Broken brides

By Ruth Limkin

The picture was confronting, a woman in a wedding dress, and hanging out of a window. A man’s arms were around her neck and shoulders. At first it was reminiscent of those uncomfortable ‘baby dangling’ photos of Michael Jackson several years ago. The look of distress on her face was clear.

Yet the man, who at first glance seemed to be choking her, was actually saving her life.

You’ve probably seen it, or heard about it. A 22 year old Chinese woman, soon to be married, tried to end her life when her partner broke up with her. Dressed in her wedding dress, the young woman climbed out of a window on the seventh story of a residential building, and was about to throw herself off when she was caught and held by a local officer.

It’s not yet completely clear whether the couple were due to be married later that day, or had been planning their wedding. Whatever the case, it was a snapshot of sadness and despair, beamed around the world.

Weddings are meant to be happy times. I’m known to dabble in the odd bit of matchmaking, and with one happily married couple, and one happily engaged couple, I like to think I’ve got a few successes under my belt. I only match the willing (of course) and even then I only create the environment, but why not give love a little help? Healthy relationships can be a joy.

However, as anyone who has loved and lost knows, the losing is painful. The loss can be even more so when the relationship defines us. When we find our worth and value resting in what someone else thinks of us, we set ourselves up for disappointment and invite heartache to be our companion.

Women, sadly, can find ourselves seeking out approval and affirmation in the acceptance we have from others – particularly men. It’s partly because love can be delightful, and we treasure the opportunity to share our lives with someone significant. I suspect however that it’s also partly due to living immersed in a culture that defines women by how attractive we are, hence how desired we are.

Perhaps it started with Paris? Suddenly things and people were ‘hot’, or not. Likely, Paris merely crystallized it for us again.

Women should be free of needing to please. No longer do women have to rely on men for an income. We can inherit land, vote, work freely, and even become Prime Minister.

However, much of our cultural narrative is now insidiously causing a redefinition of value. Rarely are we applauded for our ingenuity, our initiative or our integrity. Pop culture celebrates airbrushed bodies, sexual availability and whether we are desired. We are given the message – both explicitly and implicitly – that much of our value is measured externally, and decided on by others, particularly men.

Such appreciation is fickle, swayed by mood, fashion and the appetites of the time. Most importantly, such approval is competitive, ranking women against each other and against an unachievable fantasy.

There are no winners when this happens.

Sadly, when our value rests upon the determination of others, rejection hits hard – and can indeed feel like the end of our world.

Only when we can be brave enough to resist the allure of asking another person to tell us who we are, and how much we matter, can we truly begin to live freely.

And only in freedom can we truly relate to another – as a bride, as a friend, or simply as a woman.