The Marriage Project, Reflection 33: “To me it shows that this is a partnership, but I’m still complete in my own identity.”

 

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Avital Norman Nathman is 31 and lives in the Happy Valley. You can find her writing at The Mamafesto.com, along with the interview series, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like.”

Why did you decide to get married?

By the time we walked down the aisle, my husband and I had already been together almost 7 years. Of those, we had been living together for 3. In my head and heart, we were already “married” – already tied together in an inextricable way, regardless of what a piece of paper, or the government, had to say about it.

Our reason for finally getting married was two-fold. One, my husband was finishing up a doctoral program, and I was the one with the kick-ass, union-backed insurance benefits. He was still stuck with paltry university-provided benefits, which really weren’t much. The fact that a simple piece of paper could allow him to hop on my benefit wagon was simultaneously amazing and frustrating (as it clearly points to the inadequacies and biases of our health care system).

The other reason for getting married was that we really just wanted a big party. Our wedding wasn’t anything extravagant in any way, but it was a fun night full of good friends, family, amazing food, fabulous music, and lots of dancing. Plus, not only was it a guilt-free way to have a party focused solely on us and our love, but nobody batted an eye when we then traipsed off for a 2-week adventure in Costa Rica right afterwards.

Also, while this didn’t really impact our decision in any way, I was still aware of the social gaze surrounding marriage. I was a high school teacher at the time, and most of my colleagues were married. There was something that felt slightly youthful or juvenile using the term “boyfriend,” while others tossed around “wife” or husband in a carefree manner.

What did you think marriage would be like?

Since we had lived together for a while before getting married, I had a pretty decent idea of what marriage would be like, and for the most part, I was right. I assumed that marriage would be much like when we were “living in sin,” except for the whole “now we’re legal” aspect – and it was. I still nag him about hanging back up his damn bath towel, and he still cleans the kitchen better than I do.

Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?

I’ve gotten the majority of my “real-life” notions of what marriage is like from my family. My parents have a very egalitarian marriage, so I had (in my opinion) a pretty healthy example growing up of what it takes to make a marriage work. While both of my parents worked outside of the house, both of my parents took on an equal share of domestic duties. My father cooked breakfast on weekends (as he was at work before 7AM during the week) and he was the one that was at the helm when it was time to clean the house. It was clear that major financial decisions were mutually agreed upon, and looking back they shared the majority of childcare as well. 

I would also say that a lot of my ideas of what marriage *isn’t* has come from the media. Somehow, growing up, I was able to figure out that what I was seeing in movies and television was not the litmus test for what an actual, functional marriage was. Well, that’s not entirely true… I did sort of feel that Roseanne was on to something…

How do you feel about the word “wife”?

Meh. Is that an answer? I feel that the word has such a heavy history that is has so many negative associations with it that make it hard for me to take it on and proudly exclaim – I AM A WIFE, HEAR ME ROAR! (or vacuum? or cook? hm…). I love being my husband’s wife, in the sense that I’m down with this role in my life, but it is not my sole identity, nor does it solely define me.

Why did you make the decision you made about your name?

I ended up keeping my last name and adding on my husband’s last name after it, so I have both. I thought it was fair. I had (and still have) my own identity, but I have absolutely no problem making a (pretty big) statement that I share my life with another person by taking on his name as well. I don’t feel it means he “owns” me, that I’m not my own person, or that it’s stifling me in any way. To me it shows that this is a partnership, but I’m still complete in my own identity.

Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?

Somewhat. We’ve been together now almost 14 years (married for 7 this summer). The real big changes occurred when we had our son 5 years ago and we needed to learn how to live as a family of three. Otherwise, the significant changes occur as we, as individuals, change. Whether we would be married or not, I would anticipate that any long-term relationship would ebb and flow (and continue to redefine itself) as the participants aged.

In some ways, as we’ve been together this long, it’s gotten easier. We each know each other intimately, and know what makes the other one tick. This makes dealing with disagreements much easier (and faster/less painful to deal with), and it also makes the sweet moments really special, because we haven’t lost the spark that we started with either.

What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself since I’ve been married is that I’m able (and even sometimes willing) to give up a bit of control. I’ve learned that sometimes it is okay to let somebody else take the reins.

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