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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It seems that Gen Y is adding a new characteristic to our list of generational generalities – many of us are joining the ranks of workaholics. Maybe it stems from our secret conservatism that we are mirroring tendency that characterized the careers and lives of our Boomer parents. It could be our intense desire to get ahead and our willingness to do whatever that takes.

Whatever the reason, it’s time to take a serious look at this issue and understand the trajectory of a life or career that begins with workaholism. Before it’s too late.

Now, I’m not saying that having a good work ethic and using it isn’t good. Of course it is. People who work hard deserve to get ahead. And usually, they do. That always will be true, and it’s a part of the system that’s built well. But there’s a big difference between working hard and working smart. In fact, psychologists tell us that hard workers are inherently different than workaholics.

And those teetering on the brink of being a workaholic need to think: is a life solely dedicated to a job or a career – well, is that any life at all?

Gen Y, pay attention – your lives are literally on the line.

Here’s what it boils down to: How we handle the proving ourselves time in entering the workforce is going to set precedents for the way the rest of our lives and opportunities play out. For example, as Penelope Trunk recently wrote, young women who want to have a family and career face the serious dilemma of timing and capitalizing on their fertility versus committing fully to a career. On the other hand of the same argument, young men like Ryan Paugh are talking about the dilemma of whether or not to commit to a long-term romantic relationship or to take risks in their career early on.

The main problem I see with these arguments isn’t in the arguments themselves. They both make excellent points, and the many counterpoints that are out there hold a lot of validity too. The problem is in the fact that each has outlined an either/or proposition. Essentially, you can have a family/relationship or you can have a great career. You see, the very way we are talking about this issue illustrates that no matter how much we tout the value of work/life balance, we seem to believe that in a way, it’s sort of a myth. And to be honest, a lot of times it feels like a myth.

All Gen Y workers entering the workforce face the issue of just how much to give to employers– hey, we’re a skilled, capable bunch with a lot to offer. That doesn’t necessarily differentiate us from generations past. It’s part of being at this stage in life. That’s also why right now is really important in who we will become as a generation. Right now, regardless of what we want, we have to deal with the reality of a system that often rewards time over talent and tenure over expertise. We’re aching for more important assignments, paying our dues while we wait on the rest of the corporate world to recognize and harness our raw talent.

And the truth is, getting what we want will take some time. Time that’s not best spent focusing every single spare moment on career while the other parts of our lives wait to get started.

Sure, there are opportunities out there for us now, and now’s a great time to invest in our careers. But it’s not a great time to procrastinate on life. It’s a great time to be living it. Which means that if Gen Y wants to be serious about work/life balance, we have to have the courage to prioritize for life when push comes to shove. It’s not an easy decision to make, but for the sake of the future of work (not to mention the future of you), I’d say it’s one worth making.