Stories from Afar & Up Close

The Other Half

I know a lot of people get married because they feel they have met ‘the one’, their ‘soul mate’, or even ‘their other half’. I’m not one of those people. Walid and I love each other, but our marriage is mainly a practical affair: staying together when you are from different countries requires a lot of paperwork – an amount that can be significantly reduced by getting married. That one marriage certificate replaces a whole lot of other paperwork. Unfortunately, it seems to also replace half of who I am. Cases in point:

In the Netherlands, we have compulsory health insurance, with an accompanying system of financial assistance from the government for those (like me) whose income is too low to pay for coverage. Walid, due to the type of residence permit he has, is not obliged to have this health insurance, nor does he qualify for the financial assistance. So I apply for it on my own, in my own name, for myself, mentioning Walid only as my legal partner.

A few weeks later the application is approved and I get the money in my account. Surprisingly, it has Walid’s last name on it. I call the Belastingdienst (Tax Offices) to ask what happened. Well, says the lady on the phone, it’s your husband’s name, so he probably applied for it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t, I answer, since he doesn’t even speak or write Dutch, nor does he have insurance or qualify for financial assistance. In fact, I remember very well filling out the form MYSELF, under MY name, to get MY money. The lady fails to see the problem. But he’s your husband! She says again, what does it matter? It matters because I am not my husband, I say, I am ME.

The only way to change this, according to the lady of the Belastingdienst, is to write a letter to their offices requesting a ‘name change’. See that? Not a correction of my name, a name change. To get them to address me by my own name.


Last week we moved to our new house, and yesterday we went to the offices of the municipality to register our new address. For the sake of efficiency, as all of this is in Dutch, I do the talking; I answer the questions, I ask what other steps need to be taken, etc. Basically, Walid is just standing there because he has to be there in person for the registration.

After all necessary information has been noted and the required copies have been made, the lady behind the counter prints out a form and says I put the registration in his name, since you’re married anyway, and he has to sign here. So then I have to translate the form for him and tell him where to sign. Suddenly I became the attachment.


Yesterday I received a standardized answer to my letter to the Belastingdienst: That they automatically assign the financial assistance to the husband, and there is nothing I can do about that.

I wonder if I will have to divorce in order to be seen as full person again. I may have gotten married, but I did not become half a person. And definitely not someone else’s other half.