For most people, your first, middle and last name make a statement about who you are. Specifically, as a female in the United States, it’s often recognized when your last name changes. This recognition begs the question of what are they congratulating, whether it be freedom of love or freedom from a relationship.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to immediately know within a few minutes of a personal or professional interaction. I’ve been married and divorced. I’ll never forget hearing all the marriage tips, listening to all the wisdom from long-lasting marriages, and seeing the sparkle in others eyes as I naively describe a lofty plan for our future marriage. My last name changed, and spousal language ensued. All was well with people assuming I’d gotten married because I did.

What if you change your last name back to your maiden because you don’t want to continue to carry your spouses’ last name? What if you change your last name back to your maiden because you separated and/or divorced? It can be an awkward conversation if others are assuming you’ve gotten happily married, but you haven’t. What I’ve started to say is that I’ve gotten happily divorced.

Divorce (dun dun duuun), is a negative word but what it means to me is separation from what was an unhealthy relationship. There was no cheating, no one problem, but conflicting pathways, struggle, and unhappiness. I felt stuck, unsupported the last few years, even after much psychological application. This is why I understand divorce is hard, sad, and downright painful but it’s a choice and shouldn’t be viewed from a victim mentality. I chose divorce, I chose to change my name, and I’m still just as intelligent, strong, and centered as I was before. There is no need for “I’m sorry,” or “That sounds really hard.” The last thing I need is someone feeling sorry for me. I want people to celebrate the decision of freedom from something once unhealthy.

I’ve been the person to respond awkwardly, and now I’m more mindful about what I say to others who have 1) changed their name and 2) mentioned they are divorced. Here are a few thoughts to ponder for those being probed about their recent divorce or last name change.

Be direct

My name change was a problem professionally when switching back to my maiden name after my divorce. I changed my signature email, membership name, etc., and the emails, and conversations started pouring in. Most sounded something like “Is there a congratulations in order?” I responded by saying something like, “I appreciate you noticing, but am happily unmarried.” I think the best policy is to be direct and honest. Respond kindly but be true to you.

Know that you don’t owe anyone an explanation

I’ve also discovered that after the original question is asked, some others expect more information, digging for some explanation. I usually think to myself, “Do you have a few days for me to go over my ten year relationship?” Frankly, this is no one’s business and you don’t owe anyone any explanation of what occurred between you and your partner. I try to stay as authentic as possible by saying something like, “Thank for asking. I’m really happy with my decision (long pause).”

Be patient with others who are asking probing questions

Most care, and some simply want to know for their own purposes. It’s okay to be private and brief with no guilt. I’m learning that remaining firm on my responses tells others what they need to know.

If appropriate, use humor to deflect from the question

It’s okay to refer to celebrity uncoupling or change the subject. This is one of my fallbacks if I’m feeling lazy with my cognitive and authentic responses. If only I could count how many times this has come up when I wasn’t expecting it.

Be confident

I live by the philosophy that even when you’re struggling with how you’re dealing with the decision, stay confident with others on your decision. It’s easy to get bogged down by others opinions and judgments. Listen to them when you’re ready, not when they are projecting onto you.

Be sensitive and respectful if you’re the asker of the question. You never know what others are going through, and this one question could potentially stir up strong emotions or traumatic past experiences. I’m less offended now, and try to teach others open-mindedness, and encourage others to do so as well.

How to deal with changing your last name after a divorce. What to say when people ask and how to be more mindful.

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