What’s in a name?

After the ceremony and after the reception, when all the guests have gone and the tables are cleared, there you are: Mr. and Mrs.

The next morning, the groom wakes up with his name intact. However, the bride wakes up with a different identity.

Every few days during the wedding planning process, I had a different obsession. A few days after the proposal, it was setting the right date. As plans moved along, the focus shifted to location, invitations, food, etc. And now, about a week before the wedding, it’s the name change. I have no problem with starting the day as a “Ms.” and ending it a “Mrs.”; I look forward to it. But, while Woldoff is a very nice surname, I’ve become a little apprehensive about changing my name.

Maybe it’s all the work involved. I just want to enjoy married life after the wedding, but no, I’m going to have to conquer yet another checklist: driver’s license, passport, social security card, credit cards, etc.

It wasn’t such an issue changing my name when I first married in my early 20s. I’d never had a business card with my maiden name, much less multiple e-mail addresses or a byline showing up on Google search results. I’ve had long-lost friends find me through the Internet because they knew that one characteristic – my name. It’s almost as if a part of me is being erased or like I’m going into some witness protection program.

But what are my options?

Some people choose to hyphenate, but I don’t want to do that; since Namm isn’t my maiden name, it would be like carting along baggage from my previous marriage. Plus, there’s the issue of having a name that’s different from your children’s, which can get confusing (not to mention the possibility of giving your grandchildren a multi-hyphenated name).

Some couples share their last name – the wife adds on the husband’s name and the husband adds his wife’s so they have a dual last name that includes both. But again, that won’t work in my case because I don’t want to retain my previous husband’s name – I have kept it until now only because I didn’t want to go through the trouble of changing it again after we divorced.

Sometimes, people just combine their names to make up a new name, but being founders of a family name sounds like too much responsibility, and we’d lose a connection to the past. That’ll also be very confusing for future genealogists trying to research family roots.

While about 90 percent of American women assume their husband’s surname, there are still a vocal few who perceive it as “archaic,” which I discovered when I came across one community blog, AskMetaFilter.com. On this site, there was a whole discussion about this topic, ideas that I had never even considered. Although it came through in the postings that it was a rather liberal site, it did bring up some interesting options.

Husband takes wife’s name; husband and wife keep their own name, then combine the two for their children’s last names; each spouse keeps their own last name then the sons take their father’s surname and the daughters take their mother’s; wife keeps name, gives children her name as a middle name.

According to a recent study by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, based on Massachusetts birth records and marriage announcements in The New York Times, the number of college-educated women keeping their name dropped from 23 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2000. Explanations in articles analyzing this study ranged from a shift back to traditionalism to the fact that it’s just easier in the long run.

Although I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do professionally, I know that in my personal life I plan to take the name of my husband. Since Judaism teaches that through marriage man and woman become one, we might as well have the same last name.

This article first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

It’s about the marriage, not the wedding

It’s the marriage that’s important, not the wedding.

I keep repeating that mantra each time wedding details begin to overwhelm me. Hors d’oeuvres, centerpieces, flowers, music, cake – the “to do” list goes on.

A few days after Ron proposed, I told him I wanted to avoid the inevitable stress involved with planning a big wedding. “I just want something simple,” I said.

“Great, me too,” he replied, cautiously eyeing the big stack of wedding planning books I just checked out of the library.

After skimming through a number of these books, I learned that even planning a simple wedding can be complicated.

In order to make the process as simple as possible, I spent an hour at Borders selecting the most appropriate wedding organizer. On Page 14 is a wedding planning checklist and the first heading is “Nine months and earlier.” The only thing on the list we’d accomplished so far was selecting a date – six months away. I hadn’t yet reserved the ceremony or reception sites, booked a photographer, ordered my dress or selected a color scheme.

All that to do and I haven’t even gotten to the second heading: “Six to nine months before wedding.” We were already behind in booking the caterer, musicians, videographer and florist.

But a recent conversation with Lori Palatnik, who will be speaking in the Valley next week about “The 10 Secrets of a Successful Marriage,” reminded me that I shouldn’t let details like flowers and wedding cake distract me from the real purpose of the wedding.

“You should spend as much time planning your marriage as you do your wedding,” she advised.

So that means that in between choosing invitations and centerpieces we should also focus on what happens after the glass is broken under the chuppah? Hmm… good idea. But how?

First of all, Palatnik says that engaged couples must throw away misconceptions fed by the movies.

Marriage is “not like the movies,” she says. “You’re not going to feel ‘wow’ every day.”

In fact, if a person thinks their fiancÄ is “perfect,” it may be a case of infatuation rather than love, since of course nobody is perfect. Love is both eyes open, she says. You see the virtues and acknowledge the challenges, then decide if you still want to go through with it.

“Infatuation feels like love and looks like love, but it’s counterfeit,” she says.

However, infatuation after marriage is ideal, she adds. Then it’s OK to put on the “rose-colored glasses” and see only the positive qualities of your spouse.

“Love is the emotion that you feel when you focus in on the virtues of another person and you identify them with those virtues,” she says. “Unfortunately, what people end up doing a few years into a marriage is you start focusing on the negative qualities and you forget the positive qualities. They’re still there but you made a choice not to focus in on them.”

The second aspect of marriage that Palatnik mentioned was a person must make what’s important to their spouse important to them.

Her third piece of advice is: The more you give, the more you love. “Giving leads to loving,” she says, and compares it to the love mothers have for their babies. “For the first few months, what do you get back? Sleepless nights and throw-up down your front. And yet you love this thing more than life itself.”

However, most people make a mistake with their spouse and move away from this attitude. “If you focus on giving in your marriage, you will have a loving marriage,” except in abusive situations, she says.

Palatnik has been married for almost 18 years and has divulged the “10 Secrets to a Great Jewish Marriage” across the United States, as well as Canada, South Africa, England and Israel, for six of those years,

“It took me over a decade of marriage to really get it,” she says. “And I’m still working on it.”

Palatnik, author of three books, former host of the Toronto television show “The Jewish Journal” and a Jewish educator, offers one last bit of advice.

“The number one piece of advice I would give anybody – I don’t care if you’re about to get married, if you’re thinking about getting married or you’ve been married for 20 years – learn the wisdom that the Torah has about how to have a good marriage.”

In the 18 months Ron and I’ve known each other, we’ve been to seven weddings (two of those couples also met on JDate). Whether held in a formal ballroom or in an informal intimate garden setting, each wedding was beautiful. And they all ended the same way – with two people ready to begin their new life together.

And that’s what’s really important.

This article appeared in the Jan. 21, 2005 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and the Dec. 13, 2007 issue of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

The challenge of defining marriage

I’m finding fewer and fewer things to write about in a singles column since I’m not technically “single” any longer.

I mean, I’m not, not single – according to the definition “characteristic of the unmarried state” – but I’m also no longer looking around in the wide world of singles.

I’m not sure what to call this particular state.

It’s beyond “dating.” A “monogamous relationship” sounds too scientific. “Part of a couple,” maybe? Yes, that sure rolls smoothly off the tongue.

Maybe it’s the recent efforts to define marriage that has led me to this attempt to define which stage my relationship is in and the direction it is going.

Actually, perhaps defining marriage isn’t such a bad idea since there seems to be so many versions of it.

Looking around at relationships around me, it’s kind of frightening to think about the future. One couple I know has recently separated (one of the “oh, they’re perfect for each other” couples that has been married only two years). And they’re not the only “perfect” couple whose marriage has deteriorated. It happens all too often.

Looking at my current relationship, I feel it has careened so effortlessly through the past five months and part of me wonders, what could ever go wrong? Then I remember all the struggles that life often slams in your face and I wonder how that would affect us. I see how other couples deal with life’s ups and downs, and some don’t fare very well.

For instance, some couples’ relationships seem to thrive with children while others seem barely able to stand up to the strain.

Consider a couple I’ve recently met. The woman works days and the husband works nights to avoid daycare for their children; the result is they only see each other for a few hours a week. Yet, they seem happy, although tired, because they’re both working toward the same goal and can count on each other.

The life of another couple – a trendy, fun couple always ready for a night out – changed dramatically after a child arrived. The wife switched to mom mode, willingly foregoing nights out to stay at home with the baby. The husband didn’t shift his priorities quite so quickly and the trendy, fun couple no longer got along quite so well.

With more than half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s justified to be concerned about these kinds of things.

What is the definition of “marriage”?

I decided to Google it, since the trusty search engine seems to have all the answers.

One of the definitions was “it’s an institution in which a man loses his bachelor degree and a woman gets her master’s.”

Hmmm… That’s not really what I had in mind, but I did like the definition of “a set of cultural rules for bringing men and women together to create a family unit and for defining their behavior toward one another, their children and society.”

Although that definition isn’t very romantic, and ignores some of the aspects often deemed important today in deciding whom to marry – chemistry, attraction, employment – it has a long-term sound to it.

After all, isn’t the main goal of marriage to build a life with somebody? And build a family unit, if that’s what you both want. If that’s the underlying goal, then it makes sense to choose somebody that wants the same things, not somebody who merely makes a good Saturday night date.

Whether you define yourself as married, single or “part of a couple,” struggles will still exist in your life, there’s no way around it. But things seem to usually work out for the best in the end – and inevitably provide plenty of good writing material.

This article first appeared in the March 12, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.