What’s Life Got to Do With It? Career & Identity Confessions of a Bride-to-Be

April 8, 2008

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a lot of all the customs involved with “getting married” in America are nothing short of a big, pointless, hassle, consumerism at its most effective, emotionally-clad best. Internationally or unintentionally set in the way of well-intentioned brides to keep us from thinking deeply about the larger issues women face when preparing to enter the life- and identity-altering state of actually being married.

One of the deeper issues came up the other night, when my fiance and I ordered his wedding band, and the sales person asked me for my name for the ticket, which I gave, and then prompted me for my “future name,” to which I replied easily, “I’m not sure yet if I’m going to change my name or not,” to which she smiled and said, “I didn’t, and that was ten years ago!” She still had a ring in the appropriate digit to signify the status of married, so I took that to be a sign of approval and success for such a decision, and moved on, focusing on the pearls.

Then one glance over to my sweet fiancé’s poor face revealed what a heart-wrenching statement that off-handed comment was to him. I asked gently, “That really hurt your feelings, didn’t it?” And he admitted that yes, it felt like a blow that I was really, seriously, considering it. This was the first time I’d announced the idea to a stranger, in his presence, at least. So maybe he finally realized I was serious about it.

It was not well received among my inner circle of friends when I tested the idea at a friend’s wedding reception a month or so ago. “Why not?” “You’re crazy,” “What’s the point?” “What about your future children,” and “But, don’t you love him?” were some of the incredulous replies from my closest friends.

But, I’m not too concerned with what other people think – other than my fiancé, whose opinion out of love I choose to weigh with equal or more weight than my own. I’m a forward-thinking gal. One who’s got quite a bit of social capital, personal branding, and presence revolving around the little issue of my name. My name that is unique to me, a quality that many others with “common” names don’t quite get, that I have had to come to grips with anyway, that I have finally accepted and reveled in and embraced, publicly, to the world. My fiance’s last name, on the other hand, is one of the top 10 most common. So yeah, I’m considering keeping mine.

“I thought you were just going to keep writing under your maiden name, but take my name, you know, in life,” he said. Yes, that had been the working plan. About a year ago. A year in which a lot has changed for me. In which I have grown, learned to love my name, as difficult as it is to spell. In which I have struggled anyway with the already great divide between career and life for the modern career woman.

But also a year in which I’ve grown as an individual and a future life mate. In which I’ve tested the merits of compromise, of putting relationships, especially the most important ones, first, and found the choice to be wholly satisfying. In which I’ve chosen to accept the proposal to fully commit my life to that of another, no matter how big or small the issues, a commitment that I take very seriously and am excited to figure out how to operate within in just less than a month.

It’s not the person or the commitment, but rather the culture that puts this sort of identity-crushing expectation of a name change onto women that I have a hard time coming to grips with.

I wrestle with that, with planning for kids, with career plans, with expectations, with all the trappings of being a modern women that are more than minorly complicated when marriage comes into the equation.

By nature, I question all of it, because I know in doing so I will find my own way, whether it follows the beaten path or not. As a product of homeschool, it was proven to me that the unconventional choice, when made with everyone’s best interest in mind, can be incredibly effective.

But out of love, I also realize that in getting married, I’m choosing to commit not just one aspect of my identity to another person. I’m choosing to surrender all of who I am to someone who’s surrendering all of who they are to me. And I realize that the word “surrender” will be highly contested by other forward-thinking women and perhaps men. That’s fine. They don’t have to choose frame this commitment in the same light that I do. But to me, that is quite simply the ultimate description of what real love is. And here’s what it looks like.

After the exchange in the store, my fiancé sat silent for a moment, thinking. Then, he looked at me, with his eyes full of all the love that makes me know I can trust all of myself and my identity to him, and said, “Know what, it’s your name. And in the end, that’s not a decision I’ll ever have to face.” Stripping himself of his pride, of his blind acceptance of a cultural norm neither of us can fully rationalize, he loved me in that moment exactly in the way a forward-thinking gal deeply desires to be loved.

“I will leave it up to you.”

This is a cross post originally published at my blog Personal PR.
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7 Responses to “What’s Life Got to Do With It? Career & Identity Confessions of a Bride-to-Be”

  1. Jaclyn Says:

    I loved reading this post!

    I totally hear you on the name changing issue, but I wonder how much longer it’s going to be an issue because I think increasingly men are not seeing it as the statement that it once was. Of course, this depends a lot on where you live, what community you’re in etc. But I find that most of the men I know don’t have very strong feelings about this, which makes the decision easier on their partners. Of course, they could just be saying that now and their feelings might switch when they face moments like the one you describe above.

  2. @ Jaclyn – thanks! I do agree that opinions are changing on this. Hollywood’s acceptance of this norm probably has a lot to do with that. Unofortunately, as our most visible models of how this works, Hollywood doesn’t have a great track record for marriage in general, so I think a lot of the negative connotation this issue has stems from that. IE – it would make a divorce a lot easier if you kept your own name!

    That is completely far off from how I feel about the issue. It’s been wonderful to read comments from successful, professional women on both sides of this dicision, on how they handled the change.

    I think that a lot of men do have very strong feelings about this, actually, because it’s such an issue of pride – not in a negative way, but in a positive one from their perspective, that this other person chooses to become a part of your family and change this very visible part of their life in order to demonstrate to the world that committment.

    I think the issue is that most men just don’t think about it because so many women make the decision because it’s the norm.

  3. Ayse Says:

    Living in a part of Canada where many children have hyphenated last names (one will take dominance, however, the other is still there), and women have to pay to change their name to their husband’s (if they even choose to get married in the first place – we have a fairly low marriage rate) has its perks! I find it mind boggling, that, in this day and age, those are the reactions you would get from friends! That people would even question why you would want to consider keeping your name. I would hope that, were I to choose to CHANGE my name that my friends would ask me what the hell I was thinking!

    I am sure this sounds a bit rant-ish, but, with divorce rates what they are, holding onto some ideal of marriage, couplehood, life as a ‘Mrs.’ could be a serious letdown, if, god forbid, you turn out to be one of the 50% (or whatever it is these days) that is getting divorced. These are issues that have come up in the blogosphere, amongst friends, in popular media… we are surrounded. I think people are confused by mass divorce rates, and I am sensing a bit of shift towards traditionalism amongst today’s 20-somethings. Who knows, it might work out for them. But, I think we have fundamentally changed, and our expectations of the model of marriage we have has not necessarily finished evolving yet to be able to deal with our expectations.

    To me, my name is who I am. I feel that by changing my name midstream, at any point in my life, is not being true to who I am. Why should friends and acquaintances get to know me as ‘Mrs. So-and-so’ when they already know me as ‘Ms. Such-and-Such’? So they know that I will be taken care of? That I am happy? That I am married? What difference does that make in my relationship with the world? Guys won’t approach me because they see the ring? Even if I didn’t have a ring, it does not change my ability to say yes or no to someone. I think that the changing of a name is anachronistic, and is unromantic (to me). If someone truly loved me, they would not expect me to renounce my self, my history, my path through the world (and I don’t even like my name, and my father abandon us — I particularly don’t like him!). Your fiance sounds like a true gem, the fact that he was able to see through tradition and pride, and vocalise his thoughts on the issue without burying it. I understand it is a personal decision, and I wish everyone who is struggling with the concept the best of luck making it.

    Personally, it’s not for me. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, and I am so grateful to have the love and support of a true gentleman in my life, but, I do not feel that I need to get married (going on 6 years now) or change my name to feel fulfilled… and thankfully he comes from a very liberal country where people feel the same way, so this is no shock to him! That’s just my opinion, though! Have a great wedding – dance all night long 🙂

  4. Chris Hamilton Says:

    Hi there,

    I tried contacting you a while ago but never received a response, can you please email me so we can discuss my proposal?


  5. Eugene Says:

    Nice article. Thanks. 🙂 Eugene

  6. Wow, wonderful weblog layout! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you make running a blog look easy. The full glance of your site is magnificent, neatly as the content material!

  7. Thanks for this.. very informative post. It really helps us a lot.

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