In a recent Carolyn Hax column, a reader wrote in with the following:
A friend of mine is getting married to a woman who has multiple sclerosis. His family is very upset by this fact (along with a few other issues they have with his bride-to-be). Should something like having a chronic illness even be a consideration when choosing the person to spend the rest of your life with? I wonder if my friend is setting himself up for a very difficult road ahead.
Ah, yes, the old concern trolling ‘for the friend’s own good,’ turning to an advice columnist for backup; this letter seems to pretty unambiguously suggest that the family is justified in being ‘upset’ by the friend’s choice of life partner. It’s sort of surprising the letter writer is even consulting Hax, since the opinions in this letter feel very clearly formed, unless this is some sort of devious plan involving casually leaving the paper open to this letter and the expected approving response to say ‘see!’ to the friend.
Unfortunately, these kinds of attitudes are distressingly common. People who marry people with disabilities are told that they are ‘brave’ for marrying their partners and staying with them, and they’re provided with plenty of outs for escaping the relationship; when things get tough, they’re encouraged to abandon their partners ‘because no one would blame you,’ and all problems in the relationship get reduced to the disabilities. And, of course, people preparing to marry people with disabilities are told that they should ‘reconsider’ and ‘think seriously about’ the relationship. The spectre of caregiving is raised to terrify people into thinking ‘oh, right, I don’t actually love this person! Thanks for saving me!’
And Hax’ response illustrated why I love Carolyn Hax:
Of course he is.
And of course a chronic illness should be a serious consideration — your friend would be doing this woman no favors if he didn’t take her prognosis heavily into account — but for many people it’s not a make-or-break consideration.
The way you pose your question, I’m not sure whether the “difficult road” you anticipate is the multiple sclerosis or the disapproving family. Either way, you’re right. However, there are plenty of people who think the toughest road would be the one traveled without the person they love.
Now, it’s not as if illness spins jerks into gold; if your friend’s family has legitimate concerns about the fiancee’s character, then I do hope they’ll spell this out for him.
But if your friend feels, eyes open, that his fiancee is the one he wants at his side, and if his family’s objection is to her illness (with the “few other issues” thrown out there as a fig leaf), then all I can say is, shame on them. Even though I utterly loathe that expression.
People are very fond of judging each other’s marriages. It honestly seems to be a bit of a national pasttime, whether people are judging people for the ceremony, or who is getting married, or changing names (or not changing names), or whether there are children involved, or any number of things. It seems to be generally socially acceptable to meddle in someone’s marriage planning and to make pronouncements about how a marriage is ‘doomed from the start.’ And these comments often come from family. When disabilities are involved, those comments tend to ramp up, and there can be an undertone of extreme ugliness that can be very revealing about social attitudes and the beliefs people feel it’s appropriate to air.
Here, the family has decided they don’t like the fiance, maybe because she has MS, maybe because of something else. The point is that the letterwriter seems to think the MS is sufficient reason to call off the marriage; how could the letterwriter’s friend be expected to marry a woman with MS? They’re in for a ‘hard road’! Everyone knows that people with chronic illnesses shouldn’t get married (and of course that they never marry each other). The letterwriter seems to be hitting Carolyn Hax up to justify ableist beliefs; to me, it seems clear that the ‘hard road’ referenced isn’t dealing with the family, but, rather, being married to a disabled woman, and Hax didn’t let D.C. off the hook.
I know that at least some of our readers (and contributors) are married or in relationships and encounter these kinds of attitudes about their relationships; how do you counter them? Do you counter them?