February 18, 2010

Do most women want ‘to put a ring on it?’

So this whole name game discussion – do we keep our last name when we get married or not – has me thinking about perceptions we might have of each other based on marital status.

‘Single’ and ‘married’ are defining tags for women and they each carry such weight. When I typed those words, images popped into my brain for each, most based on pop culture rather than reality. But in my opinion, men do not face as much stereotyping based on these categories. This is what I’ve learned from television: a man who is single at 40 is an eligible bachelor. A woman who is single at 40 is broken. Our culture, our media, our movies/TV/magazines tell us a single man is a catch, while a single woman is desperate and incomplete. A single man is valued as a treasure to be nabbed and a single woman is expected to be on the prowl, knocking herself out to find Mr. Right. We think, “He’s going to be make some woman very lucky” and “Maybe she’ll get very lucky and meet the right guy.”

I can fall into some of these thinking patterns. I always hope my single girlfriends are able to meet a life partner worthy of them. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but there isn’t one close single woman in my life I haven’t put some matchmaking thought and energy into. I even ask my husband, “Do we know anyone we might set ____ up with?” Have my single female friends asked me to play yente? Some, but not all. Am I particularly talented at being a matchmaker? No. Does my desire to match up my female friends perpetuate the idea that a woman isn’t complete without a partner? Yes, I think it might and I’m really annoyed that I’ve come to this realization about myself.

Ironically, soon after I signed my own marriage certificate, I started to think of single women as having more fun, more freedom, and more independence than married women. They seem to have a different spark. But maybe I just watched too much Sex and the City. Still, I do romanticize and glamorize what it’s like to be single. It’s a two way street, I suppose. One of my best, unattached girlfriends recently told me I didn’t know how lucky I was, how easy I had it, now that I’m married. I threw my head back and laughed. EASY?! Ah, that’s a good one…

How about you? Do you attach any qualities to other women (or yourself) based on marital status? Do your feelings about single men differ from that of single women?

How about the terms ‘divorced’ or ‘widowed’ – what kind of weight do they carry for you?

- Robyn Okrant

February 17, 2010

Say My Name!

Just as my gut told me to get married, it also told me to keep my name.  When a good friend of mine was getting married, I asked her if she was going to change her name.  She said, “I like my name.  Why would I change it?”  Fair point.  But tradition, with its unending stockpiles of guilt, weighs heavily in my mind ALL the time.  So, while I didn’t take my husband’s name, I also didn’t decree on a mountain top, social security card in one hand, drivers license in the other, that I was keeping my name.  I just didn’t talk about it.  Peter, my husband, didn’t seem to take any offense.  Although, that could in part be because one of his sisters shares my name.  This happens often when you get a bunch of Irish people in a room and have them mate.

I let people assume one way or another if my name has changed.  If anyone asks me point blank, I tell them but not many have.  One of my closest friends in the world, who I’ve known since we were five years old, gave me a subscription to “O” Magazine.  When I needed to change my address, the subscription department informed me there was no record of my account.  It took my a week to discover that she listed me as, “Cathleen Hanlon.”

Sometimes I pretend that I’ve changed my name to make situations more efficient.  If we sign a guest book, RSVP a wedding or send “thank you” cards to distant relatives I’m always Mrs. Hanlon.  Mrs. “I wish not to offend you or have to make you write more than you must” Hanlon.  I’m a cautious and eager to please rebel.

We know a lovely older woman named Jinny who dry cleans our clothes.  One day I brought down a dress I needed taken in for a wedding.  Jinny said to me, “Maybe you will get married too?  Soon!”  Confused, I looked at her and told her that Peter and I were already married.  I wish I had footage of her reaction.  It was as if a chorus of a thousand angels swarmed over me, trumpets blaring, and Jesus himself gave me a high five.  I pleased Jinny!  It made me so happy to fulfill her expectations for me and Peter.  We went from being, “friends” to the “nice, young married couple.”  We fit so nicely and neatly in our little box.  No fuss, no muss.  If I could make a bumper sticker, (which I can, it’s not that hard) it would say: Pleasing Elders Pleases Me.

-Cathleen

February 16, 2010

A rose by any other surname did not smell as sweet

One of the biggest battles I had when I got married was whether I’d retain my last name or take my husband’s. And like many of the battles I fought when we got engaged, this one was almost entirely in my head. While Jim said it would be nice if we had the same last name, he didn’t pressure me. But I still resented that it fell only on my shoulders to choose if I would retain my family identity. Jim’s family wouldn’t be housing or feeding me, why did tradition dictate I take on their moniker and eschew my own? Why should I jump through all the hoops at the DMV, social security and every other financial and governmental office simply because I was getting married? It felt like punishment for getting hitched. I became more and more emotional. (And if you’re thinking I was misdirecting my fear over becoming a wife into an issue I could have otherwise dealt with calmly, you’re probably right.)

But I was sad I might miss out on sharing a family name with my own husband.

Jim didn’t blink an eye and offered the option that we’d both change our names to something new that we both liked. No connection to either family, just something that clicked with both of us. This seemed like a possibility, but we just couldn’t settle on anything that resonated. Every name we chose felt empty, while ‘Okrant’ felt full of history and depth for me.

We considered both taking on “Okrant-Stevens” or “Okrant (no hyphen) Stevens” but the name felt too long and…why did his name get to be last? I was relieved we had no immediate plans for children or the issue probably would have made my head explode. (If the babies are going to come out of my body and I’m probably going to provide most of the childcare, why should my imaginary children get Jim’s last name instead of mine?)

When I proudly told my father I was going to stick to my guns and keep Okrant as my last name, he seemed a bit taken aback. My dad’s a very liberal guy and yet even he expected that I’d go the traditional route. He told me he’d be ‘disappointed’ if mom hadn’t taken his name when they got married. I felt sad and a bit betrayed that he didn’t jump for joy over my familial loyalty.

My inner turmoil reared it’s annoying head during our engagement and during the first few months after our wedding. Finally I took a deep breath and calmly told Jim my monumental decision: I was going to keep my last name as it was, no hyphens, no changes. Jim sighed (I think because he was thrilled I finally made up my mind and he’d get some peace…although, there might have been some disappointment mixed in) and said, “Ok.” Then he asked if I wanted him to order Thai food for dinner.

Lesson one: some issues were going to be far more important to me than they’d be for Jim, regardless of our legal married status.

Six and a half years later, I’m really glad I made the choice I did. But it does irk me when I pick up my cat’s prescription at the pharmacy and see how his name is printed on the label: Wasabi Cat Stevens.

- Robyn

February 15, 2010

My wedding day was not the best day of my life.

I never wanted to get married. Never fantasized about it as a girl. Never daydreamed about it as a single, dating woman. I always hoped I’d find a partner with whom I’d share adventures, but the idea of marriage seemed antiquated. I didn’t relish the idea of wearing the label “wife” or “Mrs.” for the rest of my life. And yet, on August 3 (knock wood), I’ll be celebrating 7 years of marriage with my husband, Jim. We got married 366 days after meeting on a blind camping date. What’d she say? Yup. Blind camping date. Tents, hiking boots, pancakes cooked on a propane stove, the whole ten yards. Within 24 hours of meeting Jim, I knew I’d marry him and it scared the crap out of me. I had this horrible feeling that being married would make me less independent and I was worried I’d fall into certain stereotypes I always conjured up when the word “wife” was uttered.

For instance: I love to cook. And I loved to cook for Jim while we were dating. As soon as we got married, I thought of cooking as slaving over a hot stove to put food on the table for my demanding husband. I resented every sauce I stirred and every onion I sauteed. Is Jim demanding? No, not really. But my internal battle was not a rational one and it took months for me to get used to my new title and to stop judging myself for taking the plunge.

Now I’m more comfortable. I’m happy. I like being married and I get prickly when I hear hip (single) people talk about how old-fashioned the institution of marriage is. On one hand, I want to stick up for us married women, and on the other hand, a part of me still thinks the marriage detractors are right. Maybe I’m perpetuating an old ideal, and am not as evolved as I could have been had I remained on the other side of the marriage certificate. I believe in equal rights of marriage no matter what one’s sexual orientation. Am I just dragging same-sex couples into the same out-of-date, feudal contract which I entered (full of self-doubt) in 2003 at the age of 30?

And yet, as I watch Jim eating the oatmeal I made for his breakfast (I cook for him every morning now), my heart is so full of love that words can’t express my emotions. I completely adore the guy and know the feeling is mutual. So for today, I have no doubt in my mind I’ve made the right choice for myself. But how I’ll feel in the future…I can’t be sure…can anyone? With over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, I’m too superstitious to insist I know anything for sure. Except this: I’ll bet the majority of those divorcees also swelled with love when they looked into the eyes of their soon-to-be-spouses and swore to love each other until death-do-they-part.

Ugh. Now I’m depressed. I better go wash the dishes. Wait. Is that too wifey-sounding?

-Robyn

February 15, 2010

Getting down to brass tacks

When I was a little girl, I never dreamed of getting married.  I just knew I would.  It was never an obsession but rather a fact of life like college debt and cavities.  My parents are still married and happily it seems.  They met at church, and when I say church I mean in Taiwan as a nun and priest.  Scandals aside, it is a very romantic story.  One that would compel me on a noble crusade through every bar, club and coffee house in 3 countries and 2 major American cities looking for my TRUE LOVE.  My husband and I fell for each other quickly.  We talked about cats and real estate on our first date (yet we still rent…). The math goes like this: we moved in together after one year, were engaged at 18 months and married a month past our 2 year anniversary.  We grabbed onto our passion and hopped that speeding train to Settledville.  Both of us had been through long-term relationships already so the time for playing house was over.  But why did I get married?  I’ve met so many people who say they don’t believe in marriage.  I can’t say I disagree with them.  It does seem a little out of date to take a legal oath to serve another person until you die.  But heck, it’s just so romantic in the moment: the virginal gown, veiled face and piles of scratchy tulle…yummy!  I’m happy being married myself but honestly I don’t know if I would be any less happy if my husband and I remained cohabitants.  “Cohabitant” just doesn’t sound very sexy.  It makes me think of elder care and soft foods.  Wife, on the other hand…
Listen, we want to make this a funny and honest forum to discuss the idea of marriage, the reality of marriage, the exclusiveness of marriage, and the deficiencies of marriage.  Every and all voices should be heard.  Let’s down to business!

-Cathleen

February 1, 2010

Does marriage need to be protected?

Hey!

Does it?  I want to protect my marriage but I’m not sure I have the time or wherewithal to protect the marriages of everyone in the United States, never mind the entire world.    That’s a ton of work, right?  Let’s be realistic here.  This is what I have to do every single day:

  • Brush my teeth (paying careful attention to my receeding gum line.)
  • Shower
  • Dress myself in a way that says, “Hey, I haven’t completely given up…yet!”
  • De-frizz my hair
  • Eat yogurt to maintain regularity
  • Tell my husband about any weird dreams I had during the night.  For example, last night I dreamt that I was friends with a vulture named Talon.  We would go on walks together on the beach.  I can tell you more about this dream offline…

And I’m only at 9AM here.  The bottom line is I don’t have time to worry about the institution of marriage.  Isn’t it enough that I got married?  That I joined the flock?  Strength in numbers, right?  If more people were allowed to get married, maybe it would be strong enough to protect itself.  Marriage is a magical mystery similar to democracy, religion and time shares.  The more people involved the better the chances you get to go to Disney.

My energy is better spent protecting my own marriage from the real threats of life:  boredom, money problems and hot co-workers.  I’m going to let good ol’ ancient Marriage take care of itself. 

Right?

Love,

Cathleen

January 24, 2010

Reading material

Hey Cathleen,

Have you read Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert? I’ve not read the best reviews, but every woman I know whose read it really enjoyed it. I have a gift certificate to Powells.com. I think I’ll order it and report back.

I had a conversation last week with a single woman who wants nothing more than to find a husband (not the love of her life, not a partner, not even a deep and meaningful relationship…she just wants to get hitched). She told me I didn’t know how ‘easy’ I had it because I’m married. I thought, “EASY?!” Is the grass always greener on the other side of the marriage certificate?

Oh, incidentally, yesterday I was also told by a ‘friend’ that I should think about getting botox for my forehead lines.

Clearly, I need to stop leaving the house.

Love,
Robyn

December 23, 2009

Standing Scissors 2.0

Stand

December 23, 2009

The Standing Scissors…

…is not a real yoga pose. Call the police.

December 22, 2009

Sore Ego

I forgot to mention that during my beginners yoga class I almost passed out.  We were doing “standing scissors,” for what I believe to be a ridiculous amount of time.  When I returned to standing pose [is that what standing is called?] my vision went black and the instructor had me sit on my butt and put my head between my knees.  I believe that pose is called, “head hung low in shame.”  But, as my mother would say, “onward Christian soldiers!”  Namaste.