The return of the smug married: Having a husband and kids is still the best route to happiness
As 'single-boasting' reaches new heights, Angela Epstein says having a husband and kids is still the best route to happiness
Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30
It's one of those rare, sun-blushed evenings when the air is mellow, the light is liquid and it feels like it's never going to get dark. Despite having a million things to do in the house - from sorting the washing to wading through admin - the desire for a walk in the park is too much to resist. Or to be enjoyed alone.
With a little gentle persuasion, I manage to convince my husband, Martin, to part with his paperwork and come out with me. It's something neither of us regret, since we soon find ourselves wandering through country lanes, enjoying the grassy scent of freshly cut fields and the unspoken joy of an all-too-rare summer night.
Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting we present a picture of love's young dream. With his bad back and my dodgy knee, we're hardly candidates for a bucolic frolic. But during the course of our walk, the mobile trills at least twice - a plea from our 22-year-son, Sam, for a lift from the station, and then a call from his 16-year-old brother, Aaron, wondering if I know where his door keys are.
Playing taxi and psychic are, I suppose, just part of the parental job description. Indeed, with our silver wedding looming in November and a home life challenged by juggling busy jobs with the domestic demands of four children (Max (19) and Sophie (11) have yet to phone...), Martin and I hardly spend our time swinging from chandeliers.
Yet for every gruelling, compromising moment of our marriage, what we also have, as our evening walk would prove, is an inherent togetherness, a ready-to-wear companionship that makes me treasure our life together.
It's a way of life embraced by many, but which is now being challenged by the rise of post-millennial feminism's most ardent warrior: the smug spinster.
A particularly enthusiastic champion is Kate Bolick, whose new book, Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own, robustly maintains that a woman can be happy and fulfilled without a man or children in her life.
In the process, she overlooks having to return to a cold house in favour of the "extravagant pleasures" that being single can yield. As actress Diane Keaton agrees: "I don't think that because I'm not married it's made my life any less. That old maid myth is garbage."
Indeed, modern-day bard Taylor Swift points out that "being alone is not the same as being lonely". The pop princess may well be right. After all, who wouldn't want to spend the day in blissful isolation, eating chocolate biscuits in bed with a boxed set of Mad Men for company?
And I admit there are times when I'd love nothing more than that.
(Especially since Martin doesn't watch Mad Men and rails against crumbs on the sheets.) But on a regular basis? And by default of my single status?
The very thought makes me heartsick. Surely the greatest pleasure in life is to enjoy doing what you want to do with someone you love? You just have to compromise on the activity.
I'm not suggesting women should settle down with just anyone. Indeed, research in the UK earlier this year found that a quarter of women have refused a marriage proposal, mainly because he wasn't 'The One'. Yet every time I see a so-called smug spinster aimlessly wandering around a party, I realise that her fabled grass isn't any greener - it's just more grass.
Let me be clear: this isn't the counter-narrative of the smug married.
Equally, I loathe all those couples, joined at the hip by their "his and hers" bathrobes, who pedal a self-satisfied plotline about their life together. But, ultimately, I can't help feeling depressed by a generation of so-called singletons exhorting women to embrace their spinster status.
Without question, the ghost of the prototypical spinster has been laid to rest. The crazy lady, sitting at home with her 14 cats, has been displaced by a generation of strong, savvy, financially independent women.
And, yes, such freedom means never having to argue over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher. However, I can't help feeling an enduring sorrow for the hollow basis on which the hypothesis of the smug singleton is built.
Marriage was the furthest thing from my mind when I met my husband, Martin, through friends at the age of 18. Fresh out of school and awaiting my exam results, I was dazzled by this handsome university student, then 21, with his lazy grin, floppy hair and a tan netted by a recent bout of island-hopping around the Aegean. After our first date, I remember telling a friend that I had a feeling that I had met the man I was going to marry.
Not that either of us was even remotely interested in the very idea. I nursed dreams of becoming a journalist and Martin had his own career ambitions. In fact, we were on and off for a couple of years, as he moved to London to train as a chartered accountant and I embarked on a degree in English. But our paths kept crossing and, by the age of 20, we were firmly a couple.
When he proposed two years later, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to accept. I wanted to build a life together with this warm, witty, wonderful man.
Not that it has always been easy. That first year, as we worked to adapt to each other's rhythm, was particularly tricky. But you weather the lows to enjoy the highs.
Yes, it can be annoying having to pick up a man's socks. Or make his dinner (if I waited for Martin to come home and do the cooking, we'd all be living on cornflakes). But the smug spinster's position is erroneously predicated on the notion that it's all or nothing. That you give up everything if you get married. We still have plenty of separate interests and hobbies - sometimes I think he loves his mountain bike more than me.
It may seem controversial, but I'm not ashamed to say I revel in being married. When we go out together and I catch a glimpse of Martin - the same floppy hair and lazy grin - I think: "Wow, he picked me" (and for the feminists, yes, I picked him). I wonder what will happen to these smug singletons when they get older - facing elderly parents, prevailing work pressures, the aches and pains of ageing. Who would want to face that alone? I would hate the idea of our daughter being a near Miss.
Of course marriage can be limiting. Instead of being a war reporter or a glossy magazine editor, I am a jobbing writer - working partly from home - as it fits around my family. It is a compromise, but one I'm willing to make (and one which is justified every time I read a column by Liz Jones, former editor of Marie Claire, whose single life has been a litany of disappointments). Sure, there are days when my husband nags me about forgetting to lock my car, and I think of the young, bright, fancy-free woman inside me. But such restlessness is balanced by those moments when you walk into a cosy house and see all the people most precious to you, heaped on the sofa like newborn puppies.
The Mad Men boxed set can surely wait.
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