On Being My Own Woman After Marriage

It was never a question that I would keep my maiden name. When asked, I’d tell people it was because of my career as a writer, where my byline is everything. My family and friends knew it was more than that, though. I was determined not to let marriage change my identity.

But change it did. Subtle little reminders were everywhere that alone, I am incomplete. Without my husband, only half of a whole. Overnight, Internet ads switched from engagement rings and wedding gowns to household cleaning supplies and baby carriages. I am called “Mrs. [His Name]” at the dentist’s office, where I use my husband’s insurance.

And, justifying the reasons behind an especially brief holiday trip to my parents, I explained that it was a decision that worked best for my husband and I “as a couple.” We could have made it longer, but we had two families to see, and there was all that driving in between.

“You say that,” my mom responded, “but it sounds more like you’re just supporting his decision instead of making one together.”

I denied it vehemently but much later I’d realize she was right.

It’s laughable to imagine my husband coercing me to do anything I don’t want to. He’s a wonderful man who has made me happy not just for the one year we’ve been married, but also for five years before that. He writes me hand-written cards and uncomplainingly does my awful freelance taxes and unfailingly cheers me up when I’m sad. We share the same interests and basic beliefs, and keep an open mind toward each other’s politics.

(One of my favorite memories from the first year of my marriage was taking my husband to a 301-level discussion of feminism. He listened quietly to the whole thing and then turned to me. “Lauren,” he asked, “am I a ‘sex-positive feminist?’” I assured him he was.)

But our first year of marriage changed our dynamic. I was far more likely to defer to him than before. I’ve been told what a “wife” was for years, and now I had become one. The two of us had lived together for years, but only now did I feel pressure to “keep house,” so he’d have a clean sanctuary to return to after work. (Like I wasn’t at work all day myself!) A wife is supposed to make her husband happy, I knew, and the media had given me some kind of messed up ideas about how to do that.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the person least happy with the shift was my new husband.

I remember one evening early on, a glimpse of an argument. His exasperated sigh. “Are you saying that because you really feel that way, or because you think it’ll make me happy?”

Really, I wasn’t helping anyone with this.

Since that epiphany, I’ve worked harder on being unmistakably me. I signed up for Japanese lessons, something that has never interested him but I’ve always wanted to do. I chopped off 10 inches of hair, because it felt like a good idea to me personally. When we make decisions as a couple, I consider not only what is best for us together, but also what’s good for me.

But most of all, I’ve learned there’s a lot more to being your own woman after marriage than whether or not you decide to keep your name.

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