The Coupling Constant

I’m at that age. I’m at the age where everyone is coupling up. The age where things are done in couples. It crept up on me. I didn’t realize that this was a new baseline until it was impossible to ignore. I found myself on a long weekend trip of 11 people, five pairs of these 11 were (surprise!) couples. Let me add by saying that one of the sources of entertainment of the weekend was pairing up the lonely lingering one. The Couples were expected to do the entire weekend together. Maybe they normally do anyway. Still, the declared status of togetherness was overwhelming. People now come in pairs.

I found the realization disturbing whether or not you define yourself as being one half of a couple. It’s something that you don’t necessarily realize or care about when it’s just you and the other person. You’re wrapped up in life with this other person. Me and you. I suppose that’s what companionship is taken to mean. But with a group of couples, it seems to morph into something else. Navigation of the social space is different. You’re attached. You’re expected to know one another, complement one another, and present this to the world.

Now, I’m finding it a rarity for people not to be paired up. It’s all too tangible that this is the age where I should expect my peers to have significant others, husbands, and wives, if not families. Too many times in the past month have I already made decidedly wrong assumptions.

“So, you have roommates?”

“No, I have a family.”

“Oh…yeah, those are like roommates…”

It’s a different frame of mind. People come in pairs. Whether it’s the natural course of life, I’m open to debate. Companionship is, of course, a goal from a young age. It’s rooted in humans as the ultra-social species, perhaps even in our wiring for survival. The challenge of it all is maintaining independence and individuality within the couple, even if we’re horribly attached.

21 Questions

I slipped into Lake Washington and finally exhaled. The day’s sun still burned from my skin and in a first moment of cool relief, submerged, I thought of you. You left me in a heady daze, pinned against a wall after strong coffee and light sleep. “Ask me your questions,” you had said hours earlier when I was curled alongside you and in the openness of such a suggestion, I was stone.

But suspended in the lake, just cool enough that I shivered with each passing breeze, questions simply flowed from drips to a deluge.

Do you remember that moment from our [Thurs]date when I first put my hand on your knee? You had been joking or telling a story in that epic way you have of painting narratives. Feeling you beneath me, I surprised myself with how quickly, how comfortably I had reached out. I caught a quick breath and looked at you: I’ll see him again, I thought. But I almost didn’t, did I? There’s another version of this in another universe. An ephemeral connection; a possible romance.

And still, I would have kept you in my mind. Your smile—I didn’t anticipate your smile. I’ll think of it first and the sly way you’ll coax me: “Come on.” With soft restraint, you light me up. But it’s the unexplored depth of that daydream that teases me. Do you think about it, too?

And what of my room? Those four walls that can seem boundless in their limited world. Inside them, we’re not weighed down by external rules and standards. Any sense of time, of timelines, disappears. Yet, an alarm inevitably rings.

I’ve wondered if our worlds beyond a Ballard bedroom might ever be at odds. My work’s guiding beacon remains the belief that health is a human right. What is yours? Do ends justify the means in our lives’ pursuits, K, or might we cycle in a deontological discussion?  Perhaps we’re both lines for treating an ever-present cancer: scalpel and salve. Are we strengths in different forms?

Am I strong enough for you? Is it a weakness to even ask? This isn’t a question I’ve ever considered before: stark independence and quiet detachment being the tragic flaws brought forth to me so far. But there’s a difference with you. Or is it a change in me?

Do you see? How much more revealing questions can be than answers. And yet, in capturing them I’ve released the risk that petrified my voice. Now you can guess—guess what it is I’m thinking.

Something Borrowed

It’s an old pastime of young girls to imagine their future selves, embodied in a future name – written and signed. Using the last name of a crush, perhaps, just to see how it all fits together, and the vibrations through the air as it rolls off the tongue. It sounds just perfect, and so does the imagined pride of having this new identity, to be this new someone that matters to a particular someone. This pastime is learned at a young age and continues into adulthood. Don’t even try to deny it now. It is learned at a young age that we, as girls, take our husband’s surname – because we will marry. Most girls learn this from their mother and their own family. Mom took dad’s name – and that is how the world works.

There has been a lot of chatter around whether a woman should take the name of her husband’s. And a lot of judgment. It isn’t a new discussion. There are a number of ways that this could go.

  • The traditionalist: a woman changes her family name to her husband’s upon marriage.
  • The relegation: adding the new name last, demoting her name to a middle name that is really never used, let’s be honest.
  • The egalitarian: the abhorred hyphen.
  • The keeper: no change. You modern woman, you.
  • The feminist: man takes her name – I know, rare. It happens. So for completeness, humor me here.

There are issues with each of these options, as there are issues with the concept and act of committing to sharing your entire life forever with a single, often dynamic, person in an unstable world of circumstance. But, that is a discussion for another time.

Now, a necessary aside: this is coming from the perspective of a straight, (partially) white, educated, middle-class female and in the context of getting married, though there are plenty of other reasons to be changing your name. Changing names with the added attachment of another person, however, brings about these particular complex and curious ruminations.

Judgment is always passed on our choices. This choice in particular puts a label on an identity. This change is out in the open, on exhibition to the public. This change brands a shiny new scarlet A – there to be recognized and acknowledged, and judged. She’s anti-feminist. She’s lost herself. She’s attached. She’s no longer her own individual. She doesn’t care about her career and what this will do to her professional life. The hyphen is so unattractive. It makes your name too long, how inconvenient. The name no longer speaks to a pure heritage. It’s a jumbled mess. She doesn’t want to be attached to him. She doesn’t want to label herself. She doesn’t love him enough. And, how emasculating.

Why the judgment? Why is so much physical and virtual brain space dedicated to this choice?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But names carry so much, even if all they hold is a mental construct to which we are unwillingly subjugated by the perceptions of others. It’s the first experience of labeling and identity about which we usually have little choice in today’s Western society. And it follows you around. It is a label, that once attached, is to encapsulate a personality, career, self-image, judgment, and social experience – and the choice is so seemingly arbitrary. So what does it mean to change it, when it’s been established and when, say, things like marriage maybe come along? Well, with all of the hullabaloo about it, we seem to think it means a lot.

Much of this discussion has been built around the rise of the “career woman” and how we must lean in to get ahead in this world. In the relatively new professional world of females, keeping one’s name has become an indicator of an independent, ambition-driven woman, entrenched in circumstances where her own brand carries weight enough to warrant breaking tradition and forever attaching her label to her past, current, and future achievements. Alternatively, she could simply like her name, just the way it is.

Still, there are long lists of how-tos that in themselves reflect the impending judgment and re-evaluation. You’re urged to introduce it in the right way to soften the blow: “How to Change Your Name and Keep Your Professional Identity,” “Changing Your Name? Tips for the Workplace,” how to write that first email. Regardless of how it’s done, you can hear it already, “Oh…, she got married. And this makes it different from before. She has concerns and obligations to someone else, and relationships and character facets that I can’t discern from over here.” When taking marriage and a changed surname as public announcement of a woman’s capacity for care and empathy but also dependence, this change can be perceived as weakness. This decidedly does not pair well with the image of the career woman.

So, here it is. The public discussion and judgment and professional & social reception and identity and brand, all laid out in various spaces of physical and virtual reality. So, how does one choose?

I consider myself independent, a feminist. My career is important to me. My name is attached to things. Regardless of whether or not I get married, it’s a choice that captures identity and forces greater understanding of its facets and veiled values. So…would I change my name?

The conclusion that I’ve come upon is that this choice is a deeply personal one, which means high variation for different kinds of people and different circumstances. Anti-climactic, I know. I’m sorry to disappoint. I never claim to have these answers. I’m better at the questions. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll share my thoughts of the moment on the matter and how others might start to think through this choice.

To begin with, it’s simple. Based on my most primitive fancies, what do I want? Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like my name – its appearance, spelling, sound. I’m not attached to it in the way I find that many are – by their family life and experiences. My last name has never carried the label feature, characteristic of my identity in the same way as my first name. Instead, it floats in my wake, as if connected by a shimmering string of a spider web, easily severed.

Names seem to fit others, while I’ve always had a hard time saying and explaining my own. It’s something I’ve been working on getting used to and I’d say it’s been growing on me for nearly 25 years now. Based on this, my choice seems moderately straightforward: welcome a change that may be more fitting. However, I work in a space where keeping your published name is ideal, if only for the sake of convenience, historic record, respect, and recognition. This is the challenge. What is to be weighed?

Again, my primordial inclination is to say fuck others’ perceptions and judgments and do what you feel. But then, years of socialization force some level of rationalized discussion. These changes induce perceptions and judgments that affect, if only by a smidgeon, respect, recognition, and experience. And experience shapes your life. Or maybe I’m making a bigger deal of this whole thing than it really is.

Luckily or not, I still have time to make my choice. Or I think I do. All I can say if it comes to it is that I hope that I will be the one to shape the name and what it means as applied to me in my past, present, and future – and not all the rest of it.

You have always been the place you need

For more than two years, a poem has bounced around my head. It has nearly one million views and I suspect at least 300 of those views are mine. Each time I watch the poem, it catapults in a previously unconsidered direction and reverberates for days, leaving behind bits of new understanding.

This poem is called “The Type” and it is by the poet Sarah Kay. It is a love poem, but it is not the love poem that I wanted or expected. This poem is not about romantic love, though it is not dismissive of it. This is a poem about self-love. This is a poem about settling into yourself.

For context, this poem was inspired by a line in the poem “Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken: “…Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” Without going into detail, I will say that for all of the years of my adulthood, I’ve been searching for a place to call my own. When you are searching for this place, the danger (and I fall into this), is to mistake romantic love, or the possibility of romantic love, or just romance, or sometimes simply attention, for a more basic type of love. It feels almost reflexive to do this, to accept a mismatched love as the answer to a larger question.

The poem says what I don’t want to hear. Maybe this is because I want to feel special and her words make flirtatiousness and romance and even love seem secondary to something else. Maybe this is because I recognize my own mistakes in some of what she says.

…Sometimes it is not you they are reaching for…but their hands found you first.

…Do not mistake yourself for a guardian, or a muse, or promise, or a victim, or a snack.

…You are not the answer. You are not the problem. You are not the poem, or the punch line, or the riddle, or the joke.

Kay’s words mean different things to me at any given time, but the constant lesson is that romantic love alone will not fill my gaps or reveal my place. At the most basic level, only I can do this for myself. I don’t know when I’ll get there, but I have the tools I need. Finding my place is not mutually exclusive to romantic love (because come on, we want to find that too!!), but I will continue to watch this poem over and over to remind myself that, as Kay says, I need a place to call my own, but at the most fundamental level, I have always been the place.

– M

Drive.

I’ve experienced something new this week. I’ve found out what it means to be a man. Specifically, what it means to have the distracting tunnel vision that seems to cloud logical thought and reason all because of sex – “the sex drive of a man,” if you will. Now, moving past the inherent sexism of using those words together to suggest that women’s libidos are typically meager (as this is definitely not the case), let’s accept it for the time being for the sake of understanding each other.

So, I’m having major struggles. Work is not going efficiently at the moment. I need to talk about this. And I have a thought, eyes wide – is this what men deal with everyday, all the time?

So, of course, I ask the experts. Evidence from my small sample size suggests that the short answer is: yes.

From this, I only have more questions alongside greater empathy for the constant struggle. For example, how do you regularly cope with wanting sex multiple times a day, at least every couple of days? How do you concentrate for more than 20 minutes? What is the “typical” ideal frequency of sex? What do you do when your partner isn’t up for sex as much as you’d like? How do you deal with this issue in a long distance relationship? I only have more questions and my newly found respect.

Maybe I’m a little late to the party. It’s taken me some time to deal with other issues before having the capacity to embrace different aspects of who I am and confront the minute details of my sexuality. While it’s only been a few weeks of this awareness, I have a sneaking suspicion that this may well be my steady state. Over these past few weeks, I’ve reaffirmed my understanding that life inevitably changes and wants, desires, and states of mind, fluid – matters of perspective. Like many questions, answers to mine are understandably different from person to person. Luckily, I have ample time to figure them out for myself.

For now, I’m just going to loop This Summer’s Going To Hurt Like a Motherfucker. Foreboding? Perhaps.