At the RNC last night, Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, took to the stage to bring "personality" and "warmth" to the candidate. In talking about their personal lives, Mrs. Romney stated this:
"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage.' Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.
A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."
An interesting way to go to appeal to the masses I think. Defining a "real marriage" vs a "storybook marriage". Let's break this down a little bit. What is a "storybook marriage" anyway? Is it the most simplistic pieces of what some think of as a successful marriage: longevity, fidelity, kids? If so, it sure seems like they have a storybook marriage to me.
Is it about marrying your best friend, sustained romantic love, and generally feeling happier because you are in a relationship with this particular person? If you go with a definition related to emotional connection, deep friendship, love, intimacy, and happiness, I would argue we don't actually know much about the Romney's relationship at all. Beyond the public face of being a united couple, we don't really have information about how the Romeny's relate to each other.
Ann Romney describes a "real marriage" as kids screaming and surviving MS and breast cancer. Those are certainly challenges to overcome, although I wouldn't say they are qualifiers that exclude someone from having a "storybook marriage". In fact, we can see lots of movies where one or both individuals in the couple overcome obstacles and triumph together.
In an effort to relate to every day people, the Romney's gloss over the many, many stresses and challenges that most couples face in today's world. The Romney's have never faced poverty or unemployment, stressors that routinely are shown to be a major contributor to dissatisfaction in relationships. While they may not be able to insulate themselves from disease, they certainly have the means that most people only dream of to set themselves up for success. Means that buffer potential negative effects even when they do face stress (probably the Romeny's weren't worried about having a health insurance when Ann Romney was facing cancer).
Facing obstacles together qualifies as a real marriage? What about same-sex couples then? By that definition, sure seems like their relationships could qualify. Some may even have a storybook relationship.
The other day Runaway Bride was on television. It's one of my most favorite Romantic Comedies. The part when Julia Roberts has to really figure out who she is, down to the minute detail of actually knowing how she likes her eggs cooked, has always been a favorite take-away for me in this movie. It was a good reminder that this is such an important task to accomplish, to know who you are, before getting into a serious relationship with someone.
Then I attended a talk by Jessica Vitak who was speaking about self-presentation on social media sites. Meaning, the reason Google Circles was invented, or similarly, why you have to think about posting on Facebook to ensure your post is both relevant and appropriate for your friends and you mother.
Anyway, Jessica mentioned weddings as the "real life" example of when this "context collapse" is often experienced for people off line. And, that got me to thinking about how hard it really is to plan a wedding. To merge not just two peoples lives and their two families, but also all of the other circles in people's lives: friends, co-workers, school mates, church groups, neighbors, etc.
And, that got me to thinking about how hard it really is to know who you are and for others to get to know our whole selves. For most people, it's very normal to present one aspect of yourself in one context and another aspect in another. It's in fact a very important part of socializing (i.e. you wouldn't want to present the same side of yourself to your coworkers necessarily that you do with your friends the night of Halloween). It's also one of the more intimate things about romantic relationships if you think about it- this is one of the few people in many people's lives that actually get to see multiple aspects of you in varying contexts.
Then couples plan a wedding and they are tasked with navigating two people's context collapse simultaneously. Makes perfect sense when you think about it in this light why Julia Robert's character would want to get married with no witnesses around her.
And when I think about LGBTQ couples, the barriers only increase. Are you out at work? Do your childhood neighbor's know you are in a same-sex relationships? What about the family friends or your Great Aunt Sue? What if you or your partner is trans or gender-queer? Do all of your social circles use the same pro-nouns? That really, the right to legally marry is only one barrier to many for lots of queer couples.
So really, when Richard Gere proposes to Julia Roberts, he's not kidding about the tough times.
"Look, I guarantee that we'll have tough times. And I guarantee that at some point, one or both of us will want to get out of this thing. But I also guarantee that if I don't ask you to be mine I'll regret it for the rest of my life. Because I know in my heart, you're the only one for me." ~Ike Graham