(It turns out that there are no symbols of marriage that are not in some way tinged with sexism. Even delicious cake.)
T is 32. She lives in the Tri State area and will be married 7 years in November.
Why did you decide to get married?
When I first met E., he was the most interesting person to talk to I had met in months—having something to say is really sexy. And he was very upfront to settle down and get married and have kids. I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t looking to get married but I wasn’t against the idea either. I knew that to be in a relationship with E., getting married had to be something that was on the agenda if things worked. We never considered other options for a long term relationship. Getting married is part of our religious values, that once you find the person who you want to build a life with, that you get married. This is not to say that other relationships aren’t sacred, because I think that many types of relationships are holy.
What did you think marriage would be like?
My parents are still married, and I understood that marriages have ups and downs. I never idealized it. But I also saw how much my parents enjoyed each other’s company, did things together, and also took pleasure in the little moments of life. There was also this back story in my mind of a grand romance—they met at a party and were married within 11 months—set in the more liberal 70s, and I thought that being married was about having interesting experiences together, exploring together and maybe saving the world.
You might notice a theme of being married=spending time together. And that actually made the beginning of our marriage really difficult, because E was finishing his residency and was never home. And when he was home, he was asleep. There were weeks when we didn’t see each other because he was home sleeping when I was in class, and gone when I got home. It was very emotionally tough, we couldn’t really lay the groundwork for being partners for six months, until he finished. I kind of knew that might happen (I hadn’t wanted to get married until his residency was over, and he was rightly concerned that his elderly grandparents wouldn’t live to our wedding if we waited), but the reality was hard. Marriage got easier over time.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
From watching my parents, mostly. It didn’t seem remarkable at the time, but my parents had a much more egalitarian marriage than most of my friends’ parents did. They valued each other’s work, split the chores and raising my sister and I. Looking back, especially now that I am married and have two kids, I can see the ways that it was less egalitarian in practice than in theory, but I give them a lot of credit. My dad is a feminist because of what he learned from my mother, and I assumed that would be part of any marriage I would ever enter into (I always assumed I would eventually get married but it wasn’t something I thought a lot about).
I think the egalitarian nature of their relationship spoiled me. E’s parents had a much more traditional marriage, so his starting point for what makes an egalitarian relationship is different than mine, especially now that we have kids. He sees himself as being way more involved and egalitarian than his father—and he is. But we’re still getting to the point that my parents were at when I was growing up. And I pay the bills. Money is the only thing my parents have really ever consistently fought about, and I’m determined to not let that happen. The cliché about doctors being terrible with money is true, so E. is actually thrilled about this.
What are your feelings on the word “wife”?
I am fine with it; “partner” feels too cold and impersonal. What I am much more aware of is the ways I use “husband.” Sometimes it seems clear to me as I am saying it that I am using “husband” (or mentioning E.) to establish heteronormative privilege. Ever since I noticed that I do that, I’ve been trying to stop.
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
I was never going to change my name. My mother didn’t, I grew up with a hyphenated last name, and I’ve wanted to be Rabbi MyLast-Name ever since I was small. Since I grew up in a household with three different last names, I’ve never understood the argument about changing your name so you feel more like a family. Families are built on love and relationships, not names. I continue to be surprised every time a woman of my generation, especially those with established careers, changes their names. And I continue to bitch about administrative software at doctor’s offices and schools that can’t handle multiple last name families. It isn’t Mrs. E’sLastName. First of all, it’s Rabbi. Second, it’s MyLast-Name.
By the time I met E., he was too established in his career to change his name, and we didn’t want to triple hyphenate. Our girls have his last name (and I still secretly hope they will go to mine when they get older) and I got to pick their first names. That was a really hard decision on my part. There were tears.
What has been especially interesting/annoying is people assuming that once you are married woman, that a hyphenated last name can’t possibly be the name you were born with. My dad is also a rabbi and fairly well known, so I’ve had people assume that E.’s last name is the half of my last name that is actually my mother’s last name. A lot of people who know me through work don’t actually know what E’s last name is.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
Yes: we’re finally best friends. I have a sister, and that’s my model for an intensely close, essential relationship. When we got married, we’d only known each other a year and a half. I even argued that I should keep my twin sister as my healthcare proxy. At some point, I don’t remember when, I realized I was closer to E. than I was to my sister, that I knew him as well as I knew her.
But it is a different kind of being best friends. When my sister and I are in a social situation together, we default to talking to each other. E. and I socialize better and meet more people when we do so as a pair. I think for two geeky people, there is a confidence that comes from having someone who loves you for who you are in the room.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I’ve learned to control my temper, to compromise, and fight more fairly. That sounds like a cliché but is really true. Also, I didn’t marry super young but young enough (I was 25) and towards the beginning of rabbinical school. I’ve done a lot of growing up over the past 7 years, but it is hard to separate out what is being married, what is motherhood, and what was first rabbinical school and then being a rabbi. There was a lot of personal development in rabbinical school.