Lewd jokes & late nights: How to redefine what "married lady" means

This is me, shortly after my wedding… acting the same as I did before the wedding. Photo by Dawn Bustanoby
I still don't think it has sunk in that I'm married. People say I am a wife now, and suddenly everyone is treating me differently and I don't like it. I love the idea of being married. I love calling him my husband. But now I'm expected to act in a manner that just isn't me… and I hate it.

After the wedding, people who always joked around with me suddenly had magical boundaries. I had someone say to me that looks shouldn't matter because I'm married now. Now, of course looks aren't everything, but it astounds me that people think it's inappropriate to compliment a woman just because she's married. I was in a serious relationship with my fiance just one week ago, and these same people had no issues with complimenting me.

I'm also expected to act very adult, expected to change my name, expected to become this polite woman that is the complete opposite of who I am. People are viewing me as the quiet wife who has given up all of her fieriness and youth. I am just as fiery as I was three days ago before walking down that aisle. Exchanging vows didn't change that.

How can I deal with this?
-Anonymous

I'm so sorry that you're bumping up against people's expectations on this issue. Your community of friends and family have clearly been acculturated to understand certain things about what marriage means, and about what happens to a woman when she becomes a wife — how she should act, and how they should act around her.

Some women might appreciate the shifts you're describing — and that's awesome for them. But for those of us who don't relate to these projections of what wife means (a little more docile, a bit more mature. Completely off the market, which means inappropriate to compliment), it can be quite a challenge to collide with these preconceptions.

If you're not fitting into the box of what your community of friends and family are telling you "wife" means, then it's up to YOU (and me, and each one of us) to define for the people around us what "wife" means.

I wrote about this in my book's final chapter, "Getting Wifed":

I think most offbeat wives work with their partners to do what we can to redefine the institution of marriage on our own terms. We work hard to question every role we're handed, every assumption that gets served up day after day. It's exhausting sometimes, of course. Just as, in some ways, it'd be much easier to just have the damn template wedding (pick some vows from Corinthians, wear the white dress to keep mom or God happy), in many ways it would be easier to live the more normal married life. The one where you walk through it without intention, without critical thought. Why is he holding the door open for you? Why are the Christmas cards addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Him? Why do people always ask the new wife about when the baby is coming — and never the husband?

Likely your friends' behavior is motivated by wanting to respect this transition in your life. You're a married lady now! Some married ladies DO feel really different and DO want to be treated differently. If you don't, then you need to make that clear. You need to SHOW them what THIS married lady acts like. Don't let other people define wife for you! Use this as an awesome opportunity to embrace the fact that YOU own your identity, and what "married lady" means to you may NOT be what "married lady" means to the people around you.

So, how can you do that? Well, based on what you've mentioned, I'd say stuff like:

  • If your friends are nervous to compliment you, start complimenting them. For me personally, once I became a married lady, I started playfully harassing my friends constantly. Ask my friend Shon (aka DJ No Sleeves) whose very muscular arms I am constantly making lewd comments about. You want people to keep joking around with you and understanding that they don't have to be all stand-offish just because you're married? Start joking around with them and showing them how it's done.
  • Don't want people to think you're suddenly docile? Keep going out and doing the same old gnarly shit you've always liked doing. I don't know what that may be for you, but if you still want to do it KEEP DOING IT. Invite your friends along. If they look at you weird, throw it back their faces: "What, you think just because I'm an old married lady I'm skipping the rollerderby bout to stay home and give myself an enema or something!? Pshht, whatever."

There's no need to prove anything here — it's not like you need to suddenly overcompensate as some life-transition crisis where you're desperately gasping at 4am on a Tuesday "I STILL GOT IT! I STILL GOT IT!" waving around a glowstick at a club wearing a boa and shoes you can't dance in. (Unless that's always been your thing, in which case: Me at 22, is that you?! CALL ME!) You're not changing who you are here — it's the opposite. You're showing your friends what hasn't changed. In your case, your fire, your age, or your sense of humor.

All I'm saying is don't let other people's expectations about you be a weight or a burden… try to see it as an invitation and an opportunity to really change some people's perspectives on "what a wife looks like." For some of us, slipping into the more familiar roles of "wife" can feel comforting and cozy. For others, the conceptions about "you as wife" looking any different from "you as fiancee" just don't fit with our personalities. It's up to us to gently, lovingly, and appreciatively let our friends know that nothing's changed.

Want more perspectives on freshly married life? Head on over to Offbeat Home & Life's newlywed archive!

  1. Thanks for this post.

    I often find myself trapped by my imagines of the expectations of others. My man and I have worked together to free me from this strange affliction. And I think having seen this a month before our big day, will help me remember that while some things in our lives are going to change, we don't have to change things we like! We don't have to become an "old married couple." We can just both keep being who we are!!

    Thanks! This is why I LOVE OBB!!

    5 agree
  2. OMG I love this post. A lot.

    I got that a lot, "oh you're married now I can't jokingly flirt with you anymore or say inappropriate funny things" Um yes, yes you can. If I let you do that before, than why would I stop you from doing it now? The only thing different about who I am now is my tax filing status. That's it.

    It's been about 2 months since the wedding and our friends have gradually, but eventually, reverted back to their original roles of being awesome and not weird. Our parents are a whole 'nother story but, what are ya gonna do?

    7 agree
  3. my husbands best friend jokingly said just before our wedding that I had to show him my boobs then because after the wedding day I would be "non-nookie persona numero one"
    a year and a half later and he still makes as many boob jokes as before!!!

    3 agree
  4. After getting married, the guys at my work suddenly felt like they could joke with me MORE. They already knew I couldn't be offended, but I think that being married made them feel secure that there could be no interpretation that they might swoop in and try to steal me from my partner before I made it to the proverbial altar. And it made me feel like I could joke and compliment anyone I like, as much as I like, because everyone knows that I am 100% dedicated to my husband (no matter how much I insist that I'm going to take them to bed because their new haircut looks awesome). It wasn't like I was less committed before, but the rest of the world doesn't always believe that. Whether we like it or not, society at large still interprets marriage as the ultimate sign of devotion.

    People always ask, "How's married life?" and my response is that after 8 years of being together and four years of living together, not much has changed. The one thing that IS different, is that family and the world at large is more respectful of our relationship. This has helped at the Post Office, on flights that try to change our seats, the bank, and the auto mechanic. My family now treats him like family instead of that interloper guy. They see him differently not just because we signed legal paperwork, but because we made embarrassingly tearful declarations of love and commitment in front of a group of 50 family members and friends.

    Ariel's advice is spot on. Just keep being your usual awesome self and make a commitment as a couple to be understanding of the need and importance of pursuing individual interests and time with friends.

    23 agree
  5. Lurve this. As a wife who is toying with treading into monogomish territory (with a knowing and accepting husband, of course) sometimes the ring feels like a great big red stop sign. But it's important for me to challenge everyone's assumptions (including mine) about what a happy healthy marriage is. I think it's important to remember that a marriage is more than the sum of its parts, but it does still have parts :)

    15 agree
    • DUDE. Yes, this. I didn't even touch on the whole issue of people making assumptions about monogamy (because, let's be honest: the vast majority of newlyweds are monogamous, even among offbeat couples) but just on a personal level: YES. BIG HUGE YES HERE.

      Related: http://offbeatbride.com/tag/polyamory

      10 agree
      • Ariel,

        you'd be amazed at the number of people who assumed that we'd ditch non-monogamy, even in the face of the fact that DH and I have been together for over 17 years in a mutually satisfying non-monogamous relationship. Every one figured we just got married because one of us wanted the other one to "stop sleeping around" ARRRGGGHHH! My answer to these numbskulls was as follows "our non-monogamous ways have been working so perfectly for so long that we see no reason to change them"

        13 agree
        • I feel your pain so hard in this area. The boy and I are already sick of the "oh, so you're not poly anymore!" and (from my mother) "Why do you need/have/want a boyfriend if you're getting married? What's the point?" UGH. I'm debating making a whole section of my wedsite dedicated to our partners and our poly lifestyle just so I have somewhere to point the confused towards.

          5 agree
          • If you do – will you please come back here and post a link?? I would be very interested to read what you had to say! :)

            9 agree
        • Yes!! I don't know how many people would ask us (actually, usually just him oddly), or just assume, we'd be "shutting it down" when we got married. Even other people in open relationships seemed surprised that wasn't our intention. I'm like, we're getting married because the relationship we have now, this-one-right-here, is so friggin awesome that we want to lock it down and make it last forever. So why would we change it???

          1 agrees
    • I can completely relate. My first marriage was non-monogamous for the last year (it ended for reasons unrelated to non-monogamy – something I frustratingly always have to add), and it felt like living a double life a lot of the time. My current (hopefully final!) husband and I have a hetero-monogamous relationship (I don't see other men, he doesn't see other women, same sex relationships are a-okay). We don't advertise this fact because it would create serious issues with family members and some friends. It's just not something anyone talks about, but from what I've gleaned, it's something that many people do.

      If you're looking for support, I'm a member of a great Facebook group called "Ethical Non-Monogamy" and it might be worth scoping out (no worries, it doesn't show up on your profile!). If you're interested, we can figure out how to get you added to it :).

      1 agrees
    • This applies to swingers too! My fiancé and I are in an emotionally monogamous relationship but we are also very active in the "scene". It's just how we work and it is frustrating having to reassure each other and our friends that it isn't going to change! We've met several other couples who are happily married, but I never hear about this lifestyle on wedding blogs. Everyone has gone polyamorous :-/

      0 agree
  6. I answered half a dozen "How's married life?" inquiries last night, as I was out and about (without my sweetie — which shocked some people!) at church for the first time since the wedding celebration last week. I know they're just being nice and making small talk… but the answer is a slightly snarky, "Just about the same… but the apartment is messier [after the wedding and honeymoon unpacking]."

    2 agree
  7. Five months of being married and people still ask me "how is married life?" or "so how different is married life?". My answer: "same as long-term relationship non-married life". I've been lucky, though, because most people have a bit of a twinkle in their eye when they say it because they know me and they know my husband and we've been the same people for the 10 years we've been together. I also feel lucky for being able to have the kind of friends who don't feel as though they have to change once they're married. We're all basically the same geeky goofy losers we were in high school. And I'm alright with that.

    4 agree
    • Yeah. I've been getting a lot of the half joking "How's married life?"

      Shortly after my wedding, a friend asked "So, how's your newfound wifeliness?"
      And I said "It's a lot like my previous co-habiting girlfriendliness, except with dental insurance." This is pretty much how I answer all such questions.

      24 agree
  8. I just got engaged and this still resonates so much. Ugh.

    2 agree
  9. I'm just going to say… I embraced the opposite. I haven't walked down the aisle quite yet, but "the change" came as soon as I came back from my proposal. I have have found the off the market business to be really really freeing, particularly when it comes to newer friendships with taken men and other couples. Finally I don't feel like I'm being treated like a potential homewrecker.

    11 agree
  10. Yes! It's like certain boundaries appear (like the ability for people to compliment you without feeling inappropriate etc.) and others just disappear. Like on the night of our wedding, everyone asking when the kids were coming. That wasn't even a consideration for anyone before the wedding, but all of a sudden, everyone wants details of our sex life. Or an older acquaintance, if he calls my husband and can't get hold of him, immediately calls me and seems confused if we're not in the same room and I can't pass on his message immediately.

    Also, everyone asking "how's married life" really doesn't die down very quickly. As someone who's been married over a year, I still get it all of the time from people I don't see everyday. Most people can't comprehend that nothing has really changed from the situation we were living in prior to the wedding, and we're just as happy as ever. We're not suddenly different people with different life goals and different expectations of each other. I think if you're going into marriage expecting your partner and all of their aspirations to change just because you're married, you probably need to sit down a have an in-depth chat before the wedding, or you might be left a little confused. Nonetheless, everyone outside of your relationship somehow thinks this will happen.

    Luckily, most of our close friends are pretty good about all of this, and my one friend who is very traditionalist I managed to sit down and explain my frustrations about the assumptions people make, and now that she understands where I'm coming from, it's much easier.

    2 agree
  11. Yup, still getting lots of the How's married life? 2 years on. His family treat me better. Our friends are mostly the same as they ever were. Yay sensible people!

    Really people we did want to do this wedding thing for ages. It just took a while.. We were together for longer unmarried than we have been married so far. 17yrs v 2yrs. After 17yrs what is going to change?

    1 agrees
  12. I still get "how's married life" a year and a half later. I answer it the same, "The same as non-married life. But now we both have an extra ring on our fingers"

    The bad thing I've run into is suddenly because I'm married it means that my husband might run away or my marriage might break down at any second. I just say, "we've been together 8 years…I'm pretty sure we'll be okay" But it bothers me.

    It also bothers me that now some relatives (mostly his side) have now taken to addressing any mail sent to me as, "Mrs 'L' HisLast". Before I was "Lauren MyLast", and I kept my name…but what bothers me is my name isn't even worth writing down anymore I'm now "L" HisLast. Bothers me so much!

    1 agrees
  13. After 6 years of marriage, it still amazes me that people assume that if you aren't joined at the hip with your spouse, there's something wrong. My husband and I are very different people, and we do a lot of things separately. But we're totally happy, and enjoy being married. Happy enough to bring another human into the mix (baby due in January). And I'm sure once we get into the swing of the baby thing, we'll have people looking at us askance for the things we continue to do even though we are *gasp* parents. Labels can be convenient, but they can also be constraining. I try not to get too defensive when people question the way we do family. It works for us, and that's what matters.

    4 agree
      • Because of our vastly different work schedules, it often feels like we're living apart together :-). And yes, sometimes we do have to schedule times to be together (and it's an ongoing learning process to figure out the right balance of together & apart). I think for many of us who were on the upper curve of our 20s or 30s (or beyond) when we got hitched, there's a lot more independence because we're used to being on our own. Not that we don't love spending time with our spouse, but there's not that need to be constantly together. People who got married younger may have a totally different view.

        3 agree
  14. I love this! We were just discussing last night in our bio-medical ethics class how people's perceptions are always changing and how my prof (who is the most wonderful older czech lady) said she's witnessed perceptions change radically even in the last 10-15 years, now she was referring more towards seniors and in a positive way and how seniors used to be seen as weak and feeble and now they are seen as capable and independent and even being portrayed as such on tv – but I think that's even true for married people, our culture is really changing and evolving in how we see people, and I think that's really hopeful :)

    0 agree
  15. We got married in April, right in the rising tide of discussion about my state's upcoming marriage equality vote. And all summer long we got asked about how it feels to be married. Now, we had lived together before the wedding and yes, YES, on the day-to-day things, it's not that different. We're still picking up each other's socks and eating tacos on a weekly basis and making up silly songs n' shit. But I felt like telling people that was re-enforcing the idea that domestic partnership is "good enough" for LGBT couples because it's just the same as marriage. So, I decided to be honest about the fact that sometimes it's not much different than shackin' up, but it's GREAT to be committed to each other and to have been able to stand up and say that in front of our friends and family and the government. Because, you know, it was.

    9 agree
  16. I'm not married yet, but my mom will tell me from time to time that once I *am* married, all of the housework "will fall upon" me and that husbands "can't help it" if they don't help out around the house. This all automatically assumes that when we get hitched I am all of the sudden the maid of the house and my man is exempt from household duties and can do whatever the fuck he wants, just because he's, well, a man.

    Yeah, I highly doubt it will all come to this, especially with a guy who can cook better than I can.

    3 agree
  17. I get a lot of "How's married life?"
    and I reply
    "The same, except people have started being nosy about our reproductive habits now."

    20 agree
    • Love! This is the perfect response!! I've been asked soooo many times if I am pregnant since we got married. Which is a bummer on your self esteem. Didn't they notice I wasn't skinny in the years of dating before we married?

      1 agrees
  18. Just yesterday I had to remind people on 3 separate occasions that I am not my husband's secretary. I do not schedule his appointments, nor do I make sure he attends them. I think my favorite time was over the summer when I had to remind the secretary at my husband's job that she was actually his secretary, not me, and to no longer contact me regarding work details. If it's a social event then, sure, I kind of am the one to handle those, but whether or not a specific uniform was correct? Not my problem. Don't call me at work to ask.

    2 agree
  19. Something I think a lot of people don't understand is that marriage isn't one size fits all. My first marriage felt like an itchy sweater that I couldn't figure out how to get comfortable in. I tried and tried and tried to find a way to make it work, and it just didn't. I hated being called a wife, I chafed against all the ideas of what marriage was meant to be, I struggled to find a way to assert my own individuality within it. That marriage ended with a bit of a slow burn. We were polyamorous, but not everyone knew it. Hence, many were shocked when I wound up engaged before the divorce was even final. Many MANY people felt perfectly okay telling me that I pretty much wasn't allowed to do that. I wasn't allowed to move on and remarry so quickly because that's not how things are done. I was supposed to wait a certain amount of time, to be single for a while, to in some way change my ways so that I wouldn't screw up again. Because clearly all marriages are exactly the same, right?

    The nay-sayers couldn't be more wrong. I am incredibly happy with my husband. We got married right after the ink dried on my divorce documents. We moved abroad together and lived with his parents while we waited to get married. We've gone through almost every stress you can go through as a couple in the first year of our relationship, and we're blissfully happy. I took his last name legally, I call myself his wife, I introduce him as my husband (something I had trouble with doing two years into my last marriage), I adore my in-laws, and I'm comfortable allowing him to support us while my visa processes (again, I was not okay with being dependent on my ex).

    Every relationship is different, and when a couple breaks up, there is no expectation that those people will be unable to be in other relationships because they've ended one before. My marriage is different this time around because the relationship is different. HE is different, and I am different with him. Our dynamic makes it easy to introduce myself as Mrs. I still go out on my own, I still flirt shamelessly with other people, I still have my own likes/wants/needs/geekeries, and all of that is okay. This marriage feels like a cozy blanket that I want to cuddle up in forever. :)

    7 agree
    • I love your analogy of the itchy sweater and comfy blanket! This fits so perfectly with how my life panned out :-)

      0 agree
  20. Yup. Same problem. But, I will forever be my same ol' self. Whether people like it or not.

    0 agree
  21. I think there's something about this for me which speaks to why I didn't really want to get married.
    Which makes it weird for me to be perusing a blog like OBB, right? Well, I won't lie, part of the whole 'event' thing is becoming more appealing to me, but I still won't take his name and neither will our children if we have any. To me, a marriage certificate was always a piece of paper we didn't need, because becoming defacto in the eyes of the army was such a bigger deal! I never felt like I had to prove anything to him, to myself, or to anyone else about how we feel about each other.
    Having said that, reading OBB these past few weeks (at first for dress porn, I won't lie) has made me think that perhaps it isn't such a bad idea, to stand up in front of our crazy family and friends and say "Yep, it's real." And the next day for us wouldn't be any different, really, but the world would see us differently – sometimes in a good respectful way, sometimes in a weird and disconcerting way. If it meant that the world took me seriously, but I could go on not being serious, then maybe it's not such a bad idea after all. I might go put a ring on it after all ;)

    Side note: I never managed to dodge the when are the babies questions despite not being married, btw – some family members have no boundaries, I swear!

    2 agree
  22. From the other side, I really, really hate when a friend of mine changes drastically immediately following their wedding. Like, we were friends, but now I just feel like I'm hanging out with someone's wife. I hope that never happens to me. It seems so dreadfully boring.

    3 agree

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