The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

Ask Bert: Meditations on Love

Grace Thomas


I trust your judgment here: What are your thoughts on marriage? And love? How can I know when I found “the one?” Is there really just “one?” I’m nearly 20 and I’m thinking about it more — I’m not stressed yet but I’m getting more curious. Why is the world structured this way and why do I have to devote my life to a single person in the name of love? And possibly reproduction. Parenthood. Then all of a sudden I’ll be a grandparent. Bert!! This is crazy to think about. Help me out here please buddy. Ease my scattered mind.

Dear Scattered Mind, 

Thank you for writing to me, and congratulations on being the first official entry in my column. You have given me quite the complex paragraph to tackle, so I’m going to divide your inquiries into sections just for the ease of our readership: 

  1. My opinion on love 
  2. The concept of “the one”
  3. Reproduction/parenthood
  4. The societal pressure behind it all

You ask for my thoughts on love? I love love. I think love can solve all of our world’s problems. I love to give love and to receive love. I think love is a renewable resource, and we should treat it as such. We should be giving love whenever we feel it. We should be making our friends four-layer cakes to celebrate even the smallest victories. We should be writing sonnets and mailing them from across the country. We should be giving long hugs and hand squeezes and shoulder rubs. We should be loving people slowly, and quickly and perhaps even riskily. Throw your heart out there! See what happens! Isn’t that what life is all about? It may be the best decision you’ve ever made. Or you may get hurt (but fear not, hearts are great at healing, especially with the medicine of time). As Kelly Clarkson says… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The world needs less regret and more love. If you have love to give, then I urge you to give it and give it freely. Heck, love doesn’t necessarily need to be directed at people either! The love you feel for a good book or hot cup of coffee on a cold day, while maybe not romantic, certainly has the same aura of gratitude and cherishment to it. 

Let’s just make this clear, there isn’t just one person for you. There’s just no way that in a world of 8.1 billion people, there is only a singular person that you are meant to be with. Every romantic relationship has a combination of these factors: compatibility, timing and proximity. 

As per all the romance books ever, when you find “the one,” you’re supposed to just know. That can be daunting, especially if your gut has led you astray before. So forget about “the one!” It’s an overromanticized concept. If you really want a set list to consider if your partner is “the one,” fine, I’ll appease you. Here are some questions to ponder: 

  1. Are the ways that you and your partner give and receive love compatible? 
  2. Does your partner want to meet and like the people in your life?
  3. If your shoe became untied in the rain, would your partner notice, stop and tie it for you?
  4. Can you tell your partner anything without worrying about instability in the relationship?
  5. Are you waiting for your partner to change in any way?

This is not a set list, I lied. But it’s good food for thought. 

So what’s all the fuss about marriage? It’s often cited as the most important experience in a person’s lifetime. That’s in no way to stress you further, Scattered Mind, but to illuminate the value that we place on marriage as a society. Part of your stress, I theorize, may be the same hesitance you feel about “the one” or a “soulmate.” What happens if you are married to someone who is not “the one?” Fear not, for I, as an ever-wizened and ancient bobcat, have seen where this practice of marriage originates, and perhaps learning about it, and what came before it, will ease your troubles. 

Marriage in the Americas (like many things) was forced upon the natives of this land, as a part of a deliberate effort to violently assimilate to the European way of life. Indigenous American culture around the family is something truly beautiful. Rather than constructing a family by blood or by law (as Europeans and Modern Americans do) many American Indigenous communities like the Cheyenne, practice kinship systems as a model of family. Friends, blood relatives and entire tribes see each other as beloved members of a family, without needing rings or paperwork to seal it. Consider then, dear friend, how your own life would look if you defined  your family based on those you loved, rather than expectations, obligations or legal documents. In fact, you may feel this way already, chosen family is something commonly practiced in extended members: friends choosing each other to be uncles/aunts or even godparents. (To learn more about how indigenous peoples are continuing to break down the barriers of love, read this article: The Future is Indigiqueer)

This can apply to the sphere of romance as well! Monogamy is only a concept; a model that not everyone has to fit. Polygamous or polyamorous relationships have existed across history and cultures.These ways of loving have been wrongly stigmatized, but slowly, the monogamous model is one we are starting to see past. To say that a single partner is what constitutes a family or a relationship is far from the whole truth. What is more important is surrounding yourself in an environment where you can give love and receive it in turn. Note as well, dear reader, that there is a difference between polygamy and polyamory! Polygamy is often associated with marriage in specific religions that practice non-monogamy. Polyamory, which is the more recent term, has no expectation of marriage at all, only a shared romantic bond between multiple individuals.

On the topic of marriage, you must ask yourself, does marriage excite you? For many, this is the case. And what is not to be excited about? Marriage and finding love is a cause for celebration! But it’s important to remember that a marriage is so much more than a party with a cake. It’s commitment, companionship and compromise. Looking past the day of the wedding, do the prospects of married life excite you? Moreover, do they excite your partner(s)? It might very well might, but if it does not serve you, there’s no need to force your life into a shape it does not want to fit. 

So what’s the deal with marriage? Even a cat has to wonder what the fuss is. From my observations, explaining the economic facet of marriage culture may reveal why our culture seems to put such an emphasis on it. In a marriage, there is a lot of work being done: there is the job that you and your spouse perhaps have, that is something called social production — essentially what you contribute to society monetarily. But, for you, and your partner, to fulfill this social production, there is the behind-the-scenes work: meals that need to be cooked, houses to be cleaned, children to be raised and so on. This is called social reproduction. The economy recognizes all production as labor, and thus we are compensated for it, but all of the reproduction involved goes unpaid. (For further reading, see Wages Against Housework by Sylvia Federici, about how housewives should be paid for their labor.)

In a monogamous, heterosexual household, this reproductive labor often falls upon the woman in the relationship, while the man is the one to produce for the world. This is one of the ways that the economy reinforces harmful and constricting gender norms and economic control. (Feel free to read here about how social reproduction theory is being applied to feminist philosophy.) But this is so far from what reality is now, isn’t it Scattered Mind? We’ve progressed so far past this “Cult of Domesticity” style of marriage, so why is there still so much pressure to be in one? In this day and age, women are working alongside men, yet on average still do a majority of the housework, according to a Pew Research Poll. In the nineteenth century, the idea of the Cult of Domesticity was so pervasive because it was idealized in American culture and media. Much of this subliminal cultural communication exists today, being reinforced by powerful men who want to maintain economic power. Power that would be challenged if the system of marriage as we know it were abandoned.The capitalist economy maintains this system because it’s easier to make women do the unpaid labor if they paint it as tradition. 

 So is that it? Give up on marriage entirely because it’s a scam? Maybe. However, you may want to consider the tax benefits.

As said prior, we are tearing down the walls of what marriage can be – what a family can be – every day. To exude love and absorb it is incorruptible, and love that is true and honest will always rise above what the world wants it to look like. We have expanded our horizons to love, in all its shapes and sizes. 

So that is what I want to impart to you, Hopefully-Clearer-Mind! Let love in at every opportunity: big or small. Love the sun as it greets your window every morning; love your food as you taste and enjoy it; love your friends, the people you cherish; love what you do, what you contribute to the world; and most of all, love yourself. It’s a crazy world, my friend! But leading with love will always find love in return. 

I certainly love you.

Hope this helped,


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    JudithMar 8, 2024 at 7:45 AM

    Bert, you are wise
    Thanks for the thoughts.