When my mother went to college, her father told her she was there to get her Mrs. degree. It didn’t go over well. She was nobody’s Mrs., and even though she did meet my father during her college years, he was far from what my grandfather had had in mind. A hard-working musician who patched together his living through gigs, my dad had no interest in being my mother’s provider. To his eye, she didn’t need it. He was right. My mother is high-achieving, hard-working, and perfectly capable of taking care of herself— and also whoever else might need taking care of, thank you very much. So she got married, but she didn’t get any Mrs. degree. She wasn’t going to be on anyone’s arm or in anyone’s shadow, and I was raised accordingly. The question was always, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Set your sights on something that matters. Aim high, then go and get it. Wife was not an identity, it wasn’t something a person grew up to be. It was just a thing that happened alongside everything else my mother did.
Even in my twenties, when I dated like it was my job (so fun, if sometimes a little miserable), I didn’t think about marriage or commitment. I wanted a boyfriend, and beyond that, I didn’t know what I wanted. Or, I knew I wanted to order a pizza, to take a trip with my friends, to work hard and have my own apartment. By myself. No roommates. With a dishwasher. Really, my focus was on my career, which, for awhile was as a mortgage analyst for a major financial institution, investigating wrongful foreclosure. (This was 2010. I’d guess a lot of recent college grads fell into that line of work.) When I wasn’t working my way up the corporate ladder, I was applying to graduate schools to study creative writing. I got in. I left my job and my boyfriend (yes, I did find one) behind to move to Miami, Florida to get my MFA. I worked tirelessly at something I loved. I was a writer.
This is where my life got unexpected. That boyfriend I left behind? He was the kind of guy who grew up thinking about marriage and family. He was the kind of man who dated, because dating is how you find a wife. Having a wife is how you end up with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, the whole package. Lots of people probably dated that way, but I was completely oblivious. Anyway, by the time I’d been accepted to grad school, we were in love, so we didn’t break up. As far as Tony was concerned, if I wanted to move two-thousand miles away in the name of pursuing my dreams: great. He’d be in Minneapolis, waiting for me when I came back. And of course I came back. Any man who can take a backseat to my own aspirations for three years is a man worth coming back to. We spent three years in a long-distance relationship, talking for hours on the phone, flying to each other’s cities, centering our lives around the promise of a future together.
Women talk to me about wife-things. Their husbands ignored me altogether.
Fast forward to 2020. We bought a house in the suburbs, less than 5 miles from where he grew up. We adopted a dog, Brando, who is the love of our life. We got married. I’m still writing. I teach Pilates, because it’s a good hourly wage and gives me the freedom to prioritize my creative projects, which do not make a good hourly wage (yet?). When I write my bio, I’m Jaimie: writer, Pilates Instructor, dog mom. To me, I’m not a capital-W Wife. I’m married. It wasn’t until I got married that I learned that, when I people meet me, what they see is a wife. That’s it. My whole identity. I’ve sat beside a woman at a dinner party who spent— I’m not joking— the entire evening talking about my family planning. She did not ask what my interests are, what my hobbies might be, or what I do for a living. She congratulated me on my nuptials and went straight to my reproductive cycle. I could write her off as an odd duck, but she’s not. That dinner party was far from an isolated incident. It was the beginning of a pattern. Women talk to me about wife-things. Their husbands ignored me altogether.
I have spent my life crafting an identity that I find interesting. Educated, artistic, multi-faceted, and the day I put on a ring and changed my last name (which I’d advise against, by the way. So much paperwork.), all of that seemed to be erased.
Why? Is this because married a man who loves and supports my dreams, but also, yes, wears a tucked-in polo every day? Who hangs out in golf courses? Is it because we moved to the suburbs? If I were a different sort of person, I might not notice this erasure. I’m not a different sort of person. I do care. I feel perplexed. I feel, sometimes, like I’ve stepped into the past.
Or, maybe, I’ve just stepped into the suburbs.