DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley with form
Things That Suck

Which Box Do I Check?

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.


  • Melissa

    It really is a conundrum, isn’t it? I’m not married, I’m not divorced, but I don’t feel single either. I like that you drew another box so you could check “widowed.” It’s kind of like what I do on some forms that want to know, inexplicably, what race I am. Very often my reply is “human.”

  • D B

    I’ve been so glad that I’m Dr somebody. I never changed my surname, so there’s no question of changing it back, and my title conveys no information about my marital status or that I was widowed. It’s such a relief not to have to deal with it. It’s crazy that any women still do. I agree there should be another box to check, too. And you know what? In other countries, there are more boxes, and widowed is one of the choices. I learned that while living in my husband’s native country. It’s much kinder, I think. It acknowledges that you as a widow/widower didn’t WANT to be single, didn’t plan on it.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I’ve started to think that maybe I should never respond with anything but “Ms” and no checked boxes around my marital status. Unless I’m doing my taxes, what does it matter?

  • Amy

    You’ve got me all fired up now. You’re right. Next time say it’s Marjorie Brimley, Esquire. Sounds so posh and of such status that no one will ask you anything else.

  • Steph

    In Australia there is often a widowed box, or at least there is in my experience, for which I was so grateful. Love Amy’s ‘Esquire’ suggestion. Another one could be HRH, as a parent at my school lodged with our office when she changed back to her own surname (after divorce). Yeah, we deserve royal status! 🙂

  • Michael Zoosman


    As a tax-payer, I am happy to sign-off on any petition for a widow/er discount….

    May none of us fit neatly into any artificial boxes.

    In Peace,


  • CC

    I am recently a young widow with two elementary aged children (6 months ago), and I never changed my name when I got married 11 years ago. But, now I am hyphenating it with my married name… Should become legal around the time of our upcoming wedding anniversary. I like the idea of holding on to my husband’s name, sharing the name of my children (we are a family!) and since my husband and I worked in similar fields, I like the idea of some co-destiny: his name will also be on my science publications as well because there was so much work and contribution to his field that he never got the opportunity to make /finish.

    • Marjorie

      That’s so beautiful – I love that you are doing it! I continue to think a lot about how I keep Shawn’s legacy around, and one of those ways (for me) is to keep his name. I think everyone has their own path with this, but I love that I am Marjorie Brimley.