THE FAIRY TALE ENDING
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