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.”