Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oprah on Marriage

I've got a lot on my mind lately, which makes it hard to blog because it all wants to come out at once in one massive, disorganized, 300-page post. But I've got a bit of a bug today, so I knocked off early and caught some Dr. Phil and then Oprah. I TiVo Dr. Phil now and again (with only 5 1/2 channels to fill the glory of the TiVo, I TiVo a lot of random things), but I don't typically watch Oprah. Today she had on Lance Armstrong's (first) ex-wife, the one who's not Sheryl Crow. The theme of the show was women who lose their identities in marriage, who expect perfection from marriage and the identity as a wife, who focus on the wedding rather than the marriage, etc. A worthy topic and certainly a major potential problem for couples making the marital leap. But the TONE of the show really annoyed me; Oprah said, "That's why I never got married" (fear of losing her identity to someone else), and the whole show had a sense of "marriage is inherently dysfunctional and bad for women."

It annoyed me.

I married a man who makes me feel more authentically ME, and who supports me in expressing my personality as fully as possible. When I have moments of housewifely inadequacy, typically when the kitchen counters look like a war between red wine and tomato juice was fought atop them, or the bathrooms haven't been cleaned in a shamefully long time, I wail to Mr. McGee that I'm failing him as a wife. He snorts and says he didn't marry "a wife" in the abstract; he married me, and he's not all that worried about dishes on the counter or dust bunnies under the bed as long as I'm happy. (Mr. McGee can be quite the smooth-talker.)

Marriage is difficult, particularly at first. For me, it was the knowledge that I was now legally bound to this man forever and ever, so that a spat about whose turn it was to clean the litterboxes wasn't just a spat; it was an argument that was obviously going to last FOREVER because I was legally bound FOREVER to a man who argued with me about litterboxes and ohmygod what have I gotten myself into? For other women I've talked to, the big hurdle, the ones with all the fights and arguments, was moving in together, or having the first child, or merging finances, or even deciding to get married. Marriage IS hard, and it isn't a fairy tale, and people DO focus too much on the wedding and not enough on the marriage.

But I don't think that's a reason to dismiss the institution entirely, or even to suggest that "most" women lose themselves in a marriage. There's so much rhetoric about marriage: who should be allowed to get married; what the gender roles in a marriage should or shouldn't entail; what women need to do, or ought not do; how we let down Jesus/feminism/America/the biological imperative by doing this or that within our marriages.

But rhetoric aside, the truth is that I'm just happy. I like being married. I find it empowering. It makes me a better, and bigger, and stronger person. I like my husband. And because of all that, I find it hard to get worked up over "marriage" as a political issue in general, or other people's functional-but-different-from-mine relationships in particular.

What does annoy me, though, is when people tell me I shouldn't be "happy" because marriage itself is a dysfunction, or because my marriage doesn't conform to this or that political or religious "ideal" of gender roles. Bite me, I say to you: I'm happy.


How a Marriage Ends said...

Hi! I saw Oprah today too, so your blog caught my eye. You are a very lucky woman to say that your marriage/husband make you feel authentically you and bigger and stronger. I won't go into my saga, but let me tell you, my marriage makes me feel worse about myself, not better. So, when your head hits the pillow tonight, be thankful that you are one of the "lucky ones."

Pammy said...

I caught part of that, too...and said, "Hooey!"
At this particular point in my life, marriage isn't necessarily on my agenda. But that doesn't mean I don't believe in it.

I just don't happen to believe in the huge extravaganzas that pass for weddings these days. I think so many women get sooooo stressed about the planning that they completely lose sight of what they're actually doing...getting married. Bonding themselves with someone else.

If a woman fears "losing her identity" to someone else, she has no business being married, anyway as she obviously doesn't know her partner well enough.

You're supposed to realize, like you do, that the partner "completes" you...makes you feel "more authentically you"...BEFORE you even consider marrying that person.

That fact should be one of the first...prerequisites of marriage...not an afterthought.

Darkhawk said...

I actually tend to feel that the idea that a spouse "completes" a person to be likely to lead to the broken results -- because if people aren't complete in themselves, if they're fumbling around looking for the 'other half' that fixes their broken parts, then they're not going to be whole within a relationship, even if they have one.

I'm not incomplete without my husband -- but he helps me to be more and better than I was before. Not filling in gaps, but supporting and enhancing the wholeness.

Back to "Gotta give 110%!"

HeartShadow said...

Well, as you know, I'm with you, Eyebrows.

I know people that are unhappily married, of course .. people that get into the marriage for the wrong reason, or expect "marriage" to fix them instead of themselves to fix them. But, you know, that's a problem that has nothing to do with actual marriage .. the problem would exist if marriage didn't exist and people were living together or any other form of relationship.

The problem is people wanting to be married more than wanting to be married to a specific person, or believing that marriage with "fix" a problem, or any of the other misconceptions we walk into marriage with. But this is like blaming a hammer because it can be used to hit someone. Sure, you can hit someone with a hammer, but you can also use it to build things!

Labrys6 said...

I, too, saw and was annoyed by that Oprah segment. I turned it off before the former Mrs. Lance was done completely. It annoyed me because it seemed to me that she had some false expectations about marriage, got disappointed and left married life to "re-find" herself? Having heard this advice repeated ad nauseum in a women's group once (and left the group as a result), I was just irked. If you can't find yourself with the person you supposedly love most---how in hell are you going to do it alone, unless you are just a self-centered narcissistic dimwit? Yeah, that was harsh. While I don't expect my mate (of almost 30 years now) to "complete" me, we do expect to support and complement each other. Neither of us gets lost, at least not more than temporarily in new roles that marriage and parenthood can demand. When men act like that show? They get accused of fearing committment. How come its something nobly self-saving when women do it? Hoooooey, indeed!

Leslie said...

And I always thought Oprah didn't marry Stedman because she didn't want to share her money ... Your post is well received. I think the "I --> thou" relationship is the place you grow up. And if you're lucky, you choose the right partner and continue to grow all your time together.

Jeep2000 said...

I saw the episode, too, and was glad to see your blog. No one that I know seems to have seen it, and it was rather disturbing to me. The whole "That's why I never got married" comment from Oprah really caught my attention, being newly engaged for the first time at 33. I thought the show was going to reveal some stunning truth that would show me the err of my ways.
I felt that the show did not come together well, and at first left me with more questions. What was the big message? Upon thinking about it more over the next couple days, though, I though it was pretty much just a bunch of comments from people getting married (or who got married) without knowing who they really are. It made me feel better to think that I spent years after a breakup alone and on my own, not dating and not caring that I was not dating. By the end of that time I was happy and secure in myself. I never aspired to be married, and for most of my life when I pictured my future, it was just me and a dog.
When I met my fiance, I did not care whether he liked me or not, and I was not about to bend who I was. 5 1/2 years later he is my best friend and still accepts me 100% as I am. We are planning our wedding for US, not for anyone else.
It did shock me, even with a small out-of-town wedding for close family and a few friends (reception to be held back in Peoria a few weeks later), how the details seem to consume me, just like I have seen others become consumed by wedding planning. It's CRAZY that so much effort and money is involved in typical weddings. All the commercialization and capitalization involved has even made me second-guess our small wedding. Who knows, we might get married alone and scrap the ceremony.
But back to the show, I do think it was jumbled and did not deliver any real message, other than maybe to make sure you think about yourself and your reasons for getting married. And maybe it was disjointed because of the guests and their problems and indecisions.
After mulling it over for a bit after the show, I feel comfortable in my choice to get married. I am still the same person I was 5 1/2 years ago, after partnering with this person all that time. Adding a ring and a piece of paper will not change that.