Defying social orders
Ryan Summerlin January 9, 2014
“In 10 years, most of you will be married with kids,” a sociology professor once told my college class.
“You will notice that if you’ve been dating someone a while, people will ask you when you’re getting married,” the professor continued. “Then they’ll ask when you’re having kids, and after you have your first one, they’ll ask when you’re having another. There is constant pressure to do what is expected.”
That was 10 years ago, and she was right.
So far my girlfriend and I have bucked the social norm — we’ve been together four years and I have yet to procure a ring, for reasons that aren’t as cut and dried as people assume. It’s not that big of an issue here in liberal Colorado, but when we went to visit Mandi’s family in Ohio over Christmas, we got an earful.
In a place like the Midwest, where family ties reign supreme, some seem to have a hard time understanding how a family member could stand to live so far away. Even harder to fathom is how two people could be in a relationship for four years and not be married.
Of course Mandi’s mom, Betty, made her wishes clear long ago. “When are you two going to get married and start having kids already!” was almost the exact wording of one or two Facebook posts she made on my wall. I had to block her for a while.
I think Mandi was more offended than I was. A mom is understandable, however. During our recent trip, Mandi got a text from her boss (her boss!) who asked, in so many words, if I had popped the question yet.
In the past, Mandi also had other women who barely knew her insist that I was going to propose to her whenever I planned a special weekend getaway. The gossip and speculation has been snowballing for years — and part of the reason I haven’t proposed is to spite the public clucking!
When the question of our engagement came up in a room of extended family members in Ohio, I even told them so.
“When are you getting married? Why aren’t you getting married?” they ribbed.
“Maybe because you keep asking,” I said.
When I was in third grade, I remember a group of giggling girls coming up to me on the playground.
“Do you like Brianne?” they probed in chorus.
I had a huge crush on Brianne but I couldn’t admit it for their satisfaction.
“No!” I said, probably before running away.
I didn’t realize that Brianne had sent them to ask the question. Later I was jealous when her attention turned to another boy. Nevertheless, I still have that impulse to do the opposite when I’m expected to behave or live a certain way.
“Stay in line!” is the prevailing undercurrent of any society. That’s why social change is so slow.
Ten years ago, that was basically what my professor was telling me.
I only had her for one semester, but it was a rather unique class, as you might guess by its title — Deviance in Sexuality. So I remembered her when she recently became the focus of some hubbub at the University of Colorado in which various factions were trying to get her fired. Last I read the outcome was uncertain, but it got me thinking.
She was actually the second professor I had who came under fire after I graduated. Ward Churchill was the first, and he also lectured on controversial material. I wasn’t surprised when the poo hit the fan for him, but he also had a basic message worth contemplating: The unwritten objective of government is to maintain the status quo, and watch out if you’re not part of the status quo.
I don’t know enough particulars to comment on either professor’s situation. However, given the subject matter of their classes, these incidents were only a matter of time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
If you preach on a subject that’s politically or morally unpopular, well … the political and social order of the day will do its best to peck you back into line, or, failing that, get rid of you.
With the marriage thing, I often feel I’m being subtly pecked into line. No worries though. In the long run, I generally do as I’m told. I’m just holding out as long as I can before I have to hear about babies.
Sure makes me appreciate the courage of people who are really working for social change.
— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Derek Franz lives in Carbondale and may be reached at email@example.com.