Pre-nups and Why Amelia Earhart Probably had it Right by Kiran Manral

Amelia Earhart woman pilot

Among the things that intrigued me the most, amongst all that I read about her was the little-known fact that Earhart and her fiancé, George Putnam had what we might term in the modern world, a pre-nup. Putnam, a publisher, who was divorced, had proposed marriage to Earhart six times before she consented. Earhart married late. She was 33 as a bride in an era when the average age of a new bride was 21.

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She was worried that marriage would clip her wings, metaphorically as well as practically. She told a friend in a letter,

“I am still unsold on marriage . . . I may not ever be able to see [it] except as a cage until I am unfit to work or fly or be active.”

She wrote a worried little note to Putnam, in which she laid down the parameters within which she would agree to be part of this marriage. These included an open marriage, and an escape clause. The letter was discovered years later in the Purdue University where, Earhart was a professor, which had a number of her papers.

She wrote, ‘I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.’ She would not under any circumstances give up flying and wrote, “Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play.” A statement that was generous of the other, and demanded the same generosity of spirit back.

Written in 1931, the letter is prescient in that it acknowledges a number of concerns that men and women would continue to face in their marriages, almost a century and many waves of feminism later.

She eschewed a “midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness,” implicitly condoning an open marriage where neither partner was to be bound to each other. And perhaps the most interesting is the exit clause, something most modern marriages would do well with considering. She would not commit to forever. “I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.” And, perhaps the most telling sentence of all in all her correspondence. “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead.”

They were married on Feb. 7, 1931. It was an understated ceremony, with Putnam’s mother and the two witnesses the only guests. And when the judge addressed Earhart as Mrs Putnam, she responded spunkily stating she preferred to be called Miss Earhart.

How often do we rush into marriage, blinded by love and lust, never pausing to consider what marriage does actually mean—a subsuming of the self into the unit of the couple, and then the constant battle to assert and re-assert oneself.

Perhaps, we all could learn a bit from the letter she wrote George Putnam. It is a letter quite a few of us might wish we wrote to our fiancés before we tied the knot. How often do we rush into marriage, blinded by love and lust, never pausing to consider what marriage does actually mean—a subsuming of the self into the unit of the couple, and then the constant battle to assert and re-assert oneself. This isn’t a pre-nup which clinically divvies up the assets accumulated in a marriage, but rather a pre-nup for the self, which ensures that one safeguards one’s individual identity in the hurly-burly of a daily life with each other. It acknowledges that there will be attractions other than the spouse, and the acting upon or choosing not to, should be left to what each individual couple is comfortable with. Some might be okay with the marriage being a revolving door, some might consider it a bank vault, and that is for each couple to decide and come to terms with. But what a declaration of what is acceptable and what is not, right up front, does is that it sets the tone for honesty in a marriage and a midpoint between both partners, and their needs so that neither need feel short-changed later.

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And this is the point, before you’re married, before the toilet seat wars and wet towels, and the you don’t talk to me anymores begin infiltrating your daily conversation, that you’re at the best point to have a real and honest conversation about whether you both are on the same page as far as marriage is concerned. Issues about faith, about career growth, about hobbies, holidays, anything that is important to one needs to be put across in this communication and agreed upon. It saves a lot of bottled up bitterness later, bitterness that as it ferments could sour up the entire marriage. A pre-nup may not always be only about the finances and assets (though those are vitally important given how divorce can be financially debilitating), it could also be about child custody, in case things get too unpleasant for the two of you to sit across the table later. A sensible thing could be adding a compulsory six month couple therapy as a clause before opting for a divorce, as part of your pre-nup. You’d never know what six month therapy could do to help turn a sinking marriage around if it comes to that.

There’s a letter I could have written to the spouse before we got married, but then, it’s never too late, is it? And in it, I must include the right to control the AC remote and the right to decide what to order in.

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