It seems that in the last few months, I am being celebrated by my friends and family. Not for moving house and setting up a new place, not because I received a fellowship for my novel, not because I’m a single parent doing it on my own and my daughter is thriving, but for my change in my relationship status.
‘I’m so happy for you! That’s so amazing! Congratulations!’
The first time I received a congratulations for my boyfriend I was somewhat startled. I haven’t received this many congratulations since my wedding day 15 years ago.
I wish I was met with as much enthusiasm about the career I’ve been slaving at for the last ten years, the one where I’m trying to help give women a voice. But no. It seems my boyfriend, a man who I am still getting to know, is much more worthy of praise.
I love my friends and family dearly. This isn’t an attack on them, but rather a question as to why me having a boyfriend after seven years of being single is so exciting.
‘You’ve got a boyfriend?!! That’s awesome! Congratulations! Why are you keeping it a secret?’
I’m not. I just haven’t seen you. And I’m not going to stand up while I’m at a table full of relatives and announce I have met a new person, who happens to be a man, who I happen to be in a relationship with. What for? Why do I need to tell people unless it comes up in conversation?
In the last seven years, between my divorce and my current relationship, I have been focusing on finding who I am, on my daughter, and on my career.
Sure, like everyone, I was hoping for love too. But why are people celebrating a man that I have only just met as opposed to my relationship with my best friend for example, who is reliable, funny, smart, and who I have a great connection and understanding with?
All this congratulating had me wondering what it was specifically they were congratulating me on. That I have some love in my life? I had love in my life prior to my boyfriend, from all the lovely people in my life. That I have love from a man who is in love with me? Well, maybe, yes it’s nice, but worthy of a congratulations? Congratulations is given when someone has achieved something, or on a special occasion. I didn’t think a new boyfriend met that criteria.
It was interesting to me that none of the men in my life were congratulating me and so happy for me, only the women. Was there a link between the congratulations and the sexism and patriarchy that still exists in many cultures? I was raised in a somewhat backward migrant culture in Australia. One that puts a huge emphasis on a woman getting married, like it determines her self-worth. In Cyprus, my parents’ homeland, where I visit often, even today there is still a lot of pressure on women to find a man.
So when women congratulate me I feel like it’s a congratulations I’m one step closer to my happily-ever-after marriage. Congratulations you’ve found a man to partner with, to look after you. Congratulations you’re not a crazy poet anymore and you’re settling down. Congratulations a man loves you now so you must be normal and worthy. And what of the women who are not in relationships? Are they unlucky, doomed failures?
The congratulations sets up the woman for a fall. If they break up it’s sad and a shame. If her parents pass away before she is married then they have not fulfilled their legacy. It assumes that marriages last a lifetime when in reality, many marriages fail, and people, in a lifetime, will probably have multiple loves.
This article may be a step over the top, but I am tired of women’s worth in my culture being defined by whether or not a man is going to marry her. There are many more things about a woman to be celebrated. My new relationship may last another few months, it may last a lifetime, but it is nothing to congratulate me on. I have many meaningful relationships in my life, that I learn and grow from, and they are just as important, and if not more important, than the new man in my life, even though he is, very nice.
* Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer and the author of ‘Love and F**k Poems’/ ‘ποιήματα για αγάπη και για γαμήσι’. She is also an actor and has made her own films and theatre. For more, visit koralydimitriadis.com