The marriage quandary

Dear Dad,

It seems I have come to a new stage in my life. No, it’s not my big impending move, or the new job, or my fast-approaching 25th birthday. It’s my friends’ Facebook posts. Over the past six or so months, they’ve all seemed to have one thing in common: marriage.

Whether it’s being bridesmaid or bride, groomsman or groom, everyone these days seems to be in weddings. One weekend in August, I counted seven individual weddings in my Facebook feed. In the last two days, two different couples got engaged (congrats, guys!) and everybody seems to be pinning to wedding boards. And when I wasn’t watching the mass matrimony on Facebook, I was working at an inn that seemed to have a different magical ceremony every weekend.

I confess, I’m getting swept up. Like when I was a kid, I’m daydreaming about a big party, a big, sparkly white dress, cake… I’ve even caught myself planning a reception mixtape, and I’m not even engaged.

And yet, I have to wonder at how much societal influence (especially Facebook) has to do with my interest in marriage. I am in a happy, loving, committed relationship. I don’t need to put on his last name to prove it to anyone, but I fantasize about it.

Even as I get swept up in the romance, weddings still remind me of all the women-as-property traditions that we cling to in this society.


Many women still believe their boyfriends should ask their fathers for permission before proposing, for instance. Men have told me its “respectful,” but respectfully, Dad, it’s not your decision to make; it’s mine. And the father “giving his daughter away” is a leftover of the transfer of goods that marriage once was. (Mental Floss has a great roundup of the origins of traditions, ranging from superstition to patriarchal rite.)

As I watch many of my friends take their vows, I long for that for myself, and also question why we hold on to so many patriarchal traditions. Why should I take a husband’s name? Do I even need to marry him? Isn’t pledging devotion between two people enough?

I’m not the only feminist who struggles with this. In fact, feminists are torn on the question of whether marriage can be redeemed from its origins. Some believe a feminist getting married is a betrayal, while others argue the very personal decision can change marriage for the better, as married feminist Lisa Miya-Jervis explains.

I guess all I’m saying, Dad, is I don’t have all the answers. As I’m moving forward and entering a new stage in my life, I’m still struggling to figure out what decision is right for me. And whether I marry or not, my decision is framed by patriarchy and a long history of marriage, so I’m thinking carefully before I make it.



6 thoughts on “The marriage quandary

  1. I find it surprising and a little distressing that today’s young women seem to prefer those traditions without much thought. I got married 33 years ago. I kept my name and my bank account (not that there was anything in it.) My groom did not ask anyone else for my hand (nor did he really ask me — we just knew that’s what we would do.) I didn’t get an engagement ring, which we could not afford at the time, and I don’t regret or resent then or now. We are still married, still romantic, still friends, still lovers. Having my brother walk me down the aisle (not my father or step-father or even my mother) didn’t hurt my chances for happiness.

    I AM glad we got married, rather than simply “committed” ourselves to one another. Neither of us is the walking-away type, but having the legal responsibilities for each other, and to each other, is important to me.

    My son is getting married in the summer, and my daughter’s divorce will be final about the same time. Frankly, the wedding is a lot more fun to think about. Weddings can be fun to think about. It is more fun to think about that than most of the real issues, and after all, it IS a party.

    So yes, go ahead and get swept up in the romance. There’s no harm to that, as long as you and your partner know that the marriage (or commitment) is the thing that counts, and the wedding is only representative of that commitment. Sounds like you’re right on target.

    • As usual, Melanie, I am delighted by your insight. And your marriage sounds really wonderful in a don’t-need-all-the-trappings, take-the-positive way. I’m working for a partnership like that.

      And I was really taken aback when a guy first told me he would definitely ask the father before proposing, saying it was respect. It seems so disrespectful to the would-be fiancée, and I truly thought my generation was past that.

      • I agree — I think it is disrespectful to the bride as well. Yet my son asked his future father-in-law; his fiancee plans to take his name. On the other hand, their married life will be largely different than those from 2 generations ago, more in partnership in most regards. I think there is progress, generally. But not in every area.

  2. Marriage can be a quandary for progressive people. Certainly its history doesn’t have much to recommend it, and it’s currently being used as a way to deny civil rights to people, which is makes me want to walk away from it altogether. But one thing that I love about modern marriage is the way people are re-defining both the wedding and marriage itself. We are making it what we want it to be.

    For my partner and I, getting married was really about community and family. We’d been together for 8 years before we got married; we were already committed. We decided to have ceremony/party with family and friends because it was important to us for our community to recognize our commitment. For us, marriage is really about family, not about us, and it was important to have something symbolic that said “yes, we’re building our families and making something new.” I think we as people still need ritual and symbolism sometimes.

    I’m way against the whole “asking her father for her hand” thing. I keep trying to articulate what my thoughts are about that whole thing but I’m feeling long winded. Suffice to say, no. No one has to get permission to marry me from anyone but me. I also didn’t change my name, and most likely never will. It might make things complicated when we have a kid, but probably not, really.

  3. Pingback: Opening my hope chest | Feminism for my Father

  4. Pingback: Volkswagen: “Your precious daughter will never get married if you never let her boyfriend ask you for her hand” | Feminism for my Father

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