Peggy has, in the immortal words of Laura Nyro, the Wedding Bell Blues. At least that’s what we’re led to believe in At the Codfish Ball, in which Peggy gets a decidedly nontraditional proposal from her boyfriend, Abe, and is told off by her ultra-traditional mother for accepting it and letting Abe move in. And make no mistake about it; we’re meant to believe that Mom is right, that Peggy is somehow getting rooked by not being offered marriage by Abe.
Sure, Joan tells Peggy she thinks it’s romantic that they’re “shacking up.” And it’s likely that Joan means it, because Joan has never kissed Peggy’s ass before and she’s not about to start now, and also because Joan now knows from experience that a piece of paper means squat-all if you’re married to a douche who thinks of you as nothing more than a show-pony punchboard, if he even comes home at all. But Peggy’s “I do” (when asked by Abe post-non-proposal if she wants to order her dinner), and her crestfallen look after her Mom tells her to go live with cats for the rest of her life rather than be a “fallen woman,” is the real tell here. What’s best for Peggy, and what she really wants, is marriage and babies, and she’s only settling for Abe because she thinks she can’t do better. Right?
Yeah, I don’t know. Somehow I find it hard to buy this as the take-away message here. After all, in S5 alone, we’ve had a veritable parade of women either dumping their terrible husbands (Joan, Jane), quietly swallowing the shit they’re fed by them (Trudy, Rebecca), or passive-aggressively acting out their frustrations over their mistreatment by them (Marie, Beth, Betty if you count residual frustration from Don). And even Megan, who is probably more content with her husband right now than any of those women, had to deal with being abandoned in a parking lot six hours from home in Far Away Places, and admits to Don that she will grow to hate him if he continues to object to her career choice. What woman has a truly happy marriage on this show? Cynthia? Anyone else?
But even more than that, the very final scene in S5 shows Peggy deliriously happy in a tacky motel room all by herself, complete with copulating dogs in the parking lot, because she finally got to go on a plane at company expense to get there. Does she really want to give all that up, right now, to marry Abe and start cranking out the babies? And why exactly is a “practice marriage” bad for Peggy, anyway? She might feel the pull of Catholic guilt, as evidenced by the clash with her mother, but she has lived the last six years of her life as a cutting-edge person, a ’70s woman before the ’70s have actually happened. Isn’t she using him for practice, too?
Besides, Abe will not magically turn into a great husband for Peggy just by marrying her. Whatever problems he has with her spending too much time at work will not go away once they are hitched, unless she acquiesces to his demands that she curtail her work hours. And as his wife, she would be expected to reproduce (an expectation which Megan and Jane were largely spared by being married to much older men), and once that second child is born, if not sooner, it would dramatically change the dynamic between them, by thrusting Peggy into a more dependent role. It’s not like she’s going to be able to get Mrs. Olson to come over and babysit the kinder while she goes to work, unless Abe, God forbid, passes away. (Nor does Abe seem much for being a house-husband.) And it’s not like Mrs. Olson wouldn’t give Peggy about a million times more grief than she’s getting now if Peggy wound up divorced, or even if Peggy stayed married but put the kiddos in daycare.
I can believe, however, that Peggy very much wanted to be asked for her hand in marriage, so she could feel pretty and desirable. (That pink dress! Will Peggy ever wear that color again?) Witness how surprised she was that Joan had experienced being dumped and treated badly by men; she has it in her head that conventionally beautiful women don’t have that happen to them, that if she was prettier, she’d be treated like a queen. But a wedding is not a marriage, and a marriage is not a guarantee of real love and respect. And isn’t this the show that tells us over and over again, “Be careful what you wish for”? Maybe Peggy could do better than shacking up with Abe, but she could also do a hell of a lot better than marrying him.