E is 32 and lives in the Northeast. She has an MSW and has been married for almost 5 years.
Why did you decide to get married?
I wanted to be with J. J really wanted to get married. We lived together for a while before getting married, even before getting engaged. Marriage was a way to legitimize the relationship in other people’s eyes. I was shocked to hear people’s responses when I told them I was getting married. We’d been together for 2 years before getting engaged, so we were a pretty established couple. All of a sudden, because we were getting married, we were real, legitimate. It made me pretty uncomfortable.
What did you think marriage would be like?
I envisioned marriage as a partnership – a way for me to share a life with J. In some ways, I assumed that our lives would continue in the ways that they had before – I would still do my stuff, he would do his stuff. He envisioned it to be more of us doing a lot of stuff together. A huge part of what I expected from marriage was having children – it was something both of us wanted and we went into the marriage knowing that. We’ve been trying to have a baby for three years; it’s become a theme of our marriage, the non-baby. So, my vision for marriage and the reality of my marriage are quite different.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
It’s funny – I was raised in a unique family situation, where I didn’t have clear marriage role models. My father died when I was young and my mother remarried, but after I was out of the house. Once I was talking with other people about getting married, they were telling me their ideas, and I think I absorbed a lot of those, because I didn’t have well-formed ideas of my own. A lot of the married people I knew growing up (parents of friends) had relationships that I would not have thought I’d want to emulate. Very domineering women, meek men. But, I’ve found that I managed to absorb, somehow, very traditional ideas about man as provider, etc. And, the “traditional” idea of Jewish wives as domineering and Jewish men as meek. It’s simultaneously fascinating and disturbing to me that I took in all of these ideas fairly subconsciously.
How do you feel about the word “wife”?
My husband has me in his e-mail contacts as “Wife.” I remember when he told me that I was appalled. These words are so loaded: husband, wife. For him, “Wife” is something he’s proud of, excited about – he has a wife. For me, I was like, “What does that mean? What does “wife” mean to you?”
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
It was a very difficult decision for me and one that I still wrestle with years later. I chose to legally change my last name to match my husband’s so that our family would have the same name. Because we haven’t been able to have children, it is a little like a cut that won’t heal. Here I have this name that I probably wouldn’t have taken if not for planning to have children… it’s a constant reminder. Most of the time, though, and always in my professional life, I use both my name and my married name. It’s very interesting to hear people’s reactions to my different names – there are people in my life who only call me by my married name, having met me some time in the past five years. I imagine they assume my use of my name is just for Facebook so old friends can find me. But, really, I use it, I keep it, because it’s a connection to my father.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
Absolutely. I think going through the experience of infertility has changed us both as individual people and in relationship. We used to be more fun, more laid-back with each other. I was always the more serious one, but he’s now very serious, too. We kind of have to make an effort to remember to have fun.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I am a mean lady! It’s not that I’ve learned something new, but that I’ve had reinforced the reality that I have very high expectations for myself and other people. It’s not easy to be my husband. I hold him to very high standards. I’ve also been surprised by how much I want to be a mother. At different times in the last few years it’s felt differently – stronger, weaker – but when it became a question of whether or not it would ever happen, I had to ask myself if this was something I really wanted. I think some aspects of my identity as a woman have surprised me.