About the Author
SUSAN SHAPIRO BARASH is an established writer of nonfiction women's issue books and has written thirteen books. She teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College. A well-recognized gender expert, she is frequently sought out by newspapers, televisions shows, and radio programs to comment on women's issues. She also blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She lives in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Passion and Longing
• Are you a die-hard romantic?
• Did you have to have this man as your husband?
• Were you raised to believe your husband would be your prince and savior?
• Did you have a big storybook wedding (or do you feel cheated that you did not?)
• Do you consider yourself one half of a romantic entity?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then passion is an important component of your marriage.
You and your husband fell in love six years ago, when you first met. In many ways, it was like a dream: You couldn’t take your eyes off him and there was the promise of what was to come. After a steady, respectful courtship you moved in together, which was thrilling, a milestone. You both were in a romantic mode, and after a year of living together, you became engaged.
The wedding plans took on a life of their own; they were consuming, almost breathtaking, as you moved closer to the most important day of your life. Every aspect of the wedding mattered to both of you—you vetoed your mother’s and grandmother’s advice when you knew your vision with your fiancé trumped their vision. At times during the engagement period, there were a few dramas—a friend who was offended she wasn’t asked to be a bridesmaid, your future mother-in-law who wanted the wedding shower her way.
Throughout, your husband-to-be was a rock and it made you feel incredibly protected—you were a couple, united no matter what and madly in love. It was as if you shared a notion of passion as primary, determined to hold on to that intoxicating feeling. Although you’ve heard enough women say “the honeymoon is over,” it isn’t like that for you. On the eve of your second wedding anniversary, you’ve never lost sight of the goal—to be happily married to this man with whom you are in love.
“Proper” Passion + Love = Marriage
I can honestly relate to the composite above, since both times I married for love, totally sold on the idea that being in love meant one should be married. My first wedding day was choreographed by my mother, and I had very little input. It was a thrilling time, as if I were walking on air. I was also not very discerning; in those days, the mother-knows-best concept had some weight. My mother had eloped during the war and my first wedding was the wedding she’d never had. My first husband, who was thirteen years my senior, had been married before, and for me there was this lingering sense that he’d already done the wedding go ’round. I remember being at Bloomingdale’s together to enlist in the bridal registry. I was keenly aware while picking out china and flatware that he’d seen it all.
We were married on a Sunday afternoon at the now-defunct Tavern on the Green in New York City. I had a few friends there, but mostly the guests were friends and family from my parents’ and in-laws’ guest lists. My parents were the hosts, and my in-laws had hosted a rehearsal dinner the evening before. Everything was by the book, including when my closest friends and I all crammed into the dressing room at the end of that fateful afternoon. My friends unbuttoned the delicate silk buttons on the back of my high-necked organza-and-lace gown, loosened the bustle, and helped me step out of my peau de soie bridal shoes. One friend whispered in awe, “That’s it. Now you’re his wife.” I entered the arena gladly.
And after listening to the young wives for this chapter more than thirty years later, it’s obvious that the way I felt on my first wedding day is how most brides still feel. What I brought with me to my second wedding was an acute sense of hope and determination, wisdom and romance. My present husband and I had both been married once before and were on equal ground, entering a second marriage together. We planned everything as a team: We chose my engagement ring together, mulled over the font and wording on the invitations, the songs for the band, the venue for our wedding, the menu. In retrospect, both experiences were loaded with anticipation and reflective of the decades in which they occurred.
By the time I was remarried in 1997, brides, whether first-, second-, or third-timers, had become more hands-on about their weddings. Demure weddings devised by proper mothers, as my first wedding had been, were no longer in vogue. Brides had developed strong opinions and a specific vision of how their weddings should be, including the gown. I wore a long, slinky, cream-colored scoop-neck, sleeveless fishtail dress that was not from the bridal department but straight off the rack of generic evening gowns. This had become the style—less demure, a more sexy bride (this look would last until April of 2012, when Kate Middleton would marry Prince William in a long-sleeved lace gown that combined pristine with form-fitting), and I was part of the crowd. My second husband-to-be and I pooled our friends for the guest list, orchestrated the entire affair, and split the cost.
Marriage, the last vestige of church and state, is testimony to our commitment to each other and the culmination of profound love. According to the U.S. Census, today more than two million marriages take place each year. For women, as reported by the Pew Research Center, the median age of first marriage is 26, and for men it’s 28. The average cost of a wedding “soars to $26,327,” according to an article by Grace Wong for CNN Money entitled “Ka-ching! Wedding Price Tag Nears $30,000.” The cost of wedding gift registries is $19 billion per year, and the cost of weddings themselves is $72 billion, according to the Web site The Wedding Report.
The Passion “Sale”
Erotic love has a hold on us in ways we can’t explain or imagine until it hits us. We know this deep, passionate feeling as love at first sight—an overwhelming desire. In our society, we take this passionate, sexual longing (think Romeo and Juliet) and move it forward so that what begins as eros—an immediate sexual attraction—now incorporates other, more practical, aspects of a love relationship—intimacy, friendship, trust. Women learn early on in their lives that having a serious boyfriend is a means to an end. This is what is sold to us; these passionate feelings we share are expected to kick into marriage.
It rings true in fairy tales, especially Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, where the justice of it all, in the form of passion, longing, and bliss, rules the day. Novels for centuries have offered happy endings, too. Jane Austen’s nineteenth-century novel Pride and Prejudice gives us Elizabeth Bennet, in search of a husband. When she meets Mr. Darcy, who is eligible, attractive, and wealthy, she initially mistakes his aloof manner for disinterest. This is why this book is evergreen; the discovery of an underlying attraction and passion between two people that results in marriage is quite the draw.
Moving into the twenty-first century, the packaging of passion with marriage is underscored in the ABC reality show The Bachelorette (a spin-off of The Bachelor, which first aired in 2002). Here we have one attractive young woman who gets to choose her potential husband from twenty-five young, eligible men. Not only are these winsome men eager to be chosen, but the bachelorette, who has all the power, “dates” and romances several men at a time, eliminating them as she goes along. While this could be viewed as a female fantasy, the goal of finding your mate in the most glamorous and romantic settings is also the way that most women hope, perhaps on a less lavish scale, to begin their romances that lead to marriage.
Choreographing the Wedding
Along with more outspoken brides today is the daunting task of creating wedding as theater. Brides are on a quest for a flawless wedding—they have a specific vision, spun partly from the media, the family, and the culture at large. When Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William was announced in November 2010, we had a firsthand look at a couple in love and very involved in their wedding plans with a relatively short engagement of five months. The fact that Prince William and Kate Middleton had been dating since 2003 and had lived together in North Wales at the prince’s home makes it all the more familiar for many brides-to-be.
And while there has always been the attitude that one’s engagement and wedding make the bride a kind of “princess,” the influence of Kate Middleton as fiancée and bride is tremendous. In March 2011, during the countdown period before the royal wedding on April 29, 2011, an article entitled “The Ultimate Reality Show” ran in The Wall Street Journal announcing that two billion TV viewers would be able to watch the coverage of the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey. “Add an expected 400 million for online streaming and radio and the number would swell to nearly 35% of the world’s population,” wrote journalists Amy Chozick and Cecilie Rohwedder.
In the case of the young royals, their wedding was all about romantic love. Romantic love has such sway that Prince William was able to choose his bride and resist an arranged marriage (unlike his father only a generation ago). This popular view of modern marriage obliterates the long-standing historical doctrine that marriage was for political and financial gain. Marriage as a “business” has fallen by the wayside and love affairs—where passion and longing rule—are at a premium, launched with the wedding. Wedding plans are artfully threaded, carefully constructed, and filled with promise. What has become de rigueur for brides today are the following: