I'm getting married in the fall. November. Prior to getting engaged I thought long and hard over one issue - my name. Will I change my name or won't I? If not, why not? I vacillated over the issue, blowing hot and cold from one day to the next. The reasons for changing my name to take my future husband's were:
Don't get me wrong, I am proud of the person to whom I am getting married. I love him dearly but I love myself too. I love my free spirit and I think I will make a better partner if I maintain my character, if I don't lose myself in the marriage and changing my name could be the beginning of such a transition. I summed up my thoughts by thinking of marriage as a joint venture rather than a takeover. As I was toying around with this analogy a good old friend came to visit. She quickly told me that after some years of marriage, she'd pulled out of the alliance. Her story of the marriage helped me clarify the analogy.
A joint venture marriage is easy to define. It's a partnership between two people where you look after each other and mutually discuss how household responsibilities will be divided. It is a healthy relationship in which each partner has a sense of self plus the knowledge that they are loved and appreciated for who they are rather than what they have or what labour services they are expected to provide. This is the sort of union I hope to form.
Now, the hostile takeover of a marriage: he has a character U-turn the moment your position goes from Miss to Mrs. Regardless of the fact that you both work (you might even have a more demanding job than him), he sees all domestic chores as a woman's responsibility. You do all the cooking, cleaning, ironing and washing of clothes. On all matters, it is his way or the high way because he is, after all, the head of the household. If you complain about this strict adherence to roles he spins some story about wanting to follow the "traditional" model of marriage (the model where woman fusses over man and man sits around waiting to be fawned over). "Tradition", dredged up time and time again by men who need to control their women. He convinces you that he is right, you're being too radical, so you decide to play the highflying career woman by day and the submissive woman without an opinion by night. A few years down the line, the compromise inevitably wears you thin, you don't want to play along anymore but more often than not it's too late, now you have precious little Johnny to consider.
Sometimes, I think that everything that could have possibly been invented in this world has already been created. Then other times I think that the opportunities are just endless, today was one of those days. My friend Isabel invited me to a class at L'atelier Des Chefs, which literally translates to the workshop of chefs. It was a treat for me but I understand that the lesson was very reasonably priced.
I thought that we would work as a pair to cook a meal, drop the grub into a container and head home but it was actually a lot more interactive than that and in fact, a lot more fun than I expected. The concept is so simple yet so brilliant and in fact, I will suggest my own ideas for eking more revenue out of such a business.
The LDC (my name for the L'atelier) building itself consisted of two floors and three or four kitchens so that they can host more than one session at a time. On arrival Isabel and I immediately struck up a where-are-you-from conversation with a certain pair of gentlemen, Raymond and Andrew; of course this is one of my favorite topics of discussion as I love talking about Malawi.
Both Raymond and Andrew were from Scotland, both very easy-going and charming especially Raymond who was quick to offer up his family's jet and castle, if we wanted to visit Scotland - yeah, right - and I'm the Queen of Sheba incarnate. As we enjoyed chatting with them we were immediately drawn to the same table when we were called down to our kitchen. Our chef, introduced himself then immediately went into a demonstration of the dishes we would be preparing. He was very professional, very friendly and he managed the sizeable class with apparent ease.
We cooked a two-course meal in one hour as a team of six: me, Isabel, our two Scottish friends, Morris and Marie (a couple that have been married for 38 years and got the lesson as gift from their generous daughters - they were so obviously still enamored with each other that Ray asked if they were on a date). The main course was Sea Bream and Ratatouille Provencal followed by cake for dessert - always a good choice.
We divvied up the tasks but Raymond commented that I was rather bossy when I arranged all the precut veg for Morris so that it was in the order he would need it. It does take one to know one, however, if Raymond had bothered to find out, this was Morris' first time to cook ever as Marie does the cooking and I knew he was nervous - ordering his inputs was the least I could have done given I had pretty much suggested he go for doing the main dish which I am glad I did because I could see he enjoyed the challenge despite a slightly jittery start.
Once the food was ready we sat down together and ate. Wine was available at an additional cost. The food was amazing, the company even better although I must say that because I am genuinely interested, I do tend to bring out the best in people (and occasionally, the worst!)
I will definitely be doing this again, however, there is one thing I think they could do better: to me kitchen utensils are just a means to an end, I am still using the same Tesco value knife that I used throughout university almost a decade ago - and it wasn't even mine, someone lent it to me on day one and for some reason I have had it since but that's another story. I would really have appreciated an ongoing commentary from the chef on his utensils and why he prefers them. He commented on ingredients and technique all throughout the lesson but that was it. I don't want to be in an hour long sales pitch but I have very poor knowledge when it comes to utensils and anything extra would probably have had me pulling out my purse.
Despite my minor qualm, I recommend you get yourself into a lesson, it's a great twist on an evening out and a great business model - I wonder if it would work in other parts of the world?
I booked an appointment to have my boiler fixed by my gas supplier, then needed to reschedule because I decided to go away that weekend. When I called they said I couldn't have a weekend appointment as there were none available for two months. Okay fine.
"Well, if you're going to come in the week can I get the first appointment on any morning? That way I can just tell work I'll be in late."
"I'm afraid we can't guarantee that also, we don't have morning appointments for a few weeks, it will have to be an afternoon appointment."
I decided to risk it and book an appointment anyway with a request that the engineer call me an hour in advance of his arrival so that I could dash home from work. The date of the appointment came and did I get a call? Yes, but only when the engineer was knocking at my door. Sigh. I should just be eternally grateful that I wasn't charged for missing the appointment.
This situation is not unique. A colleague recently failed his driving test and there wasn't a slot available to retake the test for another two months. Time and time again big companies disappointment with their lack of flexibility. An inability to deliver goods on weekends and to customize services to the customers' needs is a pervasive problem in Britain. In some industries bureaucracy and high sunk costs ensure that companies can continue to be complacent in this way and that is a problem.
It's at times like this that I miss Malawi. If you need any sort of basic service like an electrician, a plumber, a painter or whomever, you can get it within a couple of hours provided the funds are available. There are many independent traders whose ability to feed their families is contingent on their volume of work and so they will happily make themselves available as and when their services are needed. The separation of ownership and management in publicly listed corporations has some unsavoury consequences and a reduction in corporate limberness is just one of them.
I was very amused by a recent story. Another colleague's father went to the US and needed to pass the American driving test. He failed the first time and asked the instructor when it would be possible to take the test again. The instructor said swipe your bank card and you can retake the test. This process was repeated four times before the man actually passed. That's what I called commercial agility and this sort of adaptability may indeed be an example of how the US keeps ahead of other developed economies.
This got me thinking about some of the factors that limit economic growth and I thought that in the absence of flexibility, productivity and revenue potential will be limited. If you cannot work around your customers you will definitely lose some customers along with the income that they would have contributed. Some companies need to wake up to this fact or face being stuck in the doldrums or worse being booted out by a new outfit that can cater better to the needs of the modern consumer.
Being a single woman seems to signal one or more of the below, depending on who you're talking to:
I had never even considered the social status issue until Bri mentioned it. She says that whenever she goes to family dinners and other events all her relatives seem to treat her with more respect than her older cousins because she is, after all, a married woman. It's even far better to be divorced than to have never married of course, at least then you were (at some point) desirable.
In the ideal world, the majority of people would much rather be in a good relationship than stay single. However, we don't live in such a world and it is far far better to be single and happy than to force a relationship where one should not exist. If there are any major issues before you get married e.g. weird habits or tendencies, marriage is not going to solve them; if he beats you, run girl run; if you know he's cheating - run faster, there are many diseases out there nowadays.
For some, meeting a suitable partner is the key issue - working too many hours, going to the wrong places, being too picky all reduce the pool of potential partners.
Take working long and arduous hours. I have some friends in their late-thirties who as twenty-somethings grafted so hard that they barely had time to eat, let alone meet men. Even on the odd occasion that they managed to socialise they were too exhausted to put any effort into looking. Importantly, they still thought they were too young to get married but in one fell swoop (it seemed to them) they went from 27 to 33 and a good portion of guys their own age were hitched. Having spent a decade or more building a career and a wealth base, a second problem is born: you demand more from a partner.
Even if you are not at all superficial, if you have worked hard to achieve a certain status, you will prefer a partner that matches those things. When you're young and have nothing to your name, a guy with nothing to his name but potential looks rather good. Fast-forward ten years, the same guy doesn't look too good. You have a mortgage, an investment portfolio and preferences. At 24, you were pretty flexible and accommodating. Messy or disorderly housemates didn't annoy you but by 33 you've gotten accustomed to your own ways. I found that after just one year of living on my own I became extremely intolerant. My mum came to visit and placed the butter on the wrong shelf in the fridge and that really ruffled my feathers. After throwing a mini-tantrum I decided I would find a housemate and learn to tolerate others again. I didn't like the new me.
This is just one example, however, with the passing of time everyone begins to take a firm stance on issues and some of these will reduce the type of people you are willing to accept in your life.
The advantage of becoming financially independent is that you can make the choice. You have a lot of options to hand. There are many out there who have lost themselves in a marriage. Their individual identity has become marred in a mishmash of compromises. They, without putting much thought to it, have wound up with a life different to the one they had imagined but remain powerless to change its course. Powerless because they don't have the economic capacity to escape their situation. To the untrained eye they may seem happy but really, this sort of coupling is not superior to being single.
Happiness, joy and laughter are completely possible if you're single. There is no proven correlation between being single and being unhappy. Being single is not synonymous with loneliness. You may very well have a full life as a singleton with innovative work-arounds for physical needs; although what those work-arounds might be, I'd rather not expound.