The Real Thing / The Ideal Thing

I was shopping for a baby’s overall for friend’s new baby the other day when I realised how many of my friends are having – or have already had babies, this year (do note that I am excluding all the royal babies that keeping coming at a steady pace in the kingdoms of this world. Also, strictly speaking I’m not friends with European royals).

In addition to my friends getting babies, many of them are having them without a partner, without a partner of the opposite sex, with a partner who is in a relationship elsewhere or, in some cases, with a partner of the opposite sex with whom they are married or cohabit with. This is not to boast what a happening circle of friends I have – I am a civil servant and wear pleated skirts to work (they might be Dries Van Noten but they’re still pleated skirts, which puts me in the category with middle-aged women who wear pleated skirts to work) but rather to make an observation that the real world has somewhat moved on from the ideal that is still being considered a norm.

When I say “considered a norm” I refer, of course, to the literature that is my regular reality-check: fashion magazines. I do understand the business rationale of them: they must advertise things so as to get money so as to make profit. May issues must, by the laws of the fashion magazines universe, be full of articles about summer weddings and how to prepare for nuptial perfection.

These weddings, still, by a landslide majority, seem to be cookie-cutter versions of the bygone American white fluffy wedding ideal of a pale bride (pale, because she’s been on a mad diet of air about half a year before the W-day) and a dashing groom (99% of the weddings covered in glossies are of heterosexual couples). Nothing wrong with that. Really, absolutely nothing. I am not sure men get the same advise to go see a practitioner a year ahed of the wedding so as to get rid of the unsightly stretch marks though, but really, in the end, none of my biz.

Glossy magazines selling the crazy ideal of a blissfully happy ever after following a Disney-wedding is on a par with them selling many other unattainable ideals as well. Yet I do find it interesting how persistent the white wedding ideal remains, especially in the Anglo-Saxon press (could have something to do with yet another upcoming royal wedding on 19 May). It feels almost bizarre to flip through these magazines which at the same time shove down the spectacularly patriarchal tradition on one page and an article about the first suffragettes in Great Britain on the next. 

(What we are not allowed to say in the context of princess weddings is that as is the case with many princess dreams, no amount of vigorous dry-brushing or freezing of cellulite for the big day is of help when life happens. So I won’t.)

Last week just as I had checked out flights for a wedding later this summer, I rushed to have lunch with an old friend who is going through a shitstorm divorce of epic proportions. While you would think the person is experiencing a some sort of liberation of being rid of years of shit, the main concern seemed to be how to find a new relationship “so that I could finally be happy“. I don’t suppose people ever change. I guess you have to have hope.

So you ask what do my friends having kids out of wedlock have to do with this rant. Not much, actually, except to maybe illustrate that life rarely imitates Harper’s Bazaar. Everyone’s fight to ensure equal marriage/reproductive rights and the right for women to decide what goes in and out of their bodies counts.  

There has been a lot of literature published around relationships recently, some of it covered in my earlier posts. Love and relationship intrigue is the stuff novels are made of since forever, but there is interesting non-fiction about the human nature as well. Herewith two suggestions to be read alongside the princess-prep tips of the fashion magazines (September issues of actual fashion will soon be with us, so bear with the wedding-prep for another couple of weeks):

Esther Perel: The State of Affairs – Rethinking Fidelity

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá: Sex at Dawn – How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships

The title of the post is a reference to what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: Love is an ideal thing, marriage is a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished. (The autocorrect tried to correct this to “unpublished”, which almost would make more sense in 2018).

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