What’s a Name Got to Do With It?

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His dress shirts are gone. His golf clubs are history. Any remnants of my ex have long been removed and yet, there is one thing I can’t seem to get rid of: his name.

I’ve never been particularly fond of my married name. It’s only a short word and yet, most people find it impossible to pronounce correctly. Nearly everyone who reads it asks from what nationality it is derived as if they’ve never come across such a curious arrangement of letters before. And because it’s so uncommon, I’ve been asked twice by new acquaintances if I happen to know so-and-so. And then I have to explain that, yes, I do. I used to be married to him.

Add to that a layer of embarrassment of having the same name as the person you divorced under humiliating circumstances. When we got married 26 years ago, I was thrilled to take his name and to pass it on to our children when we started a family. But immediately after our separation, all I wanted was to distance myself from it and from him as fast and as far as possible. How was I ever going to get a fresh start when I was reminded of this colossal failure every time I signed a check?

Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about going back to my pre-marital name, but the problem is, my married name has been associated with me for more years than not. I graduated college and started working only a year before I got hitched – so nearly every person I have ever met professionally over the past quarter century knows me only by this name. Changing it now could be career suicide.

My kids and I share the same last name. Keeping this consistency seems to mean the most to my son, who once flopped on the floor in tears worrying that he too would have to change his last name if I remarried the person I was dating at the time. I didn’t.

To complicate matters, my name is inextricably linked to my business. Twelve years ago, I was advised that using my unique name would ensure that my company would not get confused with  others. Today, my brand is well established; if I change it, I risk losing clients – not to mention that my business name will no longer makes sense.

Like a legal tattoo, it’s the name that appears on my driver’s license, mortgage and passport. It’s the only name that banking institutions, utility companies, health services and all levels of government identify me by. It would be a huge tangle of red tape to change it this point; I already went through enough hassle convincing the cable company to extract my ex and print my name alone on the monthly bill.

So, thinking that since I’m stuck with it, I figured I might as well try to relate to this name in a new way.

I did some research and found a whole list of incredible women who chose to keep their married names after divorce (and often plural remarriages) and went on to accomplish some pretty fabulous things after they were no longer Mrs. So-and-So.

  • Tina Turner (divorced Ike Turner in 1978; remarried in 2013)
  • Susan Sarandon (divorced Chris Sarandon in 1979)
  • Demi Moore (divorced Freddy Moore in 1985; remarried twice)
  • Suzanne Somers (divorced Bruce Somers in 1968; remarried to Alan Hamel since 1977)
  • Pat Benatar (divorced Dennis Benatar; remarried to Neil Giraldo since 1982)
  • Ivana Trump (divorced The Donald in 1992; remarried twice)
  • Joy Behar (divorced Joe Behar in 1981; remarried in 2011)
  • Raquel Welch (divorced James Welch in 1964; remarried three times)
  • Camille Grammer (divorced Kelsey Grammer in 2011)
  • Faith Hill (divorced Daniel Hill in 1994; remarried to Tim McGraw since 1996)
  • Joni Mitchell (divorced Chuck Mitchell in 1967; remarried in 1982)

A few names on the list really jumped out at me, especially the tough mamas who went through famously contentious divorces. Tina Turner, for instance. Drug abuse, bloody fights and financial disputes plagued her 18-year relationship with Ike and in the end, she parted ways with him with little more than her name. It was the name she had built a career and staked her reputation on. After all she’d been through, Tina kept her married name knowing it belonged to no one else but her. There is only one Tina Turner.

And there is only one me. While it can’t open doors with its star power, the name I have (like it or not) is the one I am known by. It no longer means I am someone’s wife, but it does reflect the identity of a remarkable woman. A survivor of hardship and heartbreak. A professional with a strong worth ethic and keen sense of integrity. A mother who is joyful and generous with her love. A human being who always tries her best to be kind.

Like Tina and Susan and Demi and the rest, I intend to continue doing great things with my life after divorce too. And like them, I know my name does not give me value; I choose to add value to my name.

Other People’s Husbands

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Image from “Barbie Wedding” by TheKristenGabs

“I finally married my own husband,” said thrice-wed Maya Angelou in 1975. “My mother has a theory that most people marry other people’s husbands. But I finally have my own.”

What did she mean by “other people’s husbands?” Are 50 percent of marriages doomed to fail before they even start? Are these unions meant to be nothing more than temporary arrangements because the person vowing “til death do us part” is merely borrowed until the real thing comes along?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the idea of marrying “other people’s husbands” could either be an admonishment or a message of acceptance.

On one hand, it could mean that I should’ve recognized inconsistency or incompatibility before getting married (shame on me); that perhaps we rushed into things out of immaturity, foolish love and blind optimism. On the other, it could signal that I must let go of what was never rightfully mine to keep in the first place. Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe…

Falling in love does not equal finding the right person. (Wow. That’s huge.)

I believe that regret is a waste of time. There’s no point spending valuable energy dwelling on what could’ve happened if I’d only zigged instead of zagged. I also believe that some people come into your life as blessings and others come into your life as lessons. If I reflect on my divorce with this in mind, it helps to put more distance between me and negative feelings of bitterness-slash-resentment.

And by accepting that my ex and I were never meant to last, it helps release the pain of saying goodbye to the dream of how I thought my life would play out. No, I am not getting what I thought was in store for me or even what I may have believed I deserved.

When I go one step further and put him into a nameless, faceless category of “other people’s husbands,” it doesn’t dismiss what he did, but it does take power away from my own victim narrative of “my husband/wife cheated on me” or “my husband/wife left me.” The truth is, if he never truly belonged to me, I must stop leaning on the crutch of having been robbed of something. And by removing the possessive, I can start working on not taking divorce personally. Girl, he just wasn’t meant for you.

Maya Angelou had her share of hurt. Before she married her third husband, she’d had two previous marriages that ended so badly she refused to publicly discuss her first two husbands in interviews. And yet, she knew that a broken heart made you into the person you were meant to be and that it was important to move forward with that heart wide open, trusting that life had something better in mind.

That was the attitude I chose to take when I started dating again after my divorce. It took some time, but eventually, it led me to finding my partner. The first time we met, there was a connection, a familiarity, a realization that our lives were meant to intersect. I can’t explain it other than to say my heart knew that this was the tender, generous, good-humored love I was always meant to have.

So you’re the one I’ve been looking for.

Early in our relationship, I found myself lamenting how unfair it was that we’d met in our 40s and not our 20s. He gently reminded me that had the opportunity presented itself, we wouldn’t have been ready for it. We would not have been able to recognize what we see and appreciate in one another now. We would’ve been the right people at the wrong time.

Instead, we needed to go through our own ups and downs and learn from our relationships with others to really understand ourselves and what we were looking for. The twists and turns of my past, including marrying someone else’s husband, has brought me exactly to the person and to the place where I was always meant to be.  I finally have my own.

In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. 

In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.  

(Maya Angelou)