Thursday, April 11, 2013

Marriage Rules for Little Girls

Future Mrs. Rich Guy?

The other night, as Delia rearranged the peas and chicken on her dinner plate to make it appear that she was actually eating, she announced that she "wanted to marry a rich husband."  Swallowing my chicken and the jolt of fear that arose because she is already contemplating marriage, I asked her why she thought that was a good idea.  She was very matter of fact, noting that if she married someone rich, she could have a big house, go on vacations, and get lots of clothes and her own car and anything else she might need.  This is the first year she has seemed concerned about our family's comparative lack of stuff, and apparently it is shaping her ideas about a lot of things.  Because she has visited the houses of school friends, she is less satisfied with our apartment, and as every girl who has had to share a room with her sister is bound to do, she is lobbying for her own room. "We could all have our own rooms if we had a house," she says, though she graciously allows, "you and Daddy could still share, if you wanted to..."  We do.  Thanks.  

But before we could turn the discussion away from lifetime commitments to talk about how having a lot of stuff isn't always so important, Fiona chimed in, "M used to have a lot of money, but he doesn't anymore and I love him anyway."

Fiona is in an imaginary committed relationship with a three foot tall plastic display version of a yellow peanut M&M.  He was gifted to her before we left Boston by my CVS manager, who not only wanted to get it off his sales floor, but who was also touched by the true love of a girl and her candy pal.  She can call him just "M" as a nickname, because he's her boyfriend.  All of her dolls and stuffed animals are their children and she tells us often what he thinks about situations that arise with 'their kids' at school and about stuff happening on television.  M has a lot of strong opinions, and I don't agree with all of them, but at least I know he's from a good home and he doesn't have a motorcycle that I have to worry about Fiona riding on the back of.  We hope they're very happy together until she's about thirty, which is the age Mike has decided the girls will be allowed to date.

Fiona's main squeeze.  A model boyfriend.
The discussion of marriage continued when I asked Delia, "Don't you think love is more important than money when you decide who to marry?"  Mike was also interested in the answer to that one.  Again, she was matter of fact, "Well, if he was rich, he could buy me lots of presents and then I would love him." She paused for a minute, pretending to chew some peas, and possibly because she realized that this might be kind of shallow, she added, "I'm sure I could find someone who is nice and rich, and I would love him because he was nice, and he would still be rich.  Then I would have the best of both."  There it was, the admonishment of parents through the centuries:  It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one. Out of the mouths of babes, right?
We were at the table for a while, because Delia never did really did make any progress on her dinner, so we discussed the possibility of her becoming rich herself.  She had taken this for granted, assuming she would have a career (as a rock star or an astronaut or a professor) and her own money, but she was clear that her future partner should have his own too, because then they would not have to worry about money for sure.  "And I might want to take time off to stay home with babies, or he might, so we both need to have money." 

It all seems so simple when a six year old explains it to you. 

Later, I found myself wondering why I hadn't thought of all of this when I was her age, because I certainly don't remember thinking about it then.  My sons are now old enough to be in real committed relationships, but I don't remember either of them thinking about who they were going to marry, let alone specifying that money was important, when they were Delia's age.  We certainly lacked stuff when they were growing up too, but neither of them seemed to think that marrying money was the way to get it, even when they were old enough to make those choices for real.  My marriage to their dad had been such a disaster-- the stuff of Lifetime movies, really, complete with a final escape with the kids' toys and clothes loaded into black trash bags-- that I used to worry the boys would have trouble with their relationships.  I can happily say this has not been the case.  They are both good men with good women in their lives.  I don't offer advice, unless I'm asked. And I'm usually not, which is okay.

Is it different with girls, though?  It already seems that it is.  It is also a new generation of girls, with lots of options that weren't on the table when I was growing up.  Maybe I wouldn't have messed up so badly the first time if I'd had Delia's confidently pragmatic attitude.  On the other hand, maybe I wouldn't appreciate Mike the way I do now if I hadn't been through something so awful.  Nah, he's great-- I would've loved him no matter what. 

Still, as we finally cleared the plates, after Mike and Fiona had gone in to muck out the girls' room in preparation for bedtime, I told Delia that even though it does really kinda suck to be poor, the real trick to marriage is finding the person you want to be with, no matter what else happens. "Yeah," she said, "like they say on a wedding, for better and worse, for richer and poorer, and then they both say I do and they kiss." 

"Yeah, just like that, " I said.  And she giggled, because she's six.   


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