Moving to “us” from “me” and fearing the loss of my autonomy

Guest post by Jenniibeez
By: cristiano_betta – CC BY 2.0
By: cristiano_bettaCC BY 2.0

I’m weeks away from getting married, and I’ve been reasonably calm throughout the process. A few meltdowns here or there, but overall it’s been smooth sailing. But something has been biting at me the last few weeks and I now realize why I’m freaking out.

I fear losing my autonomy.

My amazing future husband and I have been together just over two years and engaged over one. He’s amazing, and kind, and is a perfectly balanced feminist who looks like a Viking biker. I can’t even imagine my life without him in it, let alone how I managed to get here without him. Yet I’ve been really stressed over the fact that he and I become WE, US, THEM, in the eyes of the law, family, and society.

I understand that we remain individuals who are choosing to share our lives but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m losing a bit of myself in this union. Not by his asking, or tradition requiring it, but that I’m somehow not going to wake up one day not as “Jenn” but as “Mrs. C” or “C’s wife” and that’s all I’ll be.

We’re both keeping our current last names, and nothing will fundamentally change between us, but the Independent Spirit who spent more of her life single by choice is now forever linked as half of a pair.

Maybe this is because I never settled for less, and that I was just so used to having to “always do me” that being part of a pair doesn’t seem to fit me. Keeping in mind that I want this and, as I’ve said above, I can’t imagine not doing this. This pairing fits us both perfectly. We actually prefer to be with each other to the exclusion of all others.

It’s just a strange place to be in. I’m not sure if I feel this way because I’m established in my life, career, relationships, and most importantly in myself, or if others feel this way, too.

Marriage? Moving in together? Becoming a parent? Who else struggled with feeling like they were losing their “me” when becoming an “us”?

Comments on Moving to “us” from “me” and fearing the loss of my autonomy

  1. I had a little bit of this fear, but not much. My husband and I have been married a year and a half, together 6 years. I initially feared it a bit because while I am not super independent I am used to doing things for myself. I am an only child and when I wasn’t living in the same city/state as my parents I had to do things for myself. That being said, there is a lot of “us” and I don’t mind it. Not one bit. We love each other’s company (kind of a requirement for marriage to work) and do a lot of things together. We also do quite a bit apart. We need our own space and time and do the things we each individually love. My husband plays his bass and video games that I am not into. I go do my crafty things and spend time with girlfriends. I even go on weekend trips to see my folks or my best friend and my husband stays a bachelor. If my husband made friends more easily he would probably do some of the same.

    We have found balance is key for us. We are “US”. But we want to be. We are also ourselves and we want to keep our individual identities too. So our “me time” is very important to each of us.

    • I experienced this, too. In the end it didn’t work that way at all… But we did have parts of our vows that spoke to the passions and pursuits we have outside of each other as being of value to us.

  2. Spouse and I wrote our own ceremony, which was a really great time to discuss the meaning of different phrases typically found in wedding celebrations. A lot of them either made us gag or roll our eyes, so we had to figure out why. One phrase we really hated was “when 2 souls become 1.” I mean , maybe it is more like a Venn diagram, but we don’t completely overlap and never will! So in our relationship we like to emphasize compatibility, companionship, common and individual goals, etc. There’s still a “I” in marriage! Go team!

  3. I can relate to this fear, as someone who spent years of her dating life struggling between simultaneous desires to be in a relationship AND be super independent and single, “sowing my wild oats,” so to speak. Now I’ve been in a relationship for 7 years, thinking about getting married, and couldn’t be happier.

    Part of what helped me get through was thinking about what I was actually afraid of.

    Was I afraid that people would perceive me as less of an individual?
    On that note, I basically decided those people could go to hell, or at the very least, shouldn’t cause me any worry. The people who are my true friends continue to respect me and my significant other as individuals and don’t constantly refer to ME as “you two” or “you-and-[SO’s name]”. As for the others, you can either ignore what they think or try to correct them, ex. they ask “What are you-and-significant-other doing this weekend?” you can reply, a bit pointedly, “Well *I* am doing XYZ, but [significant other] has his own hobbies.”

    OR was I afraid that, in being more committed, I would actually lose some of my individuality, my personal tastes and hobbies?
    This was a much bigger issue for me, as I realized I struggled a bit with being dependent on my significant others. In my most recent relationship, I’ve tried to avoid it by carving out regular alone time (it’s easy for us–I am a ‘morning person’ and he is not, so I get to be alone in the mornings) and using it to develop my own hobbies, listen to my own music, watch my own movies, and generally revel in me-ness. If I still have things I want to do when he wakes up, I just warn him “I’m going to want a couple hours of me-time today”. Me-time really helps me reaffirm my identity and individuality. Another thing that helps is that we have a “vinn diagram” of friends–he has some friends that are “his”, I have some friends that are “mine”, and then we have some that we share. Going out with “my” friends, doing stuff he wouldn’t be into and talking about stuff he wouldn’t be into, plus the crucial element of being out in public without him, all make me feel like a much more independent, confident person.

    So I would encourage you to think through some similar things. Think about that image you have that you wake up one day and you aren’t “Jenn” anymore–what happened? How did you know (in the dream) that you were not Jenn? Was it the way people see you? Was it how your activities or time overlap with his? Once you know some of this, you can take some steps toward making it not happen or changing your perspective on it.

  4. Unfh, Viking bikers are the best, are they not? Congrats on your impending marriage!

    With regards to your question, is it possible to talk to him about it? Ariel & Co. are big fans of the pre-marriage talks and so am I. Explain to him how you feel and ask how he feels; does he share your point of view, does he see it differently, and if so, how? Be mindful to emphasise that you are looking forward to the wedding and the marriage and your feelings of losing a part of yourself are not about him.

    There’s this strange culture where married people are suddenly seen as a combo-deal (“you can’t have one without the oooother” and yes I know that’s not a correct reference but I don’t care). Therefore this issue is perhaps more about the way your family unit is perceived than anything else? It may be tiring, but you can correct people. If they use HisLastName to refer to the both of you, correct them. When people ask “Where’s VikingBiker?” at a party, quip about how the two of you are not a Siamese twin.

    A marriage is not something you should take lightly. HOWEVER, the two of you are already an unit as is. Try looking at is like this: the only change that’s occurring is that this family you’ve created will be formally recognized by the state and your old-fashioned aunt who doesn’t acknowledge a relationship if there’s not a ring on it.

  5. I think that a lot of these kinds of feelings arise from the social norms, expectations and collective consciousness. For so many years it was expected that women gave up their identity when they were married, and basically signed over all of their power to their husbands. There is still some wounding in our social psyche from this, because it still happens in certain areas of the world.

    We are healing this wounding of the collective by changing the narrative of marriage and relationships. You can do some healing both at a personal level and on that larger world scale by setting the intention to retain your independence, power and autonomy, while becoming part of a loving two person team.

    While I don’t think total autonomy is a good goal to have in a marriage (because you do need to consult with the other person and take their health and happiness into consideration), it is possible to retain an independent life that is enriched by having your spouse as a partner, and you can carve out autonomy in areas that matter to you.

    My husband and I took each others names (so we each have two last names), but we didn’t change everything, so sometimes we still go by our originals. We didn’t completely merge finances either, which I think really helps with the feeling of independence.
    He pays the rent, and I pay all the bills and groceries. It works out closely enough and we keep our own spending money separate, so we don’t have conflict in that respect. If we’re making a purchase of over $200 we run it by the other party (which also helps curb random impulse buying).

    We spend a lot of time together, but way more time apart, and we encourage and support each others hobbies, activities and time with friends. I travel without him for business and pleasure sometimes. I love that we have our separate lives, yet we are together at home and get to share that life together, without making every part of our lives about each other. We’re happier when we see each other, and have more to talk about because of our time apart!
    I honestly couldn’t imagine feeling like Mrs. My husband’s name, because it’s just not me. It won’t be you either, unless you choose to surrender your will and identity (which you won’t do, because it’s not your style!)

    Good luck with everything and congratulations!!

  6. My take? You’ve already lost some autonomy. It’s inevitable. And it’s awesome.
    I feel like being a part of any relationship means becoming a “we”. Some of your interests have shifted since you’ve become a couple, not because you’re giving up anything but because you’re exploring new things together. You’re tackling problems together and those have become a part of your shared experience–it’s not your story or his, but yours together as a couple. I love what justanothersciencenerd said about being a Venn diagram. You still have your selves, but you also have your shared history.
    It sounds like you’re committed to not folding your side of the Venn diagram into the middle. I think people close to you will see that and respect that. Along the way, someone will inevitably make an assumption about who you are as a married person, but asserting yourself as YOU will always help you feel individual.

    • I have found that being an “us” makes for a stronger “me”. Like two vines trellising around each other, we each are a separate plant. But we can reach greater heights and be more vibrant if we can support and cling to each other. Without “us” there are things that I would want to do that would become immeasurably harder without my husband.

      This is a metaphor obviously. There was some tension early in our marriage with his family because he would do things like take three days to go visit his parents while I was busy with a work project. (His parents were worried this was a sign we were on the rocks).

  7. I hear ya, sister! I’ve been married to my husband for 3 years now, but we’ve been together for 9 years. Even before marriage, I always had this autonomy obsession. Personally, I had some major losses occur in my life before I ever met him, and losing any more of my personal-self in a relationship was actually a big source of anxiety for me.
    I’m happy to say that at this stage in our relationship, we have levels of dependence and independence that is, in my mind, pretty perfect!

  8. My husband has a fun way to help me with this, at least on a small level. I have a huge problem with mail that comes to the house addressed as “Mrs. [His First Name] [His Last Name]”. I flat out refuse to open it, because when did I begin existing only as an extension of that awesome guy I married? When he sees mail addressed this way, he’ll steal it, cross out the name, and replace it with a cute nickname or something like “Empress of the White House on Maple Street”. It’s not only a funny way to diffuse the situation, but it’s a subtle acknowledgement that he respects me as an individual.

  9. I had to learn the hard way during my first marriage that I was not supposed to be my husband’s conjoined twin – he desperately wanted me with him 24/7 and I had no idea why I was miserable. It took a lot for me to figure out what happened – I had lost my identity to him without realizing it. It took me two years after my divorce to get it back.

    So, I’m engaged again, this time knowing who I am with my own hobbies and interests and with a man who encourages it. Funny thing, though, is that he’s worried about losing his identity in the marriage because he’s seen it happen with his friends (who, quite frankly, have marriages that are just as, if not more than, dysfunctional as mine had been). He’s having to work out his own demons about that. I’m waiting until he’s ready.

    All I know from experience is that giving up yourself for another is not healthy. Sharing one’s life is healthy. And now I know the difference.

  10. I totally get it.

    I married my sweetie last year. But I really freaked out about losing my autonomy when we first moved in together about four years ago. So bad in fact that I actually suggested us having separate shelves in the pantry and refrigerator. And when he asked to drive me car, I lost my shit. I was scared out about being absorbed into another person’s life and totally losing my own.

    In reality, to a degree, you are losing some of your autonomy. It really isn’t just you anymore. You’re signing up to create this little micro-family of just you two. You’re promising to forsake everyone. You’re becoming someone’s buddy for life and that carries more responsibility than you have to your other buddies. It’s awesome but still scary as fuck.

    In the end though, it’s not necessarily about how society or other people see us; it’s how we see ourselves. And how we redefine our own personal boundaries within that relationship so that we can still be ourselves while still doing our part and contributing to the new “we” that you’ve both created.

  11. As a person who has struggled with codependency, I dislike the concept of unity ceremonies and talk of two people becoming one when they marry. It reminds me too much of my past unhealthy relationships in which I was less an individual than I was half of a unit – someone who was not whole by herself.

    Instead, I like to think of my current partnership using the Gregory Maguire quote: “One plus one equals both.” Together, my fiancé and I are a family made up of Both – him and I. When we’re apart, we’re not half of something, we’re whole people. It means that although we enjoy spending time together, we’re still able to do things apart and recognize our need to cultivate our own interests and friendships and hobbies outside of each other. We’re able to be full people separately AND together.

    • I love the “one plus one equals both” quote! I utterly hate it when people refer to my wife as my “other half”. (Or even worse, “better half”!) We are both whole people, thank you very much!

  12. Reading the book “The Conscious Bride” by Sheryl Paul was hugely helpful for me in dealing with this. It’s been seven years since I read it, and I still credit it for saving my sanity and sense of self when I was preparing to get married.

    On the way others perceive you: what I’ve come to accept is that other people will always, at least to a certain extent, make assumptions about you based on the choices you’ve made and the way you are living your life. If you and your fiance never married, there would always be people who assumed that he fears commitment and you are stoically waiting for a magical proposal, or that you’re both cold and unfeeling and have no sense of romance or don’t really love each other. When you get married, there will be people who assume that this is what you’ve been dreaming of ever since you were a little girl. If you have kids, some people will assume you just want a little creature to cuddle. If you don’t, some people will assume you are unloving. If you buy a house, some people will assume you want to live as a suburban domestic goddess. If you don’t, some people will assume you’re irresponsible with your money.

    This is not all to say that other people are all cold and uncaring and judgmental; it’s just that we all make certain assumptions about the people around us, and we all are the recipients of those judgements from time to time, too. It’s sort of freeing to then take that and then make the conscious choice to do what makes you (and your fiance, too) happy, regardless of how it might change the way that some people see you.

  13. I’ve been married four years, and still struggle with this. I love my husband and really he’s the only one I could enjoy a four hour bus ride through the Negev with. But I sometimes hate the “we” part of our relationship. Seriously, I don’t want to have to factor him into EVERY decision I make, including what to have for dinner tonight and what time to leave for the superbowl party. I really hate the constant negotiation that is part of a relationship. I love the sharing the big things– like planning our lives and taking vacations. I’d be much happier if I could eat what I want when I want and go where I want when I feel like it. I don’t think I’ve “lost” myself, I just don’t like always having to think of another person on every.little.thing.

  14. My independent self has been married for 3 years now and I find this same issue comes up here and there all the time, and if it didn’t then that would be cause for worry. It’s important to think of the differences between the “we” and the “me” because they do exist and typically the idea of marriage squashes those differences. I’ve been trying more to identify things that are just for me or just done by me, typically things that I enjoy doing and don’t want to compromise in any way (sending Valentine’s cards to people I love signed just from me, doing yoga whenever I want as a time priority that I don’t compromise for my partner or anyone, signing up for a gym by myself so that I never feel like I’m obligated to drag my partner along). If I stop thinking about ME then I would morph and get lost in a “we” and I don’t ever want that to happen. I love my partner, our marriage, stability, and comfort AND I love my independence, my solo hobbies, the music my partner doesn’t like, and all other things I get to deliciously enjoy because I get to keep them all to myself!

  15. I feel this, though not in the way one might expect. My fiance and I both acknowledge that we can be very co-dependent, so we spend a lot of effort to mitigate that and make sure we both have time for the things we want to do on our own. However, there is still a lot of “we” in our relationship, which is good in some ways, and less than great in others.

    For me, being financially independent has always been a goal of mine. But with the way circumstances have worked out, between school, an ongoing health condition, and going back to school for another degree, and then beginning to date my partner while in school for that degree, I never really got to do that. I work now, and make an ok salary, and could live independently, but at this stage we are living together and engaged. So we have both of our incomes, which is fantastic for us financially, but it does kind of eat at me that I never got to have an apartment that was just mine, that just I was paying for (my parents helped me afford an apartment while I went to school). Now we are looking at buying a house together. We have progressed a lot in a relatively short time (encroaching on two years), and I feel simultaneously like I’m behind in terms of career development, and like I skipped a step in terms of being an adult.

    I don’t really know what to tell you, honestly, but it looks like a few other people have some good advice, which I will probably also look into trying out. 🙂

  16. My now husband (of ~2 years) and I have been together on and off for 12 years, and I still am getting used to being referred to as his wife. What’s odd is that it’s when I hear him referring to me as his wife to service people (credit card company etc.) that otherwise have no relation to us that I feel the weirdest about it.

  17. This is something that worried me before I got married and still does now (It’s only been 3 months). While I enjoy my husband’s company, I always did for the 7 years we dated before getting married, I’ve always been afraid of losing myself after I became someone’s wife.
    I say that because even though we went out and stuff, I’ve always been very independent and done things on my own. I enjoyed living alone in my house, going to the movies alone, and now living 24/7 with someone has made me a bit cautious and nervous about getting married.
    It’s all new to me but while it’s been great to share a significant part of my life with him, I try to go out or to my parents on my own, go to the movies with them and/or with other friends, read my books so I can have some “me time” from time to time. It’s refreshing to me and I don’t feel as if I’m losing myself. Recently a friend of mine got married and she’s lost a great deal of herself in just a few months of marriage. I was shocked and very worried. She’s now a shadow of her husband. It’s normal to have different priorities after you’re married but It’s sad to see how much she just abandoned her plans and likes for her husbands’. It’s probably not healthy at all, as far as relationships and partnerships go.

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