THE FAIRY TALE END­ING

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

The lat­ter half of the 20th Cen­tury for­ever changed the land­scape of mar­riage as we know it. Con­tra­cep­tion, ease of travel, the do­mes­tic in­cor­po­ra­tion of screen-based tech­nol­ogy, dual ca­reers away from home, im­ple­men­ta­tion of no-fault di­vorces, mood sta­bilis­ers, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of cy­ber­porn were some of the fac­tors that al­tered peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of each other and them­selves.

In the con­comi­tant tur­bu­lence, the com­mu­ni­ties that had buoyed mar­riages in times of dif­fi­culty frac­tured. Women who had once formed sup­port­ive so­cial net­works were now in of­fices for most of the day; through ne­ces­sity, chil­dren were en­rolled in day care and the aged placed in homes. His­tor­i­cally, it was a time of tran­si­tion, when life stages be­came de­mar­cated by en­vi­rons: day care, school, univer­sity, work, care fa­cil­ity. The sense of lib­er­a­tion was matched only by the grow­ing sense of alien­ation. Pri­or­i­ties had shifted from the hu­man to the ma­te­rial.

My gen­er­a­tion was, in ef­fect, the prod­uct of a so­cial experiment. If we did not un­der­stand mar­i­tal in­ti­macy, it was be­cause we had not seen it mod­elled. We lurched from re­la­tion­ship to re­la­tion­ship, daz­zled by the new­ness of mean­ing­less­ness, re­lent­less in our search for some­thing even the most per­cep­tive of us could not iden­tify. Yet we were still sus­cep­ti­ble to fairy tales, as il­lus­trated by the fact that I was thrice en­gaged be­fore the age of 24. My first two en­gage­ments were refuges from an un­man­age­able fam­ily sit­u­a­tion, the third was love: I may have been the one to leave, but he broke my heart. When I re­mem­ber him, I know I dodged a bullet; I have seen such mar­riages played out over the years.

And yet there was in me a war: I wanted the fairy tale, but did not be­lieve that it was pos­si­ble. My hus­band’s sin­cer­ity swayed me. We were mar­ried by a Burmese monk on a hu­mid, beau­ti­ful af­ter­noon in a rose gar­den, and waltzed on petals – I wore loose ecru silk and beaded cham­pagne satin mules – to the mu­sic of the 1920s.

Our mar­riage un­folded as many mar­riages un­fold. We were ridicu­lous – burst­ing into tears when the other was out for too long, sigh­ing with long­ing at the sight of each other – but cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ties were be­gin­ning to es­tab­lish them­selves. Nei­ther fam­ily was happy about the mar­riage; both had dis­tinct ideas about the sort of part­ners we should have, and how our lives should evolve.

Then life be­came fright­en­ing. The global fi­nan­cial cri­sis hit. I was nurs­ing our in­fant at the time, and we were liv­ing in a “sick” build­ing, one rid­dled with struc­tural prob­lems and toxic mould. Two com­pa­nies for which my hus­band worked folded. Rates across our in­dus­try froze. My hus­band, stunned, found him­self out of work. I watched his de­pres­sion com­pound. Ro­mance had been re­placed with a fu­sion of love and terror. Mar­riage, I thought but did not say, had be­gun to feel like a noose.

But there was also the aware­ness that we were part of some­thing greater than our­selves. Those who say mar­riage is no dif­fer­ent to co­hab­i­ta­tion are per­haps less sen­si­tive to is­sues of con­ti­nu­ity. Legally and so­cially, mar­riage pro­vided us with a frame­work: as a tra­di­tion, it pre­dates history. Yet it is still triv­i­alised as no more than “a piece of pa­per”, or by the per­cep­tion of it as a coun­try club from which those de­mar­cated as un­de­sir­able are ex­cluded. But mar­riage is not about re­li­gion or gen­der; it is an ad­mis­sion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, a com­mit­ment to the per­pet­ual eval­u­a­tion of pri­or­i­ties and a so­cial sta­biliser. Util­i­tar­ian mar­riage is an anachro­nism. Women no longer need to marry for money or sta­tus, but we con­tinue to marry be­cause the fairy­tale end­ing has al­ways sig­ni­fied so much more than a so­cial rite. A wed­ding re­mains the uni­ver­sal sym­bol of union – the bring­ing to­gether of two halves, both in the lit­eral sense and in the meta­phys­i­cal: the be­gin­ning of a new jour­ney as an in­te­grated whole. Through fairy tales, we are made to un­der­stand that all our frac­tures can be healed. Ex­cerpt from Antonella Gam­botto-Burke’s new book, Mama: Love, Moth­er­hood And Revo­lu­tion (Pin­ter & Martin), avail­able at Ama­zon and Bookde­pos­i­tory.com

Antonella Gam­botto-Burke rem­i­nisces.

Mama: Love, Moth­er­hood And Revo­lu­tion by Antonella

Gam­botto- Burke

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