Last Friday night I watched From Here to Eternity with my mother. I’d never seen it before. In it, Deborah Kerr plays a wife named Karen who has an affair with a military sergeant played by Burt Lancaster. At the end, when he won’t go for a promotion that would allow them to be together, she tells him that now she has to stay in her loveless marriage. What choice does she have?
The movie won eight Oscars and is iconic for so many reasons. But I’m sure in 1953 few flinched at that moment when a woman declared her only choices involved latching on to one man or another. Implicit here was that going it alone was not an option.
The very next morning I watched an actress in her real life step out of a car and walk up a daunting flight of steps, head held high, smile on her face, confidence exuding from her, as the world watched her royal wedding to a prince. Long dress, flowing train, high heels be damned. Arguably the biggest stage she’s ever been on.
Unabashedly. As if there is nothing wrong with that.
You can take your independent self and voluntarily partner with a man you love. You have choices. We have choices. Women can choose.
She doesn’t need to be partnered. She chooses to be. It’s not about reeling in the big fish or having someone to go places with because being alone is unbearable. It’s about love being a reason to take the risk of giving up one’s independence.
What an important distinction. Marriage, not as escape or to provide perceived stature, but as an institution that can make one stronger in the world. Two people who make each other better.
The older I get, the more I see how many women are still in the (Deborah Kerr as) Karen mindset. When someone you’ve always known as married is suddenly divorced or widowed, observe what happens. Do they see themselves as lesser if they’re not married? If so, imagine how those same women view their single friends and family members who have opted not to get married unless someone they love comes along.
Hitched is, “look, somebody wants me.” Not hitched is pitiable. I’ve heard accomplished women talk about their stock going down with each year. I’ve seen intellectual women who are being introduced to a stranger make a point of inserting their marital status within two minutes of shaking hands, lest the stranger not get the full picture.
“Hi, I’m Joan and there is someone at home who desires me. Look, here he is now texting his undying love.”
Got it, Joan. You’re in the club.
I am always a bit startled by this, especially when it’s a professed feminist. While we’ve made great strides in the choices women have, clearly the societal mindset still has a way to go. A woman who enjoys her own company, who relishes how good her life is alone, is a force. She knows a partner can enhance her life without defining her life.
I was overjoyed to read that Meghan Markle purposefully walked half that church aisle alone before Prince Charles stepped in to accompany her. She wanted to make a statement of independence.
The woman was barely a blip on my radar prior to the wedding, which frankly I watched because I thought it would be a fun thing to do with my mother. I was surprised at my own reaction, the tears I blinked back as I witnessed love done right. The fairy tale part was just a bonus.
Clearly we see what we want to see in these grand life events. I saw two people who will make each other better people. May I be blessed with that feeling in this lifetime.