I have never had any intention of taking my husband’s last name. My long-term ex boyfriend used to joke that one day I’d change my mind. It was something silly he’d do, jokingly slip his last name in. I went along with it, knowing full well it wasn’t something I wanted. And as light and jovial as he made it seem, the more he pushed it, the more I realized maybe he also wasn’t something I wanted. I have always belonged to myself, and I wasn’t sure he liked that idea. Though at one point, I was madly and passionately in love with him, I still always belonged to myself. That never changed. That will never change.
My mother never took my late father’s last name. I asked if it was ever an issue for them. “If your father had insisted I take his last name, he wouldn’t have been the man I married.” This stuck with me and became the new criteria I kept tucked away. Any man who needed me to change for him simply wasn’t going to be the man for me, no matter how small or trivial something like a name may seem. If someone needed me to change religions, names, political ideologies, friends, it would be a relationship with an expiration date. Of course, change is a natural product of living, but expecting to be the cause of the change is a damaging notion.
Before he passed, I asked my dad about the whole name change debacle. I asked if he was ever disappointed that mom kept her maiden name. He laughed and said no with zero hesitation, “I told her if she was going to take my name, why wouldn’t I take hers too? It didn’t really make sense to me. She was marrying me, sure. But I was also marrying her. If it couldn’t be an equal thing, I didn’t want any name changing to occur.” But that was just my dad for you.
I do not think any less of a woman who takes her husband’s name. I don’t want my personal decision to be mistaken as an attack on anyone who does otherwise. I understand why someone would. It’s romantic, this declaration of unconditional love. It says, “You are it. You are what I want for now and always.” It’s an expected thing in American society. It’s just what people do. I get it, I do. But it’s still not for me.
It has taken me a long time to love Ari Eastman. It is a process that does not end, and one that is more of a struggle some days than others. I have not always been comfortable with who I am. The moments I wished for a new identity still lurk somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s a journey we all take, whether or not we readily admit it. The relationship we carve with ourselves is arguably the most important, and never stagnant. It’s an ebb and flow. It takes hard work and effort. I try to remind myself that no matter what happens, I need to love myself. Because if I don’t, why should I expect anyone else to?
I will not change who I am for anybody. And that is a sentence that has taken years to truly believe. If I should ever get married, my husband will realize and know that my love for him is not reflected in my last name. My love is reflected in being in it with him. It is being in a relationship, REALLY in it, and staying there. My love is waking up every day and working towards a future that includes our individual hopes, and those as a couple. And most important of all, my love can endure because I first learned to love the woman he married.