“Marry me,” the man says – kneeling, with a big rock in a little box, and promising Happily Ever After. Naturally, the woman says yes. Even if she isn’t 100% sure.
Because when a man proposes, it’s what we do, right? And then what?
I was watching one of my favorite Sex and the City episodes. Well, several in a row, actually. Aidan and Carrie as their relationship progresses – the second time around. I always find it fascinating the way they build back trust, how comfortable she is with him, how clearly they are mismatched in some ways and wonderful together in others.
Just like the rest of us, don’t you think?
Aidan has given Carrie a ring, she’s accepted, and she’s increasingly uneasy at the prospect of marriage. Remember the trip to a tacky bridal store, trying on god-awful dresses, and breaking out in hives?
As she explains her dilemma to the girls, she is confronted with this question, from Miranda:
“Why did you ever say yes?”
“Because I love him… A man you love kneels, in the street, and offers you a ring… you say yes. That’s what you do.”
She’s the voice of reality – or possibly doom. She comments: “You get married, you hope for the best, if it doesn’t work out… you get divorced.”
Cut and dry, right?
(Not so cut and dry for some of us, not so cut and dry if there are children, not so cut and dry even for those who go through a “starter marriage.”)
Where am I going with this?
How many of us said “yes” to a proposal because it’s what we’re supposed to do? Because we love the person who asks, and because we are asked, we follow convention and say yes?
Oh, I don’t mean we said yes without thinking about it, or yes without imagining what life would be like together – the pleasures, the challenges – and of course we focus on the pleasures and don’t dwell on the challenges.
What if we didn’t feel so much pressure to say yes? What if we felt as though it were perfectly acceptable to take three years or four years or eight years before that next step – or not to take it at all?
Sure, sure. They’re fictional characters. But don’t men and women both find something familiar in these scenes of “shoulds” when it comes to timing and stage of life and, as Aidan says, “wanting to lock this thing down?”
What if both men and women didn’t feel that if their partner was reluctant about marriage, then that means you need to move on?
I happened into another small screen reminder of the way marriage and marital expectations have altered – and also persist. It was a black and white soaper, early 1960s, with Suzanne Pleshette as a young woman with “a rage to live.” In other words, she wants sex. Often. And variety. However, “nice girls” didn’t want such things in the 1960s… possibly the 1970s as well. And they certainly didn’t act on it – not if they wanted to remain known as “nice girls.”
So they were married off – or married themselves off – as expeditiously as possible.
The problem of course – discontent, unhappiness, affairs. And quite possibly, divorce.
As for the “marry me” statement (or question), whatever form it may take, it’s flattering and exciting and thrilling and a relief – if it is truly what we want, and with the person we want. We know there aren’t any guarantees, but if the pressure to say yes were off, maybe when we did, we’d get it right a little more often.
Image, from HBO’s Sex and the City, Change of a Dress