Blogging about this topic makes me feel slightly guilty. I want to start off by saying that I love my parents. They are good people who did their very best to raise me right, and I don’t take that for granted (anymore).
With that being said, I can’t deny that the dynamics of their relationship have really done a number on me. My parents’ marriage is unorthodox, in my eyes, in that it is so traditional for this day and age. Father as breadwinner and head of household; mother as the caring, deferential homemaker. Although this set up makes for an excellent Norman Rockwell painting, it is the antithesis of everything I want out of holy matrimony.
While this is nowhere near a new revelation for me, it is only recently that I’ve realized just how deeply I’ve been affected by the (un)balance of power and division of labor I witnessed in my childhood home. Being in a serious relationship and considering what the future could bring have made my resulting marriage reservations more relevant and concrete. Particularly, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I would take my husband’s last name were I ever to tie the knot, and picturing myself doing so certainly forms a knot – in my stomach, that is.
I completely understand why this gesture of unity is benign to many women, but for me, it represents the first step in sacrificing my autonomy and my identity in order to enhance someone else’s. I have been a Morris for 23 years, and I don’t see how giving up a crucial part of myself could be the start of some “equal” bond. My boyfriend, Jared, and I had a frank discussion about this recently, and he was rather incredulous after hearing my view and subsequent explanations. As we talked further, I realized that this dedication to my birth certificate is less burn-my-bra and more a strong fear of becoming my mother and marrying my father. (No need to point out that that last sentence screams “Greek tragedy”; I am well aware. Welcome to my own special version of familial dysfunction.)
Later on, I relayed these complicated emotions to my co-blogger, Jane Black. As the child of a less than ideal divorce, Jane told me she couldn’t wait to leave Black behind in favor of a new beginning. We may have been in disagreement over the value of our last names, but, judging by our equally vehement opinions on the subject, we both agreed that “our parents had fucked us up good.”
After talking to Jared and Jane, I curled up on my couch and took a long, hard look at my childhood, my parents, and marriage itself. In my 18 years at home, I can’t remember a single time that my mother stood up for herself when my father took out his frustrations on her in the form of snide remarks and unwarranted chidings. I always vowed to myself that I would never let a man talk to me that way, that I would rather die alone than be in an unequal relationship. I was mad at my dad for yelling at my mom, but somehow, I was also mad at her for not yelling back, for setting a bad example for my sister and me. Their marriage is largely a happy one, but this unsightly aspect has left an indelible mark on me.
Maybe my father’s verbal abuse and my apprehension to change my last name seem unrelated, but to me, they could not be more intimately intertwined. For better or worse, I am a product of my parents’ relationship. By that, I certainly don’t mean that we are all bound to repeat the mistakes of our mothers and fathers, only that my thoughts and opinions on marriage have been profoundly shaped by what I saw growing up.
I guess all we can do is work to avoid the missteps of our parents, replicate their triumphs, and pray that we don’t do too much psychological damage to our children with our own unique mistakes.
[Image Source: runaway_bride_doubts.jpg]