W is a social worker in Jewish education. She and her husband have been married for a year and live in Miami.
Why did you decide to get married?
Getting married was definitely a joint decision between my husband and myself. I married someone 5.5 years younger than me who comes from an observant Jewish family. I always told him, “never propose to me because you feel you have to. Only propose because you want to and feel it’s right.”
We moved in together in Ann Arbor after returning from a year in Israel where we had met (I lived in Jerusalem, Y lived in Eilat) and lived together for 8 months before getting engaged. I honestly and whole-heartedly believe that my husband was/is a gift from Gd. The joy and goodness he brings to my life is something I never thought I could have. Therefore, as I see it, standing under the chuppah and partaking in this holy partnership was like sending Gd a thank you note. We wanted to stand under the chuppah before Gd, in front of your closest friends and family, and say (both verbally and in action), I recognize that this person is a gift and we want to build a life together in recognition of the gift of our life together and in partnership with all the people present in the room and those who couldn’t be present physically but who were there in spirit.
Additionally, to be honest, I also felt that, as Jews, it’s a blessing and a privilege to be able to stand under a chuppah with a rabbi and freely marry my partner in the religious ceremony of our choosing. My great grandmother worked hard to come over to the States from Poland before the pogroms and I felt it was my duty to honor her courage and memory by having a Jewish wedding.
What did you think marriage would be like?
I honestly had no idea what marriage would be like.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
Marriage—the concept, the idea, the reality of it, etc., has always been a mystery to me. My parents divorced when I was 4. and though my grandparents were married for many many years, marriage was always something I truly never identified with. Not just marriage, but healthy, sustainable relationships (which, for me, is how I now understand marriage to be). For sure, American pop culture has helped shape some of my assumptions about marriage—that men don’t want to be married ever and that it’s the only thing women want. The flip side of that is, for a time, I thought that it might be viewed as a bad thing to want to be married. When I was in college, I was deeply involved in the feminist movement and exploring who I was for the first time (through the arts, politics, social movements, etc.) and as a result I was also exploring what I wanted in relationships. But, as my brother became closer with his future wife and I started spending more and more time with them, I started really seeing a healthy partnership for the first time and that’s when I really felt like, “Huh, maybe this could be marriage. It seems really, really lovely”.
What are your thoughts on the word “wife”?
I really have no feeling one way or the other when it comes to the term wife except for when a couple is pronounced “Man and Wife.’ I hate that. We didn’t have any of that shiz. I recognize that there is a history of submission when it comes to the term ‘wife’, but I also recognize that there’s a history of pride as well and, like most things in life, I choose to recognize and live the positive history while acknowledging the very real negative history.
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
The decision to change my name was a difficult one. I love my name. It’s super Southern, connects me to who I was as a kid, teenager, young adult, etc. It also brought to where I am today, as a newly observant religious married lady. However, it’s not my mother’s last name, the woman who raised me. Though I love my dad whole-heartedly, when my mother went back to her maiden name in 2003, even then I knew it would make the decision to take on my husband’s name easier, should I choose to do so one day. There was a part of me that thought about doing the hyphen thing but in the end, when I did legally change my name, it made me feel a connection to my husband that I didn’t know I would be excited about. We’re the____’s, it’s nice.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
Definitely. For one, because we live in the religious Jewish world, we felt a little bit more legitimate, it’s sad to say. When we were living together and visited my in-laws we would have to sleep in separate rooms and I wasn’t invited to a few weddings of my husband’s friends because I wasn’t seen as a legitimate ‘plus 1′. In that respect, we feel different when we’re back in his world. I also feel like both of us are that much more committed to working everything out, to always communicating, to always be partners.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
For me, I recognize a change in myself coming to terms with the idea of man actually choosing to stay around forever and to choosing to give a poop about me. That’s amazing to me. I remember thinking, when we got engaged, “Holy sh*t, this person is literally telling me that he will be there for me no matter what happens and he’s willing to put that in writing in front of all his friends and family. That’s nuts!” When I was growing up, my mom always told me there are only 2 people in the world I can always count on–myself and me (my mom). As a single mom, my mother taught me to take care of myself, to not have to rely on anyone by her and myself and while that made me the strong person I am today, it also set me up to assume no one had my back. I’m learning that that’s actually not true at all. My husband is my partner and as tough as that concept is to swallow, I’m learning to let him be that partner.