Photo by Ian Belanger Photography
J is 44 years old and has been married for 5 years. She and her husband have one child and are looking to adopt another.
Why did you decide to get married?
I always wanted to get married, at least in theory, because I always wanted to have children, biological or adopted. And for me that meant marriage, too. I figured I would be better off not doing it alone (although I explored single parenting as an option) and also believed if I planned to have children with a committed partner, then marriage should go without saying. So when I met a person I wanted to marry, and he was open to having children, I was really happy.
I was also surprised because I’d been thinking for several years that I was simply wired to be single. In previous relationships, I could never say, unequivocally or for very long, “being in this, with him, is better than being on my own.” I wasn’t at all sure the problem wasn’t me. And yet, I really enjoyed my life, which felt full of possibility and love for most of the time that I was single. I had, still have, several interesting and rewarding close friendships, mostly with women. As I got older, the idea that being married could be better than what I had seemed more and more unlikely if not absurd.
But at the same time, I was beginning to feel I had sort of plateaued as a single person. I was dating (though half-heartedly, haphazardly), pouring myself into friendships and enjoying life (though covering the same territory, again and again, it felt like), finally becoming wary about continuing along this path. I came to believe that I would not be fulfilled or continue to move forward as a person unless I became a mother, so I did have added that motivation in finding a husband.
But the definitive reason I finally got married is because I found someone I wanted to marry and thought I could be married to. I loved, enjoyed, respected and admired K from very early on. I felt like myself around him, too, like all of what I had become and learned on my own, all that I had done and been through in my 37 years pre-him, was welcome or at least a non-issue in our relationship. (Up until K, I felt like by leaning hard into my single years, I had unwittingly overshot the mark where getting married could make sense at all on any level to anyone involved—like I had all of these parts and pieces that were not needed for, and not suited to, marriage. Not so w/ K. Within a year, we decided to get married.
What did you think marriage would be like?
I thought it would be more of a transformation than it’s been, more of a definitive force for (personal) change. I have grown in lots of ways since I married, but it’s mostly in ways that make the marriage work better (e.g., in communicating w/ my husband). But I have not, for example, finally become a writer (i.e., made regular time in my life for writing)—though K has been very supportive of my aspirations and efforts. (He is a very disciplined and dedicated musician, and I was hoping some of that would rub off on me.) I am a lot more like my old self than I thought I would be….with some new strengths to be sure, but with many of the same concerns, preoccupations, tendencies, etc., too.
I also thought marriage would be less of transformation than it’s been. I thought it would involve more hanging out together than it does—not too unlike being on one big long date, except we’d have to take breaks for work. And then there’d be things like going to Home Depot and cleaning the house and raising children together thrown in. The thing is when you “throw in” all of things involved in coordinating a shared life/household and ESPECIALLY raising a child, there’s not much time left for hanging out as a separate activity. Most of the time, you have to integrate it with getting other stuff done. (I’m sure marriage with kids vs. marriage without is pretty much an apples and oranges kind of thing.)
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
My parents’ example has probably been the greatest influence. On the more negative side, which probably contributed to my ambivalence about marriage, they never seemed to have a powerful loving connection or to have too much (of what I consider) fun together. On the brighter side, even though they both had/have meaningful careers and their own passions, they always spent a lot of time together, much of it talking—about all sorts of things (history and current events, books and music, their work, everything). They were steady. We didn’t see much fighting between them as kids. Still, my mother was clearly ambivalent about marriage, kids, all of it. I certainly never felt that I was being groomed/prepared for or pressured about marriage. Anything having to do with boys, sex, love, marriage was rarely discussed.
Friends have been another big influence. When I was younger, I couldn’t think of any married couples among my peers that I admired. I couldn’t stand a lot of the guys. As I got older, this changed. The married couples I met, now in a different place and time, had generally married later than those I knew when I was younger. They seemed better suited to each other, to be more equal/balanced, to have more fun and to love each other more. Based on them, I think I crafted new ideas about what I wanted in a man/relationship. That these friends among others thought so well of K and our plans to marry gave me lots of happiness and confidence.
How do you feel about the word “wife”?
It doesn’t bother me in the way I hear it used in my life, in relation to me. It’s information. “This is my wife, J,” says more than “This is J” (or “This is my wife”). “This is the person I married, J” is just weird. But I don’t like references such as “the wife”—as in “I’ll have to ask ‘the wife.’”
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
Changing your name is a big deal, but I did it and I haven’t thought too much about it since. One reason was that I wanted everyone in the family to have the same name. I also thought it was almost more important for me, as an older woman more set in her ways), to do it as an act of solidarity, a symbol of my willingness to adopt new ways, something showing the level of my commitment: “I’m really doing this. We are each other’s family now.” K said he didn’t care either way, but I think he was surprised that I changed it, may have preferred that I kept my own even. I actually liked/preferred my maiden name, felt connected to it. But I have a different name now and feel connected to it too. I didn’t feel like changing my name would change who I am. I don’t think it has.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
Most definitely. After all, there was a lot less “relationship” before we married than after and there have been so many changes during our five years as a married couple. At times, I think we know each other as well as we can, and we get into a groove, and then something happens or changes and there’s more to learn again. Suddenly, the groove we had doesn’t work as well anymore, and we work to find a new one. This is why I sort of smirk at the argument many people make that we are not meant to be in long-term monogamous relationships. It’s not that I’m sure we are meant to, necessarily. In fact, I’m sure many people are not suited to it. But I think that the idea suggests that a “long-term monogamous relationship” is this homogenous, static thing, when really it’s always changing, the people involved are always changing, everything about it is always in flux. So yes it has changed and I expect that it will continue changing … for so long as we both shall live!
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I have learned that I am not as uniformly fun/easy-to-be-with as I thought I was! Before, I could always take a break from even my closest friends, retreat to my own place and disconnect for a while. Regroup, smooth out my edges before going back out, being with my others again. It’s not that I never shared any of my dark side with them, but it was more a matter of choice. I cherished my time alone. Still do, as does K. Married, I have much less opportunity to retreat, disconnect, regroup, etc. I am more known than I have ever been, edges/dark side and all, and I haven’t had much control over that. It has been hard for me, but also really healthy, I think. I am more comfortable with myself now than ever before.