I've been on the interweb a LONG ass time (my first internet date was in 1992 — we went to a Pearl Jam concert), and one of the social aspects of the web that's always fascinated me is usernames and online identity. My first handle was “rosewater,” named after my favorite perfume, but over the almost 20 years since, I've got by a lot of different names online. Q. Ver and Electrolicious, were a few of the handles I used before I settled on my first and middle names as my standard username.
Running an online network, I get an interesting insight into the names that people (women, specifically) use for themselves online. Since both Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Families are essentially about women in relationships going through a transition (marriage, starting a family) I feel like I catch people in a really interesting state of identity shift. One of the many ways these shifts are expressed are through usernames and avatars.
Certainly, I'm not the first to mull over this — Katie Roiphe stirred up huge controversy in 2009 when she wrote “Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page,” which asked, “Why do women hide behind their children?”
I think the Offbeat Empire probably sees less users with handles like JessesGirl87 or EmmasMomNYC, but we still see a fair number of community members who identify themselves online as defined by their relationship. I mean, that IS why most of us are here, right? We're in a relationship planning a thing, and looking for inspiration and ideas. Of course these relationships affect us. Flavor our days. Shift our perceptions. Rejigger our priorities. Impact our personalities. And yes, change our identities. That's why I'm IN a relationship: I LOVE how my partner influences me. He's awesome! Of COURSE he's a huge piece of who I am.
That said, my online identity didn't feel much of a shift when we decided to get married. I got active on IndieBride, but I used my same old handle. Granted, I'd been with Andreas for six years when we decided to get married, so while I was overjoyed to be engaged to Dre, the handle DresGirlSeattle had lost its new car smell when Clinton was still in office.
…Then again, when I had a baby in 2009, my facebook user photo went from a series of glamour-shot self-portraits straight to pictures of my son. I'd worked five years to have that dang baby, and if becoming a mother is an identity shift with powerful emotions attached, it was profoundly so for me. This is all to say, I'm certainly not one to criticize anyone for making profound, and highly visible online identity shifts.
My only concern comes in when people feel criticized for NOT having a demonstrative shift. I wrote about this on Offbeat Bride four (!!!) years ago with a post called When brides don't squeal enough. I'm all for ladies being MrsHisName2011 if that feels right for them … but I'm also all for them staying firmly in their existing identity. I think the bridentity crisis moment can come when you feel like you SHOULD be SquealingBride1984 and something's wrong with you if you're still just @filthypuppeteer or [email protected] or dorkbot3k.
Your identity doesn't NEED to shift when you go through a big transition like marriage or starting a family. Your life will shift, but I believe that each of us holds true ultimately ownership of our identities — regardless of our relationships, and no matter how much they might shape us and inspire us.
This post is being cross-posted on both Offbeat Bride & Offbeat Families. If you're interested in how moms feel about this issue, head over there.