certain things make me worry. not just worry for myself (like when i worry about how i actually don't have a nice pair of black sandals, and gosh i'm really going to have to buy one sometime in the next three months), not just worry for my immediate family (like when i worry that SisterCat has become unhealthily attached to her TiVo box), and not just worry for the people i know (like when i worry about how student debt is the single biggest killjoy moneysuck of my generation, and we're never ever going to get out from under it til we die). oh no. some things go beyond all that, and truly make my worry for society.
marriage proposals are one of them.
ok, wait, really - just one marriage proposal has recently re-animated in me that slightly nauseous feeling caused by examples of social insanity. it is this marriage proposal, posted on the generally fantastic website stuffonmycat.com. the site, as you can probably deduce, consists of pictures sent by readers of their cats with - you guessed it - stuff on them. this particular submission (go ahead and look at it if you want, the pic itself is actually pretty cute) consists of a cat with a diamond ring in a box on its belly, and the caption says "heather, will you marry me? love, jeff."
ok, honestly, up to this point i have no essential problems with this proposal. it's thoughtful, inventive, irreverent - thumbs up, right? however, i stumbled upon the post days after the fact, and by the time i got there, there were 1,000 comments. one thousand. the post had been updated at some point to indicate that she had said yes, but for the first hundred comments or so, the outcome of this proposal was unknown. and people. went. crazy.
let me give you a tiny sampling of comments made before the update:
Say YES, say YES!!! This is so sweet!!
oh, i'm SO cryin' at my desk and it's not even 7am....i love this, LOVE THIS!
OMG.....I am in tears!!! If she dosen't marry him I will!! What a guy! Got a brother, Jeff? I can't wait for Heather to see this in the morning and get the shock of her life!!! Say YES!! :-)
I've been watching since 8:00 a.m. in Chicago & it's 12:45 here now...I don't want to go to lunch cuz I don't want to miss it!!
Man, this is killing me - I don't handle suspense very well! HEATHER, please answer us!
So Jeff doesn't know yet???????? *groans* We're dying here.
HEATTTTTHHHHHHEEEEERRR!!!! Say Yes!!!!!
and this is just a tiny slice of the hundreds and hundreds of comments that were posted before the update. as i scrolled through them, i thought, whoa. oh-kay. let's everybody take a deep breath, then reach out and grab hold of reality again. because guess what? you don't know these people. you have no idea what jeff is like, or what heather is like, or whether they make a good couple. who knows? maybe jeff is a raving narcissist. maybe heather is a passive-aggressive asshole. maybe he refuses to do any household chores. maybe she cheats on him. maybe he hits her.
seriously - we have no idea. none. all we see is a cat with a ring on its stomach. so what, you have to wonder, possesses all these people to get so invested in the outcome of a proposal that in a practical sense means nothing to them?
i think it has to do with social norms, social structures, and social control. marriage is - as the religious right just loves to point out - one of the cornerstones of society as we know it. the family unit makes our capitalist, democratic society run. (well, that and backbreaking, soulsucking labor.)* so society, in order to perpetuate itself, has a very vested interest in making sure that marriage (as we know it) continues to thrive. how does society do this? by getting its citizens to do the cajoling, moralizing, stereotyping, arm-twisting, tsk-tsking, begging, and pleading for it. this is why people are so interested in getting married, and so interested in making sure other people want to (and do) get married too - because society couldn't have it any other way.
it is this intense, ritualistic groupthink that creates a mob scene in which people shout "SAY YES!!!" to a woman they don't know, about a proposal from a man they don't know, who are involved in a relationship that they can't begin to understand.
people are often incredulous when they hear of my wariness about the institution of marriage. this is a prime example of why i'm so wary; the thread honestly started to make my skin crawl after awhile. and while i know that not all marriage proposals have to be like this, and marriage is what you make it**, and blah yada blah, the fact that you can scratch the mere surface of marriage - merely hint at its possibility among strangers - and find such an aggressive undercurrent of desiring conformity, well - that worries me.
*i'm currently reading against love by laura kipnis, who writes really insightfully about the connection between "work" and "relationships." i'll probably do a whole post about the book once i'm done, because there are a ton of interesting ideas in there that i want to think through.
**one of the maxims of many pro-marriage feminists, but actually, i don't really believe that it's true. that will be another post as well!