Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Compromising Principles, Part II

This past summer, I got engaged.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised by this turn of events. Pleasantly, of course, as I love my partner, but still the decision to get married and the weight it carries left me with some complex issues.

For one, I hadn't seen myself as the marrying type. I, in fact, was looking forward to a life of living in sin. I'm actually kind of surprised about how linear and modernly traditional my life looks on paper (or blog). Let's see-->went to university right out of high school (albeit there are lots of cracks in that story), finished university, got engaged shortly thereafter. A little more heteronormative than I anticipated. But of course, our marriage is the personal story of me and my partner, and we both know our lives are more complicated than that.

I suppose my biggest issue is what marriage has historically meant and the roles that it casts out whether we notice them or not. This is problematic for someone trying to juggle her feminist principles with an institution that is not only visibly flailing, but also tied to repressive notions of property and moral norms. I mean, how much transformation can we really make within an age-old institution if the society we live in doesn't support our notions of our relationship?

I am thinking though, that my partner and I don't really care. Our marriage for him just solidifies our commitment to each other for as long as we can maintain it. It's not the commitment part about our marriage that bothers me. Just the way that marriages are constructed as an institution that worries me so.

What was troubling me as well was whether I felt like I could balance the pressure of family traditions, such as a big wedding fiasco, getting married in a church I don't believe in, etc, etc, with what would be an acceptable celebration for us. I don't want the fuss, I don't want people to not come to our wedding because they are broke, I don't want to be married by a priest, and I don't want to wear white.

I have to admit, though, if I can get my partner to cave into having a Beetlejuice wedding,that would be pretty damned awesome. Can you imagine, if I could get a hold of Lydia's dress?!

Ah yes, and the rings. I really didn't want to support this idea of my partner's success in capitalism and masculinity being reflected in the ring that I wore. Nor did I want to feel like a spoken-for piece of property. Or support the exploitation of diamond-miners.

Sigh. And I failed. My partner really wanted to get a ring. It was important to him, and I do like rings, so how could I deny it? I do love my ring that we chose together, because it's from him. And let's face it, it's a tasteful and pretty piece of jewelry. However, we felt just awful ring shopping. The whole enterprise was depressing with the expectation of expense, and the commodification of love through diamond rings. We finally found something that wasn't ridiculous (to us anyway) in expense and ostentation. As well, in my own way to subvert the engagement industries gender norms about what rings signify, I also bought a ring for my partner. I am not just engaged to him, but he is engaged to me. I realize that in a way I'm still supporting the capitalist end of the engagement market by buying him a ring as well, but our rings have become quite significant to us over these summer months and I won't deny their symbolic power to our individual union.

Though when I wear my ring I am conscious of the developmental implications that a diamond bears with it (even though in Canada, supposedly one cannot sell diamonds unless they are conflict-free--a term which is narrowly defined, and hard to guarantee). I think part of my compromises and negotiations with this whole thing has been an important exercise in awareness and consciousness. When I look at my ring, I will not forget the many things it symbolizes.

And I will not forget the possibilities of institutional transformation, even if it is just on a personal level.

When I had gotten engaged, since the boy and I are planning for a long-term engagement, I decided I didn't want to make a big deal out of it so I just changed my relationship status on Facebook. I had to work the next day, at a restaurant that is gay-friendly and active in Toronto's LGBTQ community. I figured, what did anyone care there that the straight girl is getting married?

Ah, the importance of legal battles such as the right to wed. When I walked in, everyone hugged me and jumped for joy and just made me realize that happiness is what is at the bottom here. It reminded me about the ability for society to change, to maneuver our own meanings and significances, even when we have to counterbalance them with old expectations and traditions.

I think though, that the funniest story that came out of this turn of events, is that both our sets of parents, when we announced our engagement, were firstly and openly relieved that we weren't pregnant...HA!

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