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

By on Oct 29th

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!