Last weekend Ryan and I attended our first wedding since our own. Just eight weeks out and only days since getting our photos, I didn’t feel I had fully processed our own nuptials yet, and the day was overwhelming. First, there was a real sense disconnect. This thing we had just done, something life-altering and so intense that we could think of literally nothing else for months, someone else was doing it now, and though I knew it must feel just as significant for them, and I love them dearly, somehow it seemed smaller on this side. As my brother so concisely put it, “weddings are never as exciting once you’ve had yours.” At the same time, I was overcome with joy as I remembered saying my own vows, being announced as a married couple for the first time, and sharing dances with my husband and father. I could see how happy they were and I was swept away in that same happiness, both for them and for myself. Certainly there was a part of me that compared our wedding to theirs (ah, family) and was relieved to realize that looking back, I wouldn’t change a single thing. But most strikingly, I was met with an overwhelming sense of loss. I will never have another wedding. All the planning, the outpouring of love and support, the opportunity to make a public statement about how much you love someone: those things are in my past now. They were amazing, and I am so glad that I had a chance to experience them. But as sad as I am to let that go, it’s time to find joy in looking forward, not back, to the marriage we are forging and all the years of happiness ahead of us.
Less than two months into our marriage, our partnership is being tested in new ways and we are reevaluating what it means to support each other. After a brief but intense period of consideration and a lot of talking and planning and worrying, I decided to resign from my job and strike out on my own. I’m terrified; Ryan is terrified. But, I think we’re going to be okay. Not just because I’ve spent the last two weeks obsessively playing out different budget scenarios and finding clever ways to cut costs. Money is certainly a concern, but it’s not the biggest concern. I’m much more worried about how the stresses ahead will impact our relationship and the way that we treat each other every day.
We don’t know what comes next, and we may not for quite a while. Maybe I’ll be back to full time and killing it in a matter of weeks. Maybe I’ll pick up freelance assignments for a while until it becomes sustainable or the right opportunity falls into my lap. Maybe I’ll find a way to work for myself and run the kick-ass business I dream about. Not knowing may be scary, but it’s also exhilarating. And I can put that fear aside because my husband is there to catch me if I fail. Not only because he’s suddenly become our primary bread winner (a role he’s never played before and neither of us anticipated he would), but also because he knows me and lets me be my best. When I’m all over the place and a bit of a mess, he can listen and summarize and smooth out my thoughts until they make sense. When I come home and I pace back and forth, he figures out how to focus me and gets me sitting down again. He makes sure I can fall asleep when I’m exhausted, and that I can stay up all night when I’m inspired. He rants with me when I’m angry and strokes my hair when I’m sad. He takes this very difficult thing I’m doing and makes it so much easier.
It’s not easy for him, either. We both know he’s the one sacrificing right now. He doesn’t love his job, but he will stay for the salary and the health insurance. He will keep getting up before dawn and working long, grueling days, while I learn to structure my own time and get things done with a cat in my lap.
I feel guilty, sure, but I rely on that guilt to know that this can work. It makes me try harder every day to show how much I appreciate him, and more importantly it makes me believe that our little support network of two is working. One day, it will be my turn to do the sacrificing, to take on the tough stuff while he chases his dreams. I know I can do it, because he will have done it for me. That’s why we’re choosing to go through life as a team. We can take risks and try our luck, and know that there will always be someone there to back us up.
The morning after our wedding, Ryan and I sat in our hotel bed and eagerly began opening the many, many cards we received the night before. We enjoyed the sweet notes and happy sentiments, and joyfully made a record of each gift – cash, check, whatever – to send thank you notes. After breakfast, I got practical and figured I should try to deposit some of the checks before we left for our honeymoon. But as I began to sift through them so I could endorse them, I realized none of the checks were made out to the same people, and very few of them were made out to people with names we actually had.
Since we got engaged, I’ve been struggling to find a way to put into words all of my feelings about names and marriage. I’m still working out the kinks, in part because I don’t really have any answers for how to make names work. But, after a few shouting matches, three therapy sessions, many tears and some tense social moments, we’ve reached a happy peace about our names. Our solution isn’t perfect, but it works for us.
It was important to me from the start that Ryan & I have the same last names as a married couple. This seems trivial, I know, and I wholeheartedly believe that families not only can function but thrive without a universal last name. Still, I have a lot of cultural baggage around this, and I wanted a unified name for a few reasons. When I was growing up, women who kept their names were often regarded as a special case that we had to be considerate of in an almost pitiful way. Our high school phone directory had a cross-reference for parent last names that didn’t match their children. And most notably, kids always seemed to have their father’s name. I met a handful of children with hyphenated names (it was a very liberal town, after all), but it was rare. It always seemed like keeping your name was something extremest women did, and no one really took them seriously since their kids were named after the husband anyway.
That wasn’t good enough for me. I knew that if we kept our separate names, we’d end up having the same exact fight down the road when we started to talk about having children, and I’ve never been one for putting things off. I also didn’t want it to be a decision I made alone. I don’t think it’s fair to place such a major decision – one that affects a very public piece of your identity – on one person alone. To me, that’s not partnership at all. Ryan had never really considered the fact that he might change his name, and he was resistant. I don’t want to bore you with the details of our long and loud discussions (maybe in another post one day), but in the end we decided that we’d both hyphenate. We’re now Kelly & Ryan Mine-His, which I’m aware (since people like to tell me all the time) is a mouthful. They can choke on that mouthful.
Determined to face this challenge head on, we called the bank, and explained the situation. The lovely man on the other end of the phone only messed up our new names six times during the course of the phone call. My main take away was this: no one knew exactly what to do about it, or what to call us, but generally speaking they just let things slide and didn’t ask too many questions. I wish more people would approach our new names with such a laissez-faire attitude. Until then, I’ll grin and bear it.
If you’re well versed in feminist theory and gender narrative, the idea of a feminist marriage might seem like an oxymoron. Marriage is not feminist. It’s been the setting for some awful stuff, and in many cases, that stuff is still happening. But more and more, something else is happening, too. People like us, who consider themselves feminists, are looking at all of the messed up, messy history that comes along with marriage, and they’re choosing to get married anyway.
A few weeks ago, we got married. I put on a white dress, and I walked down an aisle where we held hands and declared our love and promised a lot of pretty intense stuff to each other. Some of the things that happened on our wedding day were overtly feminist statements about how we see the world and how we picture marriage, and some of them weren’t. This duality is natural, and for me, it’s not uncomfortable.
Being a woman means picking your battles. I am nothing if not a feminist, but I make hundreds, likely thousands of choices every day that are un- or even anti-feminist. I shave my legs, paint my nails, and wear high heels. Some of these things I do for personal reasons, like the fact that shoes make me happy, and some I do just to avoid causing a stir so that I can reasonably function in society.
Women are not the only people subject to this duality. Even the most vehement environmentalists benefit daily from the use of fossil fuels. Vegans cannot possibly manage to avoid patronizing every single store, restaurant, or company that sells or produces animal products. This is the nature of modern life. We cannot do everything we want to make a difference, but we can do some things.
Marriage is a minefield of these choices. The institution itself is inherently misogynistic, but we participating anyway, because it’s important to me personally and because I think the societal values and functions of marriage are worthwhile and because I hold on to a glimmer of hope that I will have more of an impact from within than without.
This is a feminist marriage, and this is where we will struggle to make that contradiction a reality. Here are the promises we’ve made, and what we agreed our (feminist) marriage should look like:
I choose you to be my partner, my lover and my best friend. I promise to share with you my joys and struggles as we laugh and grow together. I will support you through difficult decisions and celebrate your triumphs, confide in and trust you above all others, and respect you in everything as an equal partner. I promise never to expect your love, but to strive to earn it every day.