Common-law to Uncommon?

“So is it different being married?” she asks smiling as she lifts pieces of my hair and snips at them.

I’m at the hairdresser’s. It’s raining and cold outside. My husband sits at the front waiting patiently for me. We’ve been married almost a year. My hairdresser makes small talk with me. It’s part of her job, really. But I’m annoyed. I can feel her sneer. It’s slight and she’s a nice person, but I feel it. She’s my age, single, living on her in downtown Vancouver and comparing my life to hers, if only a little.

So, is it different being married than it was when we simply (gasp) lived together? The gasp is for my grandma. It bothered her that I didn’t marry sooner. Grandma’s lucky I married at all. My hairdresser is not alone. It seems marriage’s stock is falling as fast as the divorce rate rises. According to Anne Kingston in her book, The Meaning of Wife, the unmarried woman is “the fastest growing demographic.” A thirty-year old woman was “three times more likely to be single at thirty than she was in the 1970’s.” For whatever reason, women are putting marriage off.

And most of the time any outpouring of public affection causing cringing. Superstar Tom Cruise has become the latest punch line in the world of Hollywood romance. His recent professions of love leave us nauseated or amused, but not fooled. We’re more likely to believe Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, or Cameron Diaz, celebrities who have all spoken out against marriage. Candace Bushnell and Sex and the City glorified being single, as have countless other TV shows and novels.

So can I blame the divorce rate and contemporary opinions on marriage for making me feel like such a traitor when I signed my “new” name for the first time? I’m all for equal rights. I appreciate the suffragists. I vote. I don’t cook every night, nor do I do all the cleaning or laundry. That would simply be too “housewife,” and I won’t go there. Taking his name was a choice, a difficult choice, but I’m glad I did it. Just don’t ask me to tell you why. I can give you more reasons why I shouldn’t have. When pressed on the issue, I feel I need to defend my decision. I sputter, “Well, I wanted to, and it’s nice to all have the same name. You know, if we had kids or something…”

My hairdresser continues cutting my hair. She tells me she has a friend who got married last summer.

“She seemed too independent to get married, but she’s still independent and she’s really happy,” she says, surprised marriage, independence and happiness are possible to discuss in the same breath.

Again, it seems she’s not alone in her assumptions. New findings from a study by Statistics Canada were published in the Province newspaper (“Marriage not vital for happiness: single, June 8, 2005) stating that many people don’t view marriage as necessary to happiness. The study claims that people who don’t see marriage as tied to their happiness are the same people who don’t expect to get married. They are older, less educated and have lower incomes. It seems there is a marrying kind, and I’m it — under the average age of marriage, 28, with a good income and an education (“Marriage not vital for happiness: single”, June 8, 2005). It doesn’t sound so bad, but being categorized makes me feel defensive. Perhaps that’s why I’m hesitant to answer the question.

“So do you find it different? Being married?” She asks again. I glance at my groom as he sits with his elbows on his knees and studies his shoes with interest. “Yes,” I say. “I find it different.”

I smile. Take it or leave it.

Grindlay, Lora. Marriage not vital for happiness: Singles. The Province. June 8, 2005, A7.
Kingston, Anne. The Meaning of Wife. Toronto, Ontario: Harper Collins, 2004.

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