As I continue to share my rather comical newlywed journey with you, I hope my experiences help normalize the vicissitudes that are a natural—if often stressful and disorienting—part of newlywed life. In the third segment of my series on newlywed life, I explore the idea of coming to terms with shifts in identity that can arise as part of the marriage process.
Here I am at the end of the third quarter of newlywed life. Oh, who would have thought that marriage could bring such change? When “two become one,” it seems that change is truly the name of the game. I giggle (at least now) at all the adjustments I have made in the first nine months of my marriage!
What compromise, thought, and cooperation it takes to create a new life that feels safe and comfortable. Yet, just when I think I’ve got it all under control, another new piece of the puzzle awaits me; there is always something new to ponder and learn. I decided, long ago, that an attitude of patience and flexibility is my best tool in life. When it comes to marriage, I have found that my new mantra of “partnership” has required far more than a change in domicile; it required a change in attitude.
As my psychologist’s brain keeps telling me: If I expect things to be the way they were when I was single, then married life will always feel awkward and confining. When faced with change, we have the choice to fight it or embrace it with an open, flexible spirit. For instance, one of the important changes faced when contemplating marriage is the idea of changing one’s name. This decision is so individual and important; there is no right or wrong choice, for it is a decision of the heart. Whatever choice is made, it’s the attitude and spaciousness of heart that count.
For me, the “Should I take his name?” issue seemed to symbolize my willingness to transform from being a free and single female to a committed, married woman. So, I knew it was important to discuss the name change issue with my sweetheart well before we were wed. Would I take his name or keep my own? Always a free spirit, there was a part of me that desperately wanted to hang on to my name—a vital part of my personal and professional identity. My husband was somewhat flexible on the issue, but we both knew he preferred that I replace my old surname with his. Striving to be ever giving and supple of spirit, it didn’t take me long to realize that taking his name would honor him and our marriage. For me, relinquishing my maiden name meant that I was willing to form a new identity—a transformed identity that required me to change more than my name; this shift into marriage asked that I change my world as I knew it.
“What?” you might question, “Becoming my spouse’s lifetime partner was as easy as pie for me! I didn’t need to reconfigure my life or change any part of my identity! What’s the big deal?” I would answer, “Our journeys in life are as different as we are. There is no right or wrong; each couple needs to make choices and decisions that are best for them—both as individuals and as partners. This is where it gets tricky! Sometimes what feels right for one partner is not right for the other; at such times, the couple needs to ponder, compromise, and do what is ultimately best for the marriage.”
As a woman and a psychologist, I know that the shift into married life is not difficult or dramatic for everyone. Some partners—men or women—find the transformation into married life fairly easy and fluid. Others find the myriad changes quite drastic and even alarming at times. For those who did not live together prior to marriage, the fundamental changes can be even more trying and rigorous. The work (and the fun of it) comes in learning to move through the steps and stages of newlywed life with thoughtful awareness and positivity. And, so, the name change issue came to be symbolic to me of how ready and willing I was to joyfully embrace the new iteration of me—Dr. Carla Marie Manly.
As the months ticked by, I consciously neglected to do the paperwork necessary to change my name. My business cards reflected my maiden name. My voicemail message remained the same. The bulk of my mail came addressed to me as it always had. As I made silent excuses to myself, my husband uttered not a word. I rationalized that I had no time to face the long and winding road to changing my name. My inner voice whispered, “You can always make time to do what is important to you.”
And so, one morning I left it up to fate. I told myself, “If I happen to have a client cancellation today, I will go down to the County Recorder’s office to get a copy of our marriage certificate.” Oddly enough, a very regular client canceled less than a half hour later; his flu determined the course of my name change. As I drove across town, I imagined the bureaucratic line would be customarily long and congested. I made a safe bet with myself: If the line were short, I’d go to the Social Security office to take the next big, official step.
As I walked into the suspiciously barren office, I knew I’d lost my bet. Five minutes later, with crisp copies of my marriage certificate safely tucked under my arm, I took the three minute drive to my next stop. Living in a fairly small town has its perks—and its disadvantages. “Surely,” I bartered with myself quietly, “I’ll have no time to do this. The horrid place will be filled to the max, and I have only 25 minutes to get back to my office.” As I walked through the door, the guard smiled broadly at me and said, “Today’s your lucky day! It’s never like this here—there’s barely a line at all.” I grimaced as he gave my handbag a swift search.
There was no turning back now. I watched the clock on my cell phone despondently. If my number didn’t get called in 10 minutes, I gave myself permission to leave. Seven minutes later, I was standing before a lovely, smiling face at the counter. Marriage certificate pushed underneath the glass pane and paperwork done, she stared at me with wide, kind eyes. I looked down at the proof in my hand; in the eyes of the governmental powers that be, I had officially changed my name.
The last name I had known for most of my life had disappeared in mere minutes. Looking up, the woman’s brown eyes were warm and comforting. “It’s a big change, isn’t it?” she stated. Her compassion evoked hints of hot, unwelcome tears at the corners of my eyes. “Yes,” I admitted as I wiped at my eyes, “I didn’t expect it to be quite so hard.” Her eyes beamed at me, and I felt as if she would hug me through the glass if she could. “Don’t worry,” she offered, “I felt the same way. It’s a big and little change all at once. Guys don’t tend to get it, but we women really do.” For a moment in time, she was the psychologist and I was the client. Clutching my new paperwork, bewilderment enfolded me as I walked to my car. I wondered what was on Shakespeare’s mind when he wrote, “What’s in a name?” My disorientation over a name change, I imagined, would have been lost on him.
From that point on, the seemingly endless journey into the world of changing my name has left me alternating between laughter and impatience. A substantial mountain of documents, licenses, and professional bits and pieces bore my maiden name: psychologist’s license, passport, driver’s license, credit cards, checking accounts, gym membership, various credentials, contracts, e-mail addresses, website, scuba card, more credit cards, more licenses, more membership cards, and more… Some processes are easy and swift, and some are laborious and time-consuming. Yet, in the end, I find great joy in the new name that is now part of me. My heart feels warm each time I see the fresh signage outside my office. When I walk hand-in-hand with my husband to get the mail, we both smile when a card or bill comes to the “new” me. I now address each piece of this process with an attitude of devotion and pride; as I do so, my connection to my new life grows deeper and stronger.
It’s no wonder, then, that the name change processes is so symbolic to me of the journey of being a newlywed. When it comes to the adventure of being married, I have found that some of the changes are simple and others are far from easy. And, as I continue to move forward into the world of married life, I know that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Where there is change, there is opportunity. Where there is love, transformation is worth the change.