I feel a kinship with Erica Packer, but it's not simply billionaire ex husbands and stunning beauty that we have in common. Erica and I still "use" the surname of our ex-husbands -- and that seems to be an issue for some who think it's an issue of feminism. I agree, it is -- just not in the way they think it is.
I recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of what I affectionately refer to as "my emancipation", so I guess because of that attitude it makes sense that I am often asked when I am going to change my surname back to my maiden name.
Sometimes, the question is posed by potential suitors who are trying to work out whether I am hung up on my ex, and if I will soon reveal myself to be a bunny-boiler. Sometimes it is by my friends and family, who feel that the surname represents a different era of my life. And sometimes I wonder, too, if I should, because I feel so much more like the 19-year-old that I was when I met my future husband than I feel like an almost-40 divorcee.
In an article I wrote last year about how to empower yourself in an abusive relationship, I suggested repeating your maiden name to yourself, to remember that you were once an individual who existed outside of a couple. While I maintain that is very important, it's years after all of that for me, and I know exactly who I am.
When I got married 12 years ago, I made the decision to take my husband's surname. It was a traditional choice, and I thought at the time that it was more about us becoming a family unit rather than me joining his family. (Even though I know that the tradition was borne from a strongly patriarchal society and had more to do with assets and archaic laws than love.) I viewed it as the close of one chapter of my life and the opening of a new one. Watching most of my friends get married and do the same, I genuinely thought the adoption of a new surname was part of the process of becoming a grown up.
I did not have a middle name, so I placed my maiden name in the middle, and my new family name on the end. I finally had the middle name I'd always wanted (to sound grand and important) and had become a family unit with the man I loved. And then I spent two years changing my name on my passport, driver licence, medicare card, all of my memberships, professional associations and the rest, not to mention paying fees for the changes. I officially had a new identity.
So when we had our son, I did not view it as the child taking my ex's surname; he had our surname. When we got divorced, the three of us did not stop being family. We are all still related to each other, and significantly -- our son's brother (from my ex's previous marriage) has the same surname. The boys are still brothers even though their father and I are divorced (although I know that people can still be related if they have different surnames).
So the next step after the divorce seemed simple to me. I dropped the "Mrs", re-made the ring, and filed the divorce papers, because that's all I needed to feel distanced from my ex-husband in terms of a romantic relationship. And I felt it was important to demonstrate to my son that I was not distancing myself from the part of my history that produced him. I had been that woman, that legal identity, for a decade. I did not feel the need, and still don't, to make the statement to myself or the world that I am ignoring or deleting, that chapter in my life, as if it hadn't happened. With children, that is impossible anyway, but I'd maintain this stance even if we didn't share a child.
This is the right decision for me, the right decision for us, in this situation, and I respect that not every divorced person feels the same way. In fact, I suspect I'm in the minority, because I've had a few heated discussions with people about Erica Packer's preservation of her married name. After wondering why anyone actually cared, I argued that if Erica has kept the surname she took when she got married as an acknowledgement of her life's journey, just as taking the name was in the first place, then I could relate to that.
The bottom line is that it's not about the ex, it's about us -- just as it always was, and should be.