Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chelsea Clinton's Getting Married. Let's Talk About It.

I don't read Rebecca Traister enough. I don't blog enough, either. But right now, I am rectifying this, by doing one of my favorite things: killing two birds with one stone.

As most of the world knows, Chelsea Clinton is getting married. Like many others, I am intrigued by Ms. Clinton--part of that is her reticence, part of it her background (hedge fund manager to MA candidate in public health!), and part of it her unique place in the world--but I really don't care about her wedding. Or really anyone's, for that matter.

What has always bothered me about weddings, about being paired off, is that it implies that you are desirable, a desirable person, in all senses of the word, and that, on the flip side, that if you are not paired off you aren't desirable. And being married is a validation of who you are:
That Chelsea has grown up gorgeous seems to have relieved a lot of people (though it's difficult not to wonder: What if she hadn't?). That she evidently has grown up stable has satisfied others. And I'm willing to believe that those who are now getting all het up about her wedding want the best for her. What bothers me is the barely veiled attitude that it is the fact of her upcoming wedding -- and that alone -- that somehow demonstrates to them that Chelsea is pretty and that everything has turned out all right for her.

There are a lot of people who don't get married. There are a lot of people who can't get married. If Chelsea Clinton, by chance or design, had fallen into one of these two categories, would it mean that her parents had not done what they were supposed to do, that they would feel less pride in her, that her life would lack its most important moment? I wonder if those focusing so hard on her wedding would think it meant she was any less well-adjusted, or any less beautiful.

The fevered fetishization of the marital day is not just irritating, it's destructive. It reproduces attitudes about personal -- and especially female -- achievement that are far past their sell date: that marrying is the goal toward which all of us strive, that our weddings are somehow the most exalted expressions of our accomplishments and of ourselves. That they are proof, validation, some sure sign that we turned out OK.

Chelsea Clinton, at 30, also falls into that "acceptable range" for a first-time marriage, the one thing that Traister does not mention. She's at that threshold where her crazy twenties are over, she has the starting jobs and degrees behind her, that she knows what she wants, but she hasn't fallen into too-old or biological clock times, so no one can cluck their tongue and say disparaging, questioning remarks--why she's waiting too long, that she's too picky, etc. etc. For an elite East Coaster, like someone with her background, she is getting married at the perfect time, the sweet spot of her life. How this number has come to represent so much is beyond me; maybe it is all the hysteria about reproduction, or our current climate that makes the twenties such a time of arrested development.

I'm sure Chelsea will have a beautiful wedding, despite the media crunch. I hope for her sake that she doesn't start popping babies soon, because then we'd have to go through the whole thing again. I'd probably write about it, though.