I'm Not Marriage Material and My Grandma Loves It: On Living My Life as I’ve Chosen

by Patti Swayne

In a 2011 interview, Halle Berry confessed, “I’m not the marrying kind,” and it set headlines ablaze. Four years later, I would hear the same words come from my grandmother, in reference to me, and experience no offense.

Halle Berry made this statement following a string of public, failed attempts at love and marriage. She attributed this conclusion to her father’s absence, leading to relatively baseless and uninformed choices in men.

When my grandmother (who I am almost positive never read this article) made this statement, it was following one of my mother’s random, unprovoked expressions of how she was praying I find a husband who was as good a man as my brother. My grandmother, who’d been with only one man from the age of 19 until she was widowed at 75, has a completely different view on marriage than most of the women surrounding me today.
When she interrupted my mother and said, “No, Patti’s not the marrying kind,” she wasn’t implying that I couldn’t find a man to marry me (which may still be up for debate); she was implying that I didn’t need to. “Patti can do for herself. She doesn’t need a man to tell her what to do and how to do. Everything she wants in life, she can get on her own…let her.” I beamed with pride, not only because I love for my grandmother to defend my individuality against my mother, but also because although I do want to be married, I understood that grandmother looks at me and sees freedom.

Everything she’d ever known had been under the helm of a man: First her father, then with almost no room for independent transition, her husband—obedience, followed by submission. Being a Woman was all she knew. And at that time, in that small, unincorporated hollow of The South, Woman meant a lot of things that don’t parallel the identity we’ve claimed today. Woman meant a body; Woman meant body parts. Woman meant wife, mother, sister, and soon-to-be Woman. Woman meant cook, clean, care, and prepare. Woman meant listen, submit, obey.

These qualities, and how well you could execute them, are what made women valuable where my grandmother was from. It was rare for women to have much of an opinion or say in the direction their life would take. It was rare for them to finish school or make their own money. If you were pretty enough, and/or made a good enough wife, someone else would take care of the worrying for you.

I met someone my grandmother grew up with in Virginia, at a family wedding. He recalled, “Your grandmother was the most beautiful girl in Rocky Gap; everyone wanted to date her.” It was the first time I’d ever heard that about her, and when I hastily relayed the message, she rolled her eyes and said nothing. I began to think about how often my grandmother mentions my “adventures” and random talents; how she calls me smart and smart-mouthed; she even calls me brave—but I don’t think she’s ever called me pretty. And in that moment, as that man was gushing over her, I finally understood why. I never missed her commenting on anything physical about me because she was more fixated on the things that couldn’t be taken from me—my intellectual property, if you will. Without even knowing it (or maybe she did), she has always made my mind the most complimentary thing about me. And without even realizing it, when a man calls me beautiful, I roll my eyes too!

She was a good wife, even when it almost killed her. She took pride in and respected her vows. She stood by my grandfather through things most of the women he betrayed her with could’ve never endured. And while many women of today may not believe it was necessary, I believe it to be legendary. Because I could have only achieved this level of dignity, loyalty, and royalty through the life that she lived. And don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandfather, and so did my grandmother, but to her, marriage was a literal institution. She fulfilled her contract and was released to enjoy the remainder of her life. The only vow she would ever make again was to “never take another husband.”
As far as I know, my grandmother never had a dream or goals, not any she’s willing to confess now, anyway. So seeing me live the way I do is to see a world she never got to touch. And as I move forward through life, she doesn’t even know she moves with me.

I am a Woman that is the sum of her body and body parts, that has a multidimensional mind and who has goals and direction all her own. I am a Woman before I am your wife, mother, sister, or child. I belong to myself long before you and long after.

I trust I will find the love that’s meant for me, but I also take pride in knowing that someone sees my existence and value as much more than meeting the criteria of “marriage material.” I only wish that maybe someone could’ve been that for her.

I love you, Momaw.

Photo: Shutterstock

Patti Swayne is a native of the nation’s capitol’s most illustrious suburb, Prince George’s County, MD. She received her post-secondary education from Temple University and the City of Philadelphia, collectively. After some soul searching, she is devising her voice and her purpose one 9 to 5 at a time.

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