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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For those keeping track, it’s been a while since I posted here. In fact, my boss is one of those people, and he e-mailed me the other day to ask when I would be announcing the “big news” I’ve promised. It’s coming, still. I’m working on it – when I find the time. In the meantime, things have been going swimmingly at my new blog, Personal PR. I’m also a part of the newly launched Brazen Careerist network. Oh yeah, and I got officially engaged and have been planning a wedding in the meantime. It’s now less than two months away. So needless to say, finding balance in my life has been one of those things that’s been a struggle. So for today, I thought I’d share with you a guest post blog friend Elysa asked me to write as an ABCs for Gen Y project she’s launched to celebrate her blog’s one year anniversary. Enjoy. And more about this site is coming soon. But first, I’ve got to focus on balance:

B is for Balance.

Balance means different things to different people. Some devote their careers to it. Others say it’s a myth. Most just want it, whether or not they think it’s really real. We talk about it a lot – different ideas on how to achieve it in our work, how to make it better in our lives. We talk about balance between work and home. Balance in our finances. Balance in our commitments. Balance in media coverage. Balance in politics. Balance. So it helps to know: what does balance look like?

Balance basically boils down to two things: omission and commission. What we choose to do and what we choose not to do. And both are important. Equally. 

Tonight, for me, this is what balance looked like: watching a Barbara Walters special about the royal family, cuddled under a blanket with my fiance by my side and my laptop casually at hand. Instead of worrying about the floor of the bathroom that flooded the other day (fans are in place, I’ve done all I can for now). Instead of starting to address the hundreds of wedding invitations that came in today and need to go out in a week. It means calling my friend back to chat. It means not obsessing over my blog for one night. And going to bed before midnight.

It means not worrying that there’s no five-step formula for living a balanced life, even though if there were, I would have a lot easier time writing this post.

The truth is, I have a pretty typically busy twentysomething life: I don’t exactly have balance down yet. The best I get some days is go, go, go, crash. Sometimes, that’s the best I can approximate balance. But hey, I’m trying. And I think that’s the key to balance. Working at it.

So tonight, balance is about writing a short post instead of a long one. Smiling in the grocery line, no matter how long it was. Spending time on relationships. Giving myself time to do all the things in the few hours after work that make my life worth working for. Living my life. Being present in it.

Give yourself permission to find your balance. And then look for it. Wherever in the wild blue that takes you.

Coming home to a kicked in door and muddy footprints all over my house wasn’t exactly the Monday I’d had in mind.

All week, I had a hard time going home after work. I made sure someone was there first or there to meet me and walk me inside. I didn’t leave after I got there, unless someone was with me. And that someone was usually my boyfriend. Even though he had other things he needed to be doing. He took care of me without complaining, boarding up doors, securing my home, just smiling and kissing my forehead and saying cheerily, “that’s my job!”

And it was great. I felt secure, because I could ignore the fear. Then, Saturday came and he was out of town on business. And maybe it was the dreariness of the day or maybe it was the fear. But I didn’t really leave my house for more than an hour. And I was miserable. Because I was doing basically nothing other than try to ignore the fear. Even though I was perfectly safe and had plenty of things I could do, even at home.

This is the bad kind of fear. The fear that cripples you into inaction when there are things to be done. The fear of the known and of the unknown, somehow combined to keep every awful scenario front of mind, keeping you focused on itself and not all the other wonderful possibilities. The fear that keeps you from doing what’s sensible, what you’re completely capable of doing, for no good reason but the fear.

But, there’s another kind of fear. Or maybe, there’s another response to fear. Because really, it’s usually the same fear you’re dealing with. It’s how you respond to it that makes the difference. This fear says, call the cops right now, and back out of the driveway immediately, because that’s sensible and productive. There’s the fear that tells you to board up the door and head to the hardware store to get new locks and new doors installed, because that will keep you safe. The kind that tells you to have a home security audit and ask the neighbor down the street who works from home to watch your house while you’re at work, because that will give you back your sense of security. The kind that thinks, well, I wanted an excuse for a new iPod Nano with the screen anyway, because that helps you focus on the positive.

This is the good kind of fear. The kind that realizes that yes, the worst can happen but does something to stop it rather than letting it stop you. The kind that pushes you into improvement rather than paralyzing you. The kind that tells you the status quo isn’t good enough and to believe in something better just around the corner.

This kind of fear is valuable, because it keeps you moving, pushing for the best, even though the worst is always possible too. That’s life, after all. But usually, even though this valuable fear is there, speaking into us, it somehow gets overshadowed by the other fear. And no matter how many positive steps we take, we keep focusing on the bad fear. That’s not a good thing.

We will always have fears. It’s how we respond to them that shapes who we are and what we become. No matter what your fear is, don’t let it overcome you. Don’t sit around, caged in, watching fear stare you down. Make it work for you, even if it’s hard to face that beast.

Let the good kind of fear propel you on to the success you’re dreaming of. Turns out, fear doesn’t have to be what you need to be afraid of. Unless it’s what’s holding you back.