Health Care Records and the Marriage Plot

A recent visit to the ophthalmologist reminded me of the marriage plot and how much it’s woven into the fabric of our everday lives – even down to medical records for health care where marriage is irrelevant. Why does marital status affect eye care?

The marriage plot is the standard narrative arc of stories that culminate in middle class, heterosexual romantic bliss. It’s the two-kid, picket-fence story of heteronormativity, i.e., not just heteronormativity or compulsory heterosexuality, but compulsory heterosexuality come to closure with marriage.

Why does my eye doctor care if I’m married? Why check a box indicating married, divorced, or single? How is that relevant to the health of anyone’s eyes, except perhaps in relation to the idea that masturbation can make you blind. Still, the corollary doesn’t work: Married people with crappy sex lives jerk off; single people with great sex lives jerk off; some people jerk off every day regardless of their romantic affiliations. So, no, I still don’t understand why my eye doctor needs a statement from me in my file about my marital status.

The same applies to my chiropractor, or my dentist, or my cardiologist. What is it about this state-certified relationship that affects my health?

Well, perhaps married people brush or floss less? Divorced people have worse posture so they twist their spines? Maybe insurance companies and people who do actuarial science can give us statistics about how marital status impacts health, but frankly I don’t see how a state license makes a difference.

Sure, you’re saying something like, “What about the GYNECOLOGIST?” or “What about how prescription medicine might affect unborn babies?” Because, you know, women only have babies when they’re married, and only married women have sex and then only with their marital partners, so the data is important to collect with respect to marital status. Rare is the occasion we check boxes about religious affiliation, and surely that category affects our health and well-being. We still check boxes about race and ethnicity, and think how complicated that one is. When the health care industry makes us check boxes about our marital status, it tells us so much about who we are, at least collectively.

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