Happily Ever After is the Name of a Kid’s Movie, Not a Description of Reality

2 Apr

I must admit I’m a bit ashamed that as someone who studies Mormonism I had no idea that the Young Women’s Conference was coming up or even that such a conference existed.  After reading Liz’s post and the explosive feedback that resulted, I was reminded of my favorite poem by Adrienne Rich called “Living in Sin.”

She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
Although the poem is about someone living in sin, it reflects my general feelings about marriage.  As a kid, I never thought about the day-to-day aspects of marriage — washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, mopping the floor, all the things I hate to do and yet have to get done.   Yet, these aspects make up a significant part of my day.  The poem also captures the general ennui that sometimes catches people by surprise when they have been married for awhile.  Marriage isn’t a happily ever after.  Even after they get married, people fight.  They get annoyed and sometimes even bored with another.
The message that marriage is like a fairy tale as suggested by the promo video for the Young Women’s General Conference seems innocuous, but I am not sure that it is.  One of the things that sometimes strikes me in discussions with my friends is how much we expect out of relationships with men.  We expect to find someone that completes us, that continually makes us happy, that shoulders our burdens.  It is ridiculous to expect another person to fulfill us.  No one person can do it.  Although my husband listens to my complaints and tries to help lift my burdens when he can, I don’t expect him to fulfill all of my needs.  I need other people to connect with and talk to.  Whenever I hear that marriage is a fairy tale and that girls should aspire to it, I shudder.  It’s as though Betty Friedan never wrote the Feminine Mystique.
Sometimes I think that the nineteenth century Mormon women that I write about were closer to the truth than those men and women that I hear about today.  In the Woman’s Exponent, Mormon women argued that monogamy was a problem because it expected women to find happiness just in their husbands.  They saw love as a potential part of the oppression of women because it tied women to men who were unworthy of them.  They argued that women should have careers outside of marriage and encouraged women like Romania B. Pratt to attend medical school, even if it meant leaving her family behind for years to do so.  It seems difficult to find such rhetoric within the Mormon Church or even Christianity as a whole today.

Part of the reason I am so invested in this is because of my little sister.  Although I am not Mormon, she is and she attends the Young Women’s group in her ward.  I don’t want her to hear such messages.  Laura, if you ever read this, know this:

1.  You may never get married.  That’s okay and is preferable to getting married to a jerk or someone who’s not worthy of you.

2.  Even if you do, marriage will never be all that fulfills you.  You need some other purpose.

3.  Happily Ever After is a myth.

To view the video, visit this link: http://ldsmediatalk.com/2011/03/25/2011-lds-general-young-women-meeting/


9 Responses to “Happily Ever After is the Name of a Kid’s Movie, Not a Description of Reality”

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) April 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    No, Happily Ever After is a creation and a way of being, not a destination.

  2. Tom O. April 2, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    “marriage will never be all that fulfills you.  You need some other purpose”

    That is only true if you choose for it to be.

    And as far as your perspective on marriage goes, I just want to say that my wife and I have literally never had a fight or even argument. So, please do not presume to have knowledge sufficient to speak universally.

    “It’s as though Betty Friedan never wrote the Feminine Mystique.”

    Its as if the First Presidency and the Twelve never wrote the Proclamation on the Family!

    • amanda5245 April 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Tom O., the fact that you and your wife have never had an argument or disagreement depresses me. My husband and I are two different people. It’s our difference that makes our marriage interesting. I realize that I can’t inhabit your life and fully understand your relationship, but I can’t imagine being in a meaningful relationship in which I didn’t occasionally argue with someone.

      I also don’t think my husband would want marriage to be all that fulfills me. I (and he)value our independence. We have separate as well as shared interests and friends. I would never be willing to give up the part of my life that is separate from his. My view on marriage doesn’t preclude happiness. In fact, I think it encourages it. A lot of young girls have unrealistic expectations of marriage. Lowering them might make the compromise and negotiation that is a part of marriage easier.

      I think no one would be surprised that I disagree with the sentiments behind the Proclamation on the Family. I also don’t think that anyone would be surprised that as a feminist I am concerned about the effect that it might have on my younger siblings whom my father has decided to raise in the faith of his childhood.

  3. Tom O. April 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm #


    I really don’t have anything to say in response except that I find your approach to be very, very sad.

  4. Liz April 3, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    Yeah. The discourse on women in the church is still not quite up to my feminist standards. Today in General Conference the focus of discourse about women was still primarily about women as mothers (I am not saying motherhood is not important–it is one aspect of womanhood), although the beautiful gesture was made toward honoring women for their leadership and other contributions in pioneer times and now. The speaker did mention the role of single women in the church, but he didn’t say exactly what that was. It wasn’t, women should become self-actualized human beings because that will make them happy whether they have a husband or not. I wish women could be encouraged to be their wonderful, beautiful, intelligent selves no matter what.

    Your thoughts reminded me of this article (http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0002408.cfm) that is being passed around by my LDS friends on Facebook. Although very much in support of marriage, the article gives a much more realistic portrait of what that might look like. Hardship is what makes marriage meaningful and valuable and turns us not into relationship consumers but relationship givers.

  5. Naismith April 3, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    I never interpreted “happy ever after” to mean that every minute is bliss. But the “after” is indeed part of everyday life. Being married is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done (and I’ve been to grad school and Army basic training). But it is also so rewarding. My husband and I disagree all the time, but the “after” part is worth it.

    “It’s as though Betty Friedan never wrote the Feminine Mystique.”

    Keep in mind that Betty Friedan had the time to write that book because her husband supported her during that season of her life.

    Also, the big message that I got from that book, which I’ve read numerous times and discussed in various contexts ranging from college classes to RS book club, is the importance of a woman having a life plan, not so much devoting every minute to a paid career. She even talks about pregnancy and young children as being a time when a woman might do something part-time with her career.

    I think the idea of life plan is something the church stresses, through provident living and the emphasis on education for women. Virtually all of the LDS women under 60 that I know plan on having a career as well as family. The only difference is whether they will do it sequentially or simultaneously. And LDS women have NEVER suffered from the post-childrearing “obsolescence” that Friedan decries; LDS women who are older can serve missions, serve in the temple, and so on.

    Um, back when women left their family to go East to medical school, many of them were polygamous wives who left children with sister wives. We no longer have that support network in place.

  6. Naismith April 3, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    “Its as if the First Presidency and the Twelve never wrote the Proclamation on the Family!”

    And the PotF says that we are equal partners, which means that there SHOULD be disagreements. Marriages are stronger when both partners have an equal say. This often leads to what is perceived by one side or another as an argument (your wife may not agree that you never argue). Did you marry such a clone of yourself that you never, ever, have different ideas about anything?

    If we are cynical, it is that some of us have seen marriages where the man thinks everything is wonderful because the woman defers to him on everything. It may make her life conflict-free, but does she have TMJ from the stress?

    I am not saying that is true of your wife, only that we have all seen that kind of thing.

  7. jhs April 7, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for these thoughts. I’ve been looking for language that expresses how I feel, and this is the closest I’ve seen. My husband and I are partners, and like partners in any enterprise, we don’t always see eye to eye. This is a good thing, for by disagreeing and discussing, we move forward and consider options we might have otherwise closed off. I can’t imagine marriage without disagreement, much as I can’t imagine friendship without disagreement. Note, Tom, that disagreement doesn’t mean dissolution, it merely means we are not the same sentient being and thus sometimes approach matters differently, whether because of background, personality, investment, or knowledge base. Growth depends on open disagreement, not letting matters fester or otherwise insidiously destroy. I hope I can find ways to convey to my daughter that disagreement is healthy, that working through issues is important, and that marriage (to me, anyways) works best when 2 individuals partner rather than meld.

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