November 25, 2013 – I would have been married 30 years today.
It’s harder to comprehend that today is also an anniversary of a different color. It marks the 27th anniversary of my divorce. That’s right folks, we signed our divorce papers and it became official on what would have been our third anniversary. We know how to celebrate.
I didn’t mean to make you feel melancholy about my situation. I don’t. It was the right thing for all of us, my ex-husband, my son and me. I’m also not writing to air any grievances about the marriage or the divorce; instead, I want to share the bizarre ritual that takes place when a woman tries to begin using her maiden name again.
It all started on November 25, 1983, the day I got married. We went down to city hall in Philadelphia a few days prior to get our license, we took our vows and boom…I became Jane Conroy. I remember liking my new name because it was a simpler to say than Jane McMaster by one large syllable, and I told myself it sounded like an author’s name.
Three years later, problems began, and I’m not talking about the marriage part. I never officially changed my name from McMaster to Conroy with the Social Security Administration, which looking back may have been a sign.
After we got married and had a baby, I left my job and didn’t go back to work until the after divorce. When that happened, and without thinking too much, I applied for a job, was hired, and began to be paid as Jane Conroy. It wasn’t until after I got my first report from the Social Security Administration sometime later – you know the one that describes how much you will have to live on when you retire – that I realized there was a mix up. Both Jane McMaster and Jane Conroy had the same Social Security number, and that was causing problems. Instead of fixing it correctly, which I would later learn couldn’t be done anyway, the logical solution was to begin using Jane McMaster-Conroy. It provided a temporary fix, and at least I was in sync with the Social Security Administration.
Many years later, when my son graduated from high school, I decided to make the name change legal and permanent. I wanted to have the same last name as him when he was young, but now that he was almost an adult, I didn’t think he’d care if I began using Jane McMaster again.
I contacted Social Security to make it official, and discovered a huge assortment of problems. They explained that first I had to officially change my name to Jane Conroy since I never did that, and the only way that could be done was to visit city hall with my marriage license. It sounded like a lot of work, but it had to be done. I searched my paperwork for my license (I’m usually meticulous about keeping paperwork safe) and came up empty-handed. I found my divorce papers, but nothing that stated I was married on November 25, 1983.
The next step involved calling my ex and asking him to make me a copy of his papers. No big deal. However, a few days later he dropped a copy of our divorce papers into my mailbox. We both had those, but apparently neither one of us wanted evidence to the contrary.
My next stop was city hall to see if they could help me track down the license because Social Security wouldn’t accept the certificate from the church since it wasn’t the official document. During my visit to city hall, I discovered that the two of us had the gall to get married before technology allowed them to keep electronic records. The clerk further explained they would have to research in the microfiche department where the old stuff lived, and that was bound to take at least a few weeks. I waited this long, and because of my own stupidity, I would be forced to wait even longer. Again, I told myself it was no big deal. There was no rush.
A month or so later, I received a call explaining that they could not track down the license, and they think it may have been lost in a flood in the microfiche office years before. They told me there was nothing they could do, and I should contact the church that married us for a copy. When I explained the situation to Social Security, they told me there was nothing they could do, either. I had to prove I changed my name from McMaster to Conroy or my request could not be completed. I suggested that I just begin using McMaster again, since in reality, I never changed it in the first place, but they warned it could complicate matters even further. I was now known as Jane McMaster Conroy at the administration and without the right paperwork, it wouldn’t be easily changed.
That was about 12 years ago, and today I remain Jane McMaster-Conroy. Now and then, someone still says to me, “Oh, you’re one of those hyphenated last name women,” whatever that means. Yes, I suppose I am. And because I’m not sure what to do next, that’s not going to change any time soon.