S is 33 and has been married for 4 years.
Why did you decide to get married?
I decided to marry J. because I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I did consider moving in with him and not getting married, but he’s fairly traditional and, even though we lived together pre-engagement, I knew that he wouldn’t want to live together indefinitely without getting married. Also, we’d like to have children, and mainly because of how both of us were raised, we wanted to be married when we had kids.
What did you think marriage would be like?
I thought it would be pretty much the same as my life pre-marriage, just with a wedding ring to keep track of! (I didn’t want an engagement ring.) I was both right and wrong about that. During the first two years that we were married, very little changed in either our relationship or day-to-day lives, which was great. Going into our third year, though, we dealt with a series of major upheavals that really caused both of us to question what our commitment to each other meant, and how – or even if – we could still be happy in our marriage. Working through those issues continues to be a process almost two years later, and while our day-to-day life is still remarkably unchanged, I have thought a lot more about our relationship, and now I definitely don’t take our marriage for granted.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
From my parents, definitely. They have been married for 38 years, and have had their own rocky patches, particularly when I was a child. But that showed me that it was okay to disagree and even fight with someone that you loved, and that as long as both people were honest and willing to change, that there was always hope for a better relationship. It’s been very educational to watch them go through different phases in their marriage, and now as an adult I can really appreciate how much they love each other as well as how upfront they are about their own expectations and shortcomings, and what they are and are not willing to compromise on.
What are your feelings on the word “wife”?
It’s strange, but after four years I still don’t feel like a wife. Perhaps it’s part of a larger discomfort with labels, since it also feels weird to refer to J. as “my husband,” and in the nine months between our engagement and wedding, using the term “fiance” or being identified as J’s fiance also felt strange. I don’t mind the word per se – I am married, I am a wife – but for almost thirty years I identified myself as an individual, or a sister, or daughter, or friend, or writer, or Jew, or girlfriend, or pet lover: all identities that I had either grown up with or grown into. I’m sure at some point it’ll stop feeling odd to be called J’s wife, but it might take a few more years to fully identify with the word!
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
When I was a teenager, I learned that the name I grew up with – my father’s last name – had actually been changed by my grandfather when he came to the United States. The original name was considered “too Jewish” at the time. I understood my grandfather’s decision, but the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I was with having a name that deliberately disguised my religion. Before I began graduate school, I decided to change my name to my mother’s maiden name, both because it was an original name that had not been changed when her great-great grandfather came to the US, and because I liked the idea of honoring my mother in that way. Both of my parents were very supportive – my mother told me that she’d never wanted to take my father’s name, but her own father had insisted; and my father said that if he wasn’t as established in his career as he was, he’d change his name, too. It took a lot of paperwork and cost about $200, but I was so happy to have my new last name (I made my father’s last name my middle name).
My husband loves the story behind my last name and, when we first started talking marriage, correctly assumed that I was never changing it again. It doesn’t bother him; if it bothers anyone in his family, or in my extended family, I haven’t heard about it. We have discussed which last name any future children will have. Right now the agreement is since I’m the one that has to go through pregnancy, any kids will have his last name as their middle name, and my last name as their last name. We’ll see what happens when the time actually comes, but honestly I can’t get too worked up about it, since I know very well that they could always just change their name anyway.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
I think so, yes. We were committed to each other before we got married; we had talked a lot about what we wanted out of our relationship, what kind of family we wanted, our thoughts on religion and careers and finances and all that. But as I mentioned earlier, we experienced some very, very difficult times after our marriage, and there is a world of difference between talking about how to handle a crisis, and living through that crisis. We are definitely more aware of each other’s flaws and shortcomings now, and also more patient with ourselves and each other. We’re also very aware that we’re choosing to be in this marriage, and that we are doing so out of love and hope.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I’ve learned that it’s okay to let myself depend on my husband and not feel guilty about it. I’ve also learned how to make decisions that take both of us into account, and to be more communicative about what I’m feeling, whether that’s good or bad. And I’ve learned that while it’s necessary and important to turn to friends and family for help – and that I’m incredibly lucky to have great, supportive friends and family – that ultimately the course of my marriage can be determined only by my husband and me, and that’s okay.