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{Full disclosure:  I’m a little defensive lately.  My best friend got married in the last of the weddings for this season (what a relief) and we didn’t make it to rehearsal dinner before the “When are you getting married?” questions started.  I’ve mentioned before that reading keeps me sane and my choices this week are no exception.}

I’ve had my anti-bride rant already so I’m moving on to bigger prey.  In a long hot summer filled with wedding after wedding (really it was only three, almost four, but it seemed like exponentially more) I’ve become increasingly frustrated by social expectations being laid at my feet.  Everyone wants to marry me off. 

It still amazes me how rude some people can be.  When are you getting married is not, by any means, an innocuous or polite question.  And yet it’s completely socially acceptable.   Even if we excuse the blatant invasion of privacy there are issues with the semantics.  Firstly there is the “when” of it which implies there is no choice not to – it’s  pretty clear that this is not a question of “if” after all.  Secondly there is the fact that the questioner even has to ask the question, which implies that you’re taking too long (the poor, frustrated souls, I really feel for them).  This questions belongs, along with its sister when are you having kids, to a society where people had no choices in the matter – matrimony and childbirth were inevitable – and frankly, they had nothing better to talk about.  I for one think we’ve moved past that and our social manners should evolve as such.  Unfortunately it appears that I’m in the minority on this one.

I understand why people desire marriage for emotional, social and economic reasons.  They are just not my reasons.  I get why some women want the role, but I have a huge problem with people expecting me to be a wife.  My current frustration would seem to make Madame Bovary the perfect read for me.  Who better to represent the frustrations and confines of women in marriage and women in society?  Certainly her wifely (and womanly) restrictions were far more stringent than ours nowadays and it would be nice to think that 150 years has afforded women a little more room to breath.  But it turns out that Emma Bovary is that girl.   We all know at least one of her – the one who is never happy with anything she’s got, always looking for something new, or someone else to make her life interesting.  She’s looking for that one guy to make her truly happy (egads!) and in her search she obsessively latches on to anyone who will have her.  She’s a whiner and prone to temper tantrums.  She’s materialistic and immature. I hated her.  Though I could understand her ambivalence about her husband, I loathed her indifference to her child.  But I plugged along, it’s a classic for goodness sake! I grew increasingly irritated until finally Tim said, “Just put down the book!”

So I did.  Madame Bovary may be a classic, but it’s hard for a woman in 2008, with luxuries  like no fault divorce, financial independence and birth control so easily available to even fathom what she went through.  What was shocking in 1857 is blase now.  All of which could still be transcended except that, dare I say it, Emma was a selfish bitch. 

Still Emma and I share one opinion – that marriage isn’t always healthy for women (I would add that the almost inevitable result – divorce – is certainly bad for everyone).  So why are so called modern women still “choosing it” as a lifestyle, when they don’t have to?  This is the very question that The Meaning of Wife strives to answer. The cover clearly illustrates the cultural ambivalence towards wifehood.  The hand is giving the finger, which is adorned in large and sparkly diamond rings.  Which is it – a rude gesture or a proud (even defiant) display?

Despite being filled with inane phrases like “wifegap” “wifelust” and “wifelash” which clearly are meant to attract a hip, young audience, this is a serious book.  It’s abundantly clear that the word wife and the role of wife are fraught with emotion and Ms. Kingston teases out the historical and social reasons why, bringing interesting theories to light.  With so many cultural references – movies and recent chick lit books –  this book is intended for a younger audience, women on the cusp of matrimony or perhaps those who have already had a  starter marriage and are still pursuing the dream.

These women have the luxury of choices that their predeccesors (who in most cases, fought the battles that won those choices) could not have. Young women today have the ability to question the established lifestyles and invent new ones if they so wish.  As those of us who hear these insipid questions repetitively know, it’s not easy, but it’s also worth the thoughtful effort to have a life you want instead of the one people choose for you. It’s time to let people find the lives they want to live and exercise the options available to them (if they so desire).  It’s not just a matter of whether it’s “if” or “when.”

It’s time eliminate this question entirely. 

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