As a 32-year-old in a committed, long-term relationship who still checks “single” in the marital status box on her tax returns, I’m often asked, “So when do you think he’ll propose?!” Usually, I indulge inquisitors by wondering aloud: “Maybe on my next birthday! Or around the holidays! Or during our next vacation!” But the fact is that those who ask about my prospective nuptials seem way more interested in them than I have ever been.
Remaining perpetually unwed isn’t a total turnoff to me, and not just because I’m a huge fan of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Truthfully, I don’t think the exchange of vows and rings will make my boyfriend and me any happier, or any better or worse positioned to cope with standard relationship hurdles, such as resolving fights, staying faithful, rearing children, or spicing up the ol’ sex life.
That said, I strongly believe that every human, including me, should have the right to opt into marriage at any stage of adulthood, regardless of sexual orientation. So I haven’t ruled the option out entirely. Maybe I’m a sucker for medical rights and all the other benefits allotted to the legally wed, or maybe I’m a sucker for each of the wedding traditions I’m about to hate on.
Don’t get me wrong: I love attending and/or participating in friends’ weddings, and not just because I fully appreciate multi-tiered cakes, open bars, cross-generational Electric Sliding, and drunken odes to long-term friendship. I’m as likely as any other guest to tear up sporadically throughout a ceremony and reception. My goal isn’t to dictate how anyone should celebrate his or her Big Day, but to point out the top three aspects of the conventional marital script that should offend your modern sensibilities.
1. Expensive engagement rings
To be clear, it wasn’t always a thing to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a diamond engagement ring. The clever people behind De Beers’ “a diamond is forever” marketing campaign are responsible for starting that frenzy back in the 1940s. These days, a heterosexual man is expected to spend the equivalent of at least three months salary on a rock, which his fiancée can eye at dreamily and show off to doting friends. The whole thing has gotten so out of control that some women are going so far as to get “hand lifts” in anticipation of all the engagement ring selfies they’ll be taking—and, presumably, uploading to social media outlets—post proposal.
I am here to tell you that none of this is okay, whether or not you’ve seen Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, it should be noted that your pricy cherished finger jewelry isn’t an accurate measure of your partner’s undying devotion, love, or lack of desire to fuck your Maid of Honor.
2. The hand-in-marriage ask
If my boyfriend were to seek my father’s permission to wed me, I would feel like a pawn in a reciprocally beneficial arrangement between two families eager to better their economic position and/or social standing by joining forces. That is the only circumstance under which it seems sensible for one grown man to be required to present his case for marrying another grown man’s grown daughter. In fact, the idea of my boyfriend petitioning for my father’s sanction on any relationship matter seems weirder than the reality that sporks aren’t everyone’s favorite utensil.
It’s kind to show respect for one’s elders, but surely it should suffice to unveil one’s plans to their future in-laws. Asking for the green light to propose sounds pretty humiliating, and it adds an intimidating step to an already stressful process. If we could all agree to forgo the appeal to papa thing, drumming up the courage to pop the question might be easier for would-be grooms everywhere. While we’re at it, let’s come up with something better than “give her away” to describe that father-daughter parade down the aisle. Escort her to happiness? Shepherd her to her new main dude? Lead her to everlasting bliss? Relinquish her from daddy issues hereafter?
3. The terminology problem
For simplicity (and, I believe, for the fun of it) my boyfriend often refers to me as his wife at restaurants and movie theaters, and when speaking to customer service representatives on my behalf. The first time he did this, it brought an irrepressible, girlish smile to my face. The same thing happens any time an outsider assumes, incorrectly, that we’re married. (Try as I might, I am not immune to the fairytale!)
Now that I know the root of the terms “husband” and “wife,” however, it’s harder to be delighted by them. The former dates back to the Old Norse term húsbóndi, or “master of a house,” while the latter is derived from the Middle English word for “mistress of a household.” “[Wife] makes me feel like Betty Draper, like I should be fetching his slippers and a scotch on the rocks—and remembering to get the roast bird out of the oven,” writes Tracy Clark-Flory in a piece about the problematic terminology. Flory also points out that, years past the honeymoon phase, many men coat the phrase “my wife” with a tangy layer of resentment, which doesn’t make it all that appetizing.
I understand why someone would adopt another’s surname, because there are only so many times you can hyphenate throughout generations. What I can’t get down with is the sexism lurking behind the ubiquitous terms husband and wife. Unfortunately, I can’t come up with an alternative that doesn’t reek of professionalism, like partner, or puerility, like boyfriend. Suggestions welcome!