M lives in Boston.
Why did you decide to get married?
When I was a freshman in college, my boyfriend and I went to his aunt and uncle’s house for a Shabbat dinner. His uncle is a well-known rabbi, and his table was a who’s who of “important” Jews. There was a couple seated across from us: he was the editor of an extremely well-known Jewish newspaper, and she did something powerful in the education field (I think.) They had a couple of young children, who played in another room with the other children. I don’t remember how the topic of marriage came up, but apparently this was a hot-topic for these people. She was very adamant about her stance in not marrying her partner, the father of her children. “Why do I need a piece of paper from some state or witnessed by some rabbi, telling me my family is legitimate? Why do I need to perform any ritual, sign a piece of paper? It’s unnecessary and I refuse to be owned by anyone, be it a state, a man or a religion.” I honestly hadn’t thought much about all these ideas in my 18 years of life, but she was saying some interesting things. A few months later, we went back to the aunt and uncle for a Shabbat dinner. The couple was back. This time, they were wearing wedding rings. “What happened?” I asked, a little surprised, and, well, a little let down by this woman who had me thinking a lot more about feminism than I ever had. “Our kids,” she said with a sigh. “They started asking questions, and they made it clear they preferred their parents be married to each other. It was just easier this way.”
My husband and I lived together before we were married, even before we were engaged. My mother didn’t have a lot of rules for her daughters, but one of her essential rules was that we live with our mate before we married them. All four seasons, she would say, because the person you loved in the springtime could be a totally different person in December. But yes, the point was, you got married to that person, at the end of the year. I’ve found her advice to be very good. However, my husband’s mother is an extremely devout Catholic, and she refused to come to our home we were living in when we weren’t married to each other. It hadn’t occurred to me that someone actually believed in the whole “living in sin” thing, but she took it, and still does take it, quite seriously.
So…Getting married is just something you did with your mate. I have a husband, my sister has a wife. It’s just what you do. Another one of my mom’s rules is that you can’t buy property with someone unless you’re married to them. Otherwise, they can screw you over with the mortgage. It’s not as easy to be a jerk if you’re married to that person you’re trying to screw over.
Also, there is a very old-fashioned part of me that labels children of unmarried people as “bastards” and “illegitimate.” Strange, isn’t it? I wonder if my sister didn’t live in a state where she and her spouse were allowed to get married and had children together if I would call those nieces and nephews bastard children? I really do wonder.
What did you think marriage would be like?
My husband and I were already living together, so I didn’t think it would probably be any different, except that my mother-in-law would come to my house. My husband didn’t convert and I entered into an intermarriage, something that I could write pages on. One thing was very clear, though: Our home was to be a Jewish one.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
I was raised by my mom and stepdad, who married when I was two. They had both previously married in their early 20s. I was basically taught by them that getting married in your early 20s is a really bad idea and that I needed to wait at least until my late 20s before I considered getting married. So they supported the idea of marriage, just not at a young age, and I needed to live with the person first. In their bedroom is a little framed poster that says “Help Stamp Out First Marriages.” Marriage is something you do, but not when you are young and stupid.
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
I hated my maiden name. It was constantly misspelled and mispronounced and I had actually thought about changing it for years. My sister and I had many talks about it when we were teenagers. I also had a very strained relationship with my biological father, so I didn’t feel like I “owed” him something. And I honestly never understood why women insisted on keeping their maiden name. It’s just another man’s name. At least when you got married, you had the choice of taking one man’s name, or leaving another man’s name in place. Growing up in a house with my mom, who kept her maiden name, and my stepdad had his own last name, well, it looked like we were a law firm if you looked at our mailbox. And I really did wish I had the same last name as the people who were raising me. I want that for my children.
What are your feelings on the word “wife”?
A few years back, my husband was doing some work with a journalism professor up at Columbia. He introduced me to her saying “And this is my wife, M.” Well, this professor basically swung her whole body towards him, her cornrows came flying from all directions. “Your wife? Like you own her?!” She was so upset with his word choice, it was, well, a little strange. “It’s really OK,” I assured her. He is MY husband. We’re in it together.” I think the only moment in my life where the word husband made me uncomfortable is when I learned that the term for husband and owner is one and the same in Hebrew. It’s also the name of an ancient god, so I’ve found that very interesting. A person can be owned, not just by another person, but can be held captive by a religion, too. Isn’t that really what this is all about, really?
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
I’ve thought about it, and I don’t know for certain of that one. I feel like we’ve been partners with each other since we met. At least it feels that way. The marriage certificate basically made us legal in the eyes of religious family members and our tax returns.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I’ve learned that I am the luckiest person I know. I say all the time I won the husband lottery. Sorry for being so roundabout with my answer on this one.