Category Archives: Marriage

iWidow

I have lost my husband to Steve Jobs.  My husband Aviv is an IT professional, which, as far as I can gather, means that he writes some software code, and sometimes opens up computers and messes with their innards, and spends a lot of time on the phone with colleagues and clients using acronyms I don’t understand.  (I can always tell when he has finished a sentence though: they all end in “man.”) 

Steve first entered our lives in late 2007 when Aviv’s boss presented everyone with iPod Touches.  This was entirely engrossing to Aviv, what with the configuring and the downloading and the changing of earphones.  The iPod Touch was followed by an iPhone 3G, which of course required hours and hours of attention itself.  This year we have a double whammy: the iPhone 4 and the iPad all at once.  I speak to Aviv now and he doesn’t even hear me.  It’s not just that he doesn’t listen; he literally doesn’t hear. 

I blame Aviv’s boss.  Yes, it is Steve Jobs who claimed him, but his boss who introduced the two.  Aviv is addicted to the iToys, but his boss is his pusher. 

The iPad sits on our living room coffee table in front of the TV, so that while I watch a movie, Aviv can do whatever it is that people use the iPad for. (I’m still not entirely sure what the purpose of this new doohickey is – it’s a laptop with no keyboard?  What’s the point?  Great, it’s small – so is my netbook which fits in my purse, keyboard and all.)  The new iPhone hasn’t left his hands since he took it out of the box, and I exaggerate only slightly here.  First we had the cataloging of its faults: it’s not as rounded as the 3G and therefore not as comfortable in his hand, plus what if it doesn’t fit in the iPhone holder he wears when he bikes?  Why are there so few wallpaper choices?  Why did the phone receive only one of two calls he placed to it?  Where is the visual voicemail?  Oh – there it is, never mind.  (The fault was with my home office, which seems to be lined with kryptonite and gets no cell reception ever.)  Then we had the celebration of its advantages: you can put the icons in folders!  It is so fast!  Etc.  I think he’s running out of ways to play with it, because after tapping away on it for a bit, he just reported to me the balance in his bank account.  He has already set it up to beep when he gets an email from work. 

It could be worse.  I’m not a golf widow or a sports widow, so he doesn’t leave the house or make lots of noise when he plays with the toys.  But it is a little annoying that wherever we go, his pocket keeps beeping.  I blame his boss for that too.

Women: What Is So Bad About Your Names?

Why do women change their last names when they get married?  Setting aside the fact that it is the conventional thing to do, the reasons women change their names aren’t overly persuasive.  Many of the female friends and relatives who are dearest to me have changed their last names, and they are intelligent, thoughtful individuals who probably considered the following arguments, so I hope that they and other women like them will submit comments about why they disagree.

The custom of married women changing to their husband’s last name is a relic of the times when wives were the legal property of their husbands.  The modern parlance of “taking” one’s husband’s name makes it sound like the wife’s independent choice, but it looks different when viewed in the context of history.  It’s like engagement rings, which are effectively a down payment.  (I have one myself, but only because when I got engaged people kept asking where my ring was, plus they are just so pretty and sparkly.)

Nowadays some women say they change their names because it is “easier” – when they call their children’s school or doctor, there is less explaining to do.  But really, how hard is it to say “my name is Smith, but my kids’ last name is Jones”?  As a person with an unusual first name (though it seems to be gaining popularity), I have spent maybe an extra 15 seconds each on many phone calls spelling out my name.  As a wife with a different last name from my husband, I have spent maybe 45 seconds on the phone explaining that while my name is Hoffman, I’m calling about my husband, whose name is Roth.  Granted, telephone customer service is a hassle, but I doubt that going to the lengths of getting a new driver’s license and passport is going to make it any more pleasant.

For those who feel strongly about this “same name as the kids” issue, I admire the solution a friend adopted: she kept her last name and gave it to her children.  Because she is the primary caretaker she is more likely to be calling the school or the doctor or whoever, so by sharing her own last name with her children she avoids whatever hassle she might face if her name were different from theirs.  (Like my friend, her husband kept his own last name.  But I suppose that goes without saying.)

Another reason some women offer for changing their last names is that they don’t want to feel left out of their families as the only member with a different last name.  This suggests that they understand names to be important signifiers of identity; it follows that by giving up their own last names, they are burying or even repudiating their pre-marriage identities, including their membership in the families who raised them (sometimes dropping the original “nuclear” family’s name is the most alluring reason to change one’s last name, but surely that’s true for men too).  But wives don’t have to choose between their childhood family and their married family: both spouses can hyphenate their names and give the same hyphenated last name to their children.  (What those children choose to do when they get married is their problem.)

A couple who feels strongly that their family should share the same last name has another option: choosing a new last name that combines the wife’s and husband’s name, or a name that is entirely new and expresses something about their marriage and the identity of their new family.  Both partners then share equally in the formation of their new identities and in symbolically moving away from their old ones, but also in considering and shaping their identity or character as a new family.  Plus this option opens up exciting new possibilities: want to be a Kennedy?  Or better yet, a Colbert?  Go right ahead!

Some women change their last names because it is important to their husbands.  But if a man is already dictating what his wife’s very name will be just as they are starting out in life together, it does not bode well for his respect of her independence in other matters.  (If he is willing to trade for things that are important to the woman, however, she might as well explore the opportunities for profitable bartering.)

Of course these are generalizations and each woman’s experience is unique, but the phenomenon of women changing their last names to their husbands’ is the norm, and it is troubling.  Would you all please explain why you keep doing it?

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