Because this is a blog about my life and because I have very little shame, I’m going to let you in on a secret: I recently had laser hair removal. I won’t go into too many details, because it’s not relevant to this blog post, but suffice to say, it’s something I did this past winter, before we were all locked down in our houses.
I’m not sharing this information because I am a chronic over-sharer (although I am, and Shawn certainly was too) or because I think all widows should get laser hair removal (do what you want with your body!) No, I’m sharing this information because of what happened to me when I went to get it done. I arrived at the office, got a set of forms from the receptionist, and started to fill them out. At the top of the first form was basic information for me to complete: my name, address, age, and marital status.
I paused when I was filling it out. Why in the world did I need to tell the laser hair removal technician what my marital status was? What impact could it possibly have on the ability of the technician to do his or her job? And why were there only three boxes: single, married and divorced?
Should I put single? Was that accurate?
I probably spent five minutes thinking about what to do. “Divorced” is inaccurate. So is “married,” really. But “single” also didn’t feel quite right.
Because I’m a rebel, I ended up drawing my own box and checking it. I wrote “widowed” next to it.
It made me think about a related question that sometimes comes up in discussions with other widows: do I still continue to go as “Mrs” now that I’m widowed?
I so rarely went by “Mrs” when Shawn was alive that I haven’t thought about this much. (My students call me by my first name, and the kids in the neighborhood call me “Miss Marjorie.”) But I know that it pains other widows who live in more conservative communities. I’ve even had people ask me if I’m going to change my last name back to my maiden name. (Answer – no.)
All of this raises a larger question, of course. Why in the world must we constantly announce our marital status for the world?
I get that it’s sometimes relevant, like if I’m filling out my income taxes or some form for Social Security. But there are so many other times when I have to announce that I’m a widow when I really don’t think it’s needed. Does the airline really need to know my marital status in order to assign me a seat? What about when JCrew sends me a new pair of pants? Or when I sign up for a new class at the gym?
It’s bonkers. Marital status matters sometimes, but why is whether I’m married (or was once married and am now widowed or divorced) so important in American society? Why do we place so much emphasis on this? None of these same forms ever ask me if I voted in the last election, or volunteer in my community, or exercise daily. I mean, if personal information is truly needed, why not ask those types of questions instead?
As a widow friend of mine pointed out, “if they are going to ask us these otherwise irrelevant and invasive questions, can’t we at least get some sort of widow discount?”
I try and let this sort of thing go. But then I find that later it will irk me. So, as part of my pushback, I’ll continue to draw in my own box. I’ll continue to mark “widowed” and dare the receptionist to ask me more about it.
But she won’t, or at least she didn’t at the laser hair removal place. Maybe because she was embarrassed or maybe because she didn’t know what to say. Or maybe because, like me, she thinks those boxes are stupid, too.