Lifestyle

Even Losers Get Married Sometimes

Why we need to stop treating marriage as an accomplishment for women

A few days ago, I posted a picture on Twitter to celebrate my second wedding anniversary. The next day, I posted a picture saying I had sold my fifth book. The anniversary post got 3,000 likes. The book announcement got 600.

If Twitter likes are quantitative proof of anything, it’s that as a woman, there is little you can accomplish that will earn you the praise that you get simply for being married. Which is preposterous, because anyone can get married. Horrible people who’ve done nothing of note get married all the time.

If Twitter likes are quantitative proof of anything, it’s that as a woman, there is little you can accomplish that will earn you the praise that you get simply for being married.

Marriage has very little to do with anyone’s virtues, unless you consider wanting to be married a virtue. A successful marriage hinges mostly upon your ability to find someone else who enjoys the same stuff you do, and shares a desire to continue enjoying that stuff with you forever.

Eva Braun, for instance, got married to Adolph Hitler in a suicide bunker in a union that lasted about a day. Their “stuff” was a common interest in genocide.

Or you could look at Elizabeth Bathory, the purported 16th century serial killer, who was supposedly happily married to her husband, Ferenc Nádasdy, The Black Knight of Hungary. He even took her last name upon their marriage — good for you, Ferenc! Their stuff was murdering their servants and the neighboring peasants.

Maybe your stuff could be a TV show you both enjoy.

All of this is not to say that I’m not personally happy to be married. Being married to my husband is incredibly easy. I love him more than anything, he makes me laugh every day, and he cleans up all the dishes without being asked.

But writing another book and selling it was at least moderately difficult. There’s no world in which staying married deserves five times the applause as a major professional achievement.

But that’s the world we live in, where marriage and motherhood are seen as accomplishments for women in a way that they aren’t for men. Professional accomplishments are nice to have; marriage and motherhood are expected.

Marriage and motherhood are seen as accomplishments for women in a way that they aren’t for men. Professional accomplishments are nice to have; marriage and motherhood are expected.

Look at the way this is reflected in media: There are so many magazines that celebrate marriage and weddings that I can barely list them. Off the top of my head: Martha Stewart Weddings. Bride. Bridal Guide. The Knot Magazine. Southern Bride. And you’ll find a similar number of publications dedicated to child-rearing and housekeeping, for after you get married. It goes without saying that these are not magazines targeted towards men. Those magazines are Forbes, or Fortune, or Bloomberg Markets, publications that celebrate accomplishments in the professional realm.

And while men are reading about how to conquer the competitive market or negotiate a leveraged buyout, you, a woman, can look up numerous recipes online for “engagement chicken,” which you can cook to make men magically fall in love with you. (Meghan Markle apparently made it to hook Prince Harry!) Which is slightly less terrifying than some other strains of advice, like, “Do what he asks you to do, without question” or the insistence in “The Rules” that you disguise your personality almost entirely (you are, for instance, not to make jokes) in the service of becoming “a creature unlike any other.” Except, all of the others who have also read “The Rules.”

The idea that women have to obliterate themselves as distinct human beings, while also making delicious chicken, in order to get married and feel like they’ve done something with their lives is absurd, but pervasive. Marriage is sold to women as a proof of their own worth. Men are not defined this way. To be a bachelor is to be someone who has rejected marriage. To be a spinster is to be someone who has been rejected. (And if you have not seen people derisively referred to as spinsters, still, in 2019, allow me to congratulate you for spending no time on Twitter.)

The idea that women have to obliterate themselves as distinct human beings, while also making delicious chicken, in order to get married and feel like they’ve done something with their lives is absurd, but pervasive.

To be a certain age as a woman and unmarried is, in the eyes of many, to have been judged and found wanting. If marriage is absurdly cast as a manifestation of personal worth, the unmarried are wrongly perceived as lacking. They’re not nice enough. Or pretty enough. Or good enough at making chicken. There’s something wrong with them.

But there isn’t. Or, there may well be things wrong with them, but those things will not stop them from getting married, because again, getting married requires no special talent and it is not a hard-won accomplishment, achieved after years of slogging away at something until it’s 94,000 words long and ready for publication.

So if you’re unmarried and feeling judged, remind yourself — and maybe the people judging you — that any idiot can get married.  Serial killers get married! Hitler did, too! And then tell them about something you’ve done recently that you’re proud of. A real accomplishment.  And think of history’s more-notable women, from Jane Austen to Queen Elizabeth I, who remained unmarried through their lives, and are known by the things they did and not who they decided to mutually enjoy stuff with until they died.  

Jennifer Wright is the the author of various pop history books including Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes That Fought Them, It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Break-Ups In History and the upcoming We Came First: Advice From Women Who Have Been There. She is also the political editor at large for HarpersBazaar.com. She’s been published in The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Observer and some publications that don’t have New York in the title.