitals, and a bazillion other things, regardless of their gender and marital status.

I'm jealous of your West Virginia weekend and zero channels.

Jessica Smith said...

yes. agreed. everyone with the healthcare and the rights.

today on the bus i sat next to a very young woman (21? 22?) who was, on her way to class, on the phone with the church setting a date for her wedding.

this wouldn't be so weird except that it's the second time i've been by such a young woman on the bus, and a)i don't ride the bus very frequently and b) i am rarely paying attention to what's going on around me. so it seems odd to me. it reminds me, actually, of mona lisa smile. (i'm peppering your comment box with julia refs)