Monday, May 18, 2009

Miss Independence

Growing up in Quincy, there was one thing I knew for sure: I was going to get the heck out of there the first chance I got. Don't get me wrong, I loved growing up there, loved knowing everyone in town, loved the security of it, loved the beauty of the mountains and lazy afternoons hanging out at the river. But I also knew I had to see what else was out there, and two months after I graduated high school I loaded up my car and headed to Monterey, where I knew just one person, the woman I was going to work for, and had only just met her through a common friend. I always wanted to live near the ocean, had been there once and thought it was pretty, and decided that's where I'd go. It was a bonus that it was half way between my mom's and dad's.

Since then, and until I met Chris, I've pretty much done what I wanted to do. Sure, I was in relationships before I landed in Arizona. But it went something like this: "I'm moving to San Jose to finish school, and you can come or you can stay, but I'm going either way." I didn't bat an eye when I was offered an internship in Washington after graduation, and didn't hesitate to accept a job in Yuma when the internship ended. I was going to pursue my goals, and that was that.

At some point after Chris and I started dating, I realized this is it - he's the one I want to spend my life with. And that's an amazing and wonderful feeling. But with that realization came something else I wasn't used to, the part where I have to consider someone else when I make big decisions. It's not my life anymore, it's our life. And Chris and I talk all the big things through together, make our decisions together. Coming to Reno was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned, even before he put a ring on my finger.

I knew that Chris was the one I wanted to marry and spend my life with long before he proposed. But actually being married is a whole different experience. The trick is making sure being Chris's wife is a part of my identity and not my identity all together. We reached a compromise on my last name - I'd add Gabel but keep Krikorian as a second middle name. I'd continue to use Krikorian for work. Through the process, the inequity of it all struck me. Women have "maiden" names. Men don't. When married, women are traditionally expected to change their names. Men aren't. When we got married, I had to go to Social Security and DMV and file paperwork with all kinds of places (the bank, etc.) to get my named changed. Chris had to do none of it. And then, I'd start being introduced as "This is my niece, she just got married," where before it was, "This is my niece, she's a newspaper reporter." A few months ago I actually had a conversation with a couple who'd also recently been married, who were asking me about Chris's story clips and how cool it was we had a record of his work. I realize this may be petty, but all I could think was - Yes, how cool is it that we both have a record of our work.

Of course I depend on Chris for a lot of things. We are partners for life, so I think he depends on me for those things as well. But since I got laid off, I have to grapple with my inner independent self telling me "I never thought there'd be a time where I was reliant on a man to take care of me." But now he is the one with the steady paycheck. He is the one with the health benefits. When I went to the doctor last month - squeezing in my appointments before my insurance ran out - my doctor (a woman!) said, "It's a good thing you got married," when I told her I'd been laid off. Wow. And now here I am, home for many more hours a day than I'm used to, demanding attention and conversation from Chris the second he walks in the door, instead of letting him first wind down and relax from his day (I'm so not cut out to be a housewife). But I know this is a temporary situation. And the good thing is, I know I am very lucky to be married to my best friend, and comforted to know that I can rely on Chris to take care of me in tough times, and that I would do the same for him.


Nanette said...

Being married is a gianormous adjustment. Changing your name is very hard. If I had kept all my last names it would go something like this: Nanette Joy Ross Murdock Stokes Nicholson Semon...I decided to just go with the Semon part.
But the most difficult thing is becoming the quintessential housewife. Giving up the career that I had worked so hard for and loved SO much was like cutting off my right leg. But then yesterday Murdock crawled onto my lap and for the first time, gave me a hug. It broke my heart and healed it all at the same time.
Giving up a portion of your identity is small change compared to the equity you gain from the ones you love.
Thanks for this post!

villette1 said...

I think we all struggle with this as we decide what to do about the "name change." Where I come from (rural, backwoods, hick-ville Kentucky), women are still considered property, pretty much. When I tell people back home that I didn't change my name, they look at me like I'm a heathen bitch who needs to be drug to the altar and anointed with cut-rate olive oil.
You make the best decision for yourself, along with your mate (now speaking in general terms). If other folks can't handle it, it is their problem. No matter your role in life, Tammy, you will always someone to share it with, whether it is Chris or other close friends.
Thanks for speaking from the heart on this subject, it still resonates with a lot of us who feel "we had to give up our lifes" for the sake of our spouse. At least you are no longer in Yuma.