J is a 38 year old student, non profit manager and mom living in the Northeast. She’s been married for 6 years.
Why did you decide to get married?
Honestly, it was more important to M than to me. I even said to him once, “I don’t care if we get married, but I want to have kids before I turn 35.” I think I may have said “knocked up.” It was definitely important to him. Or maybe more important. As the product of parents who separated before I was born, I think that I knew that the piece of paper wasn’t as important as the underlying relationship.
We had lived together for almost 2 years before we got engaged.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
No question – I saw my mother’s failed marriages and knew that’s not what I wanted. It definitely influenced me – I waited a long, long time to make a commitment to someone, and I went through a lot of guys in one form or another before I found the right one. There was definitely a time when I thought I would not or might not get married, although I don’t think I ever questioned that I would be partnered.
At the same time, I look at my dad’s third marriage (which ended with his death, and (surprise!) not a divorce) and it seemed like a much better model. They always seemed very much in love, and to have a good partnership. I do think it was different because I didn’t live with them. It was more of an idealized relationship. I rarely saw the warts.
And then there were my (paternal) grandparents, who were married over 70 years before my grandmother died. They were an absolutely adorable couple; they used to kiss each other when they got in the car, “just in case.”
What did you think marriage would be like?
I didn’t think it would be that much different than life before marriage. We actually talked with our rabbi about that a bit in our pre-wedding counseling sessions. She said it can be difficult for some couples, especially those who already lived together, to feel any different. To me, it didn’t really matter whether it was different.
I do think that, despite my feelings about the underlying relationship, there have been times when I have felt more comfortable in testing it or having fights or disagreements because we are married. It’s not as easy for either of us to just walk away as it would be if we were just living together. (Although the kids make even that more difficult, but that’s a separate issue.) So I feel less insecure when we have a fight, less like I’m going to be abandoned or left. More confidence that we will work it out. It’s definitely a sense of security that I didn’t feel in other relationships. But I do think that feeling was present even before we got married.
How do you feel about the word “wife”?
I don’t mind it. I don’t really care for the alternatives. I’ve always felt like “partner” was too cold, too much like a business arrangement. Spouse feels too formal. I also feel like once gay marriage started here in MA, there were so many lesbians throwing around the word “wife,” just because they finally could, it sort of took on a different kind of significance. We use husband and wife to refer to one another, maybe in part because we’re too lazy to come up with something better.
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
This is such a long, complicated, and still somewhat gutwrenching story. There were three factors that played into my thoughts about my name. First, I’m a feminist. I struggled with it because I am a feminist, and I insisted that M struggle with it, because it shouldn’t be just my issue. Second, my dad died before I even met M. I was very reluctant to give up that tie to my dad. Finally, as a child, I mostly hated the fact that no one knew that my mom was related to me or that my half-sister was related to me, because we all had different last names. I knew that whatever happened with my name, I did not want it to be different from my hypothetical future children’s last name(s).
Several options were put on the table. We both keep our own last names. We both take my last name. He flat out admitted that he liked my name better, but wouldn’t seriously consider it because of the societal pressures. I’m still sort of pissed about that. We both change our last names to a mash-up of our names. (This was my favorite option…my uncle came up with a GREAT one! But it was vetoed.) We both hypenate (MyLastName-HisLastName). And that is what we decided to do.
Until one day, about 2 months before the wedding. I had been at my mom’s for the weekend for a shower. I got home, and M sat me down and said that he had to talk to me about something. You can imagine what was going through my mind. He said, “I don’t want to change my name….I know this may mean you don’t want to marry me….” I was surprised, but I laughed at him. I told him of course I still wanted to marry him. That it was hard and that we were both wrestling with it (instead of just me) and that was what was most important to me. And that I would still hyphenate my last name, and our kids would get the hyphenated last name, and we would laugh at him for having a different last name.
And that is what we did. Except I put the hyphenated last name as his new last name on our marriage license, so technically he could change his name if he ever decided to.
The thing that pisses me off the most about it now is that he has relatives who send things to our kids, addressed to them with his last name only. Drives me crazy. That’s not their name!!
And then there’s the whole issue of having a long, pain-in-the-tuches last name that barely fits on forms and only passes the problem down to my poor kids. I could go on and on and on.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
It definitely has, but I’m not sure it’s all about marriage. I mentioned above how I think I feel more secure in our relationship because we are married. However, the really big changes in our relationship came after we had kids. Our first child was born 11 months after we got married, though, so who knows how much of it is due to marriage, and how much to kids.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I’m a total control freak. I have a lot of stored up anger. I’m actually not a bad cook, and I kind of like doing it. Equal division of household labor is easier said than done. Actually, I do want to sacrifice some of my career to be with my kids. But not totally, and not forever. Maybe I do want to get married. I really need time to myself to recharge, and it makes me a better wife and mother and friend and employee and overall person. I’m glad I’m not called Mrs. HisLastName. My new last name can, in fact, roll off my tongue without thought.