Atoosa Unedited
Atoosa Unedited
I Haven't Been Truthful With You...

I Haven't Been Truthful With You...

More specifically, I've been more edited than I would like.
Anthony & I went to a family wedding (his cousin) the other week and unlike the wedding described in this column, I felt loved, accepted and very much part of the fam. It felt very healing, tbh.

The Weeknd is starting to use his given name, Abel Tesfaye.

This feels meaningful to me. You know what they say. Words are spells. And if words are spells, then your name must be the personal spell you cast on the world. Or at least that’s what I always thought. After all, when I got married at age 26, I changed my name in the masthead of Cosmopolitan even before it was official so the issue that hit newsstands after my August wedding would reflect this new and improved version of me. I was no longer Atoosa Behnegar, the kid at home no one noticed or cared about…this background character of my family and school communities so who desperately wanted to be seen and cherished. I was finally seen and cherished by this boy who put me above everything else.

But wait, let’s back track.

When I first met him at 23, I didn’t think we could possibly have a future simply based on his last name. Rubenstein. Atoosa Rubenstein? I just couldn’t see it. I was born a Shiite Muslim and immigrated to the US from Iran. If I married him, I would be identified as Jewish for the rest of my life. It didn’t bother me, it just felt like false advertising. But honestly? I was 23 and living the dream in NYC. Surely this guy wouldn’t be The One anyway – I mean, I wasn’t searching for a husband, I just wanted a side kick for Tasti-D-Lite runs and watching 90210. But as luck would have it, just a few years later, I would become Atoosa Rubenstein. And it didn’t feel weird at all. I was proud…thrilled…all good things.

There was one hiccup.

I didn’t get along with his family. The reasons don’t really matter. They didn’t feel they could be themselves around me…and frankly, they were right. It was a mismatch. The real mismatch had nothing to do with religion, but they did want to hide the fact that I wasn’t Jewish from his religious grandmother who cared very much if her only grandson married a goy. They relied on this grandmother for approval (and other things). They didn’t want her to know about me or our upcoming wedding….but OBVIOUSLY, she ultimately she found out. Now that I’m around the age his parents were back then, it’s kind of funny to think of people my age lying but perhaps it’s funny imagining myself lying to anyone…much the less my family. But I certainly was a liar back then. And you know what they say: You attract the energy you vibrate so in retrospect I guess it makes perfect sense.


Today, whenever I meet a younger person who eye rolls their beloved’s family of birth, I am quick to mark it as a red flag. Even if your significant other is the literal OPPOSITE of their family, pay attention to how you feel around said family. It’s important. There’s a reason for the old cliché the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And I don’t mean that as an insult. People should be like their families. It’s natural and normal. But sometimes when a family has a lot of trauma, a kid may reject the family thinking that by simply rejecting the people, they can bury the dysfunctional patterns. But I’ve experienced that without therapy and processing, those vibrations stay within us and will pop out like proverbial zombies from the psychological ground they’re buried in.  Date someone whose family you really like, please. Your partner does morph back into a card-carrying member of his family of birth eventually and you want that to feel like a good thing!

Okay – my public service announcement is over. Back to spilling tea.

One week to the day before my own nuptials, we went to another wedding. His whole family was there. In fact, to this day, it was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever attended. For sure, after all these years as a New Yorker, I’ve been to fancier weddings. But it was the first fancy wedding I’d ever been to and nothing else will ever touch it in my mind. So beautiful in spirit and vibe. But at the very end as we’re leaving, in a scene right out of a bad movie, his grandmother called him over to her wheelchair, motioned to me and croaked, “Why, Ari, Why?” I wish I could unhear her voice.

One. Week. Before. Our. Wedding.

My husband, who always had (emphasis on had 😅) my back, mumbled something dismissive to her and walked away. We went home and had a “Fuck Them” kind of conversation. I was deeply hurt and embarrassed, of course. But my righteous anger formed a full-body emotional armor. I was young, beautiful, successful and honestly? I did feel they were deeply lucky to have me in the family. (Clearly, I wasn’t suffering from low self-esteem. 🤪) And my family was lucky to have him! But if they didn’t see it, that was their problem. I didn’t really marinate in the grief of being the recipient of such unkind humiliation in public…and right before my wedding. Young people are often good at that. Skip the grief, go right to anger.

Instead, we hatched what we thought was a great idea.

Fuck these people. Let’s create our own lineage by tweaking his last name. He was born Rubenstein pronounced “Ruben-STEEN.” Let’s start pronouncing it “Ruben-STEIN.” We liked the sound of it better, like the cosmetics pioneer Helena Rubenstein. And this wasn’t unusual in his family. Part of his extended family spelled their last name with an “i” (Rubinstein, like Helena) and others in his family changed their names entirely because they were at odds with family members and wanted to shift their identity. We were starting a new life together and it would be on our terms. We didn’t want to be linked to some lady who is mad because he is not marrying someone Jewish.

This was a Saturday.

Naturally, the next day is Sunday.

For many years, the Sunday New York Times had an iconic column of street fashion by the late, great photographer, Bill Cunningham, called, “On The Street.” That week’s column featured three or four pictures of me. (I’d normally be excited if he ran just one picture much the less a whole cluster!) But that was my vibe then. I’d get a lot of this type of attention, and that particular day, it sure took the sting out of the nonsense from the night before. I was flying high again.

Guess who else saw that column?

His grandmother.

And guess who now wanted to come to my wedding?

Yep. You guessed it.


Maybe in her “Why, Ari, Why?” era (that ended that Sunday) she thought I was just your average goy. But an above average goy she would accept. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Who knows. I never asked. But I didn’t want her at my wedding. I was angry. My ego was bruised. I was excited for my wedding day, and I didn’t want her bad energy. That Monday, I had to field phone calls from his family saying how important it was to them to include grandma and I think ultimately my husband said, “Fine. She can come. But if she comes to the wedding and that’s what is most important to you, then you’re essentially saying she’s more important than me so our relationship is over once we are past the wedding.” (Yes, we were also immature, I agree) And therein began decades of estrangement and reconnection with his family. Again, another ancestral theme on that side. Oh and PS - I should have known this was a bad move when after telling the band leader at our wedding many, many times the “new” pronunciation of our last name, he loudly and proudly introduced us as Ari and Atoosa Ruben-STEEN! 😆😆😆

I never really got over their rejection, to be honest. I had a beautiful relationship with my college boyfriend’s family and loved them very much. I had hoped the same would be true with my husband. It was a terrible introduction to their family and ultimately it doesn’t really matter anymore. I have a lovely relationship with my current partner’s family and all’s well that ends well.

But the name story isn’t done.

Deep into my years of self-exploration after I left my job, I was with a shaman inside his teepee in upstate New York. He was smoking peyote, drumming and doing this thing while I just stood in front of him wordlessly. (I know, I know. Only your weirdo friend, Atoosa. 🤓) He didn’t know anything about me and didn’t ask. After what felt like an eternity he simply said,

“Your name. There is a problem with your name.”

My name? I was legitimately confused.

“It is grounded in a conflict.”

Boom. 💥

He was so right.

From that day forward, I started going by Rubenstein with the original pronunciation. I thought my husband would really get it. But he didn’t agree. Even his mother who ridiculed the pronunciation change for years, didn’t agree. Even though she pronounced her name the original way, she felt he had established himself professionally with the new pronunciation. For goodness sakes. So had I! I was more public and yet, I didn’t care. But of course, everything isn’t about me.

There were so many beginnings of the end of my marriage and this was one of them. To me, this felt like a pathway back to wholeness…to some kind of energetic reconciliation with his family. He did not. I would joke about it sometimes and suggest we call ourselves Rubensteen-stein as a compromise. But in all seriousness, I was ready to move past the conflict. Ultimately, I guess, what was necessary was to move past the ENTIRE conflict…including the marriage.

Today, I’m a little ambivalent about the pronunciation. Probably because I’m getting divorced. My husband’s partner has legally changed her name to Rubenstein, just as eager to cast her new spell out into the world, as I was 25 years ago this summer. But alas, I’m still Mrs. Rubenstein and until this divorce is final anything else is just playing pretend, just as he and I played pretend by changing our names 25 years ago. We thought we could leave the drama behind and move forward with a clean slate. But we were only pretending. By pretending to be married, I worry, it is allowing us to pretend we are divorced which I feel is prolonging this arduous process.

I want to stop pretending.

And that’s why I want to write about my marriage. I want to exorcise what needs to be exorcised for real. When I first started writing this Substack, I wanted to turn the lights on behind-the-scenes of my life as an Editor. The whole time I was Atoosa from CosmoGIRL! and Seventeen, I was your smiling, supportive, goofy big sister but couldn’t tell you about the incest I suffered as a kid, even in those moments when some of you bravely revealed you were suffering the same. I was a role model for high-achieving Alpha Girls, never mind my being miserable doing it. I was all of those good things…but I was only sharing half my story back then.

I recently realized that I have been doing the same thing today.

You know about my cancer, my heart breaks, my joys, my peace, my lessons, my growth.

But you don’t know much about the break up of my marriage and how it’s not just my stuff that has contributed to it’s demise. There’s a lot I’ve been keeping in the shadows. I’ve been focusing the storyline solely on my mistakes, once again glossing over the ways in which I’ve been mistreated and perpetrated against. Always trying to protect those around me. Not dissimilar to how I was raised.

In my final year at Seventeen, the brilliant artist Bill Hayward included me in this very cool portrait project he was shooting and curating. He would give his subjects black paint and a blank canvas (literally) and we could create anything we wanted as the background to our portrait. There was a part of me that wanted to do something expected and douchey – you know, somehow underscoring my Girl Boss reputation. But I was beginning to shift into a commitment to self-understanding and I wanted to use this as an opportunity to explore what I REALLY wanted to say. Not just what “Atoosa” from Seventeen wanted to have “out there.” I remember sitting on the set, shutting my brain down and letting my subconscious guide me. I was both confused and surprised by what transpired.

I wrote “Protect The Baby” over and over on the backdrop and shaped crumpled up paper to look like a swaddled baby. I was holding the baby close to me...close to my face. I didn’t know until I was today years old that my subconscious was calling for me to mother myself. That I hadn’t been protected as a child and that I was continuing to operate recklessly like that neglected feral younger version of myself. That I deserved to be protected, but at my age I was the only one who could do it.

Fast forward to today.

I have posted smiling blended family pictures on Instagram.

But in truth, the road to and through divorce has been ugly. I thought I could spiritually by-pass the awfulness. If I take responsibility for everything I brought to the table…If I can have compassion and do all my own work…If I can smile through the bad behavior. We can get to the other side, right? Eventually we will get to the other side. There will be a paper I can sign that will render me divorced. I just have to keep smiling, keep repenting for my stuff and eventually this will end.

But perhaps the universe does not want this for me: This graceful conscious uncoupling. Perhaps that is for very white people who look clean pressed all the time. Perhaps what the universe needs from me is a blood curdling scream to whatever God can hear my voice. LET THIS FUCKING NIGHTMARE END! I will never stop fighting for what is right and fair for my children’s present and future. But let me tell you something, sister. People can SAY they want to get divorced. They can make big grand gestures to let the world think that they even ARE divorced. But when someone is unprocessed in their life, they can drag out a divorce for an eternity. This goes for anything. You’ve seen people who claim they want to be in a new relationship. But they just can’t seem to make it happen. You may be one of these people. I have been in my life, for sure. Unprocessed trauma is real.

Maybe this is my last bit that needed to be processed and spit out. To stop being the one who always makes lemonade out of lemons. To admit that sometimes you just get stuck with sour lemons. Here’s my sour lemon: I am not having a nice divorce. Just as Atoosa from Seventeen was smiling through abortions and unprocessed incest. Atoosa from Unedited had edited out the ugly of her divorce. I couldn’t fully hide it, of course. It has manifested as breast cancer. Prior to my divorce, I had a perfectly clean Mammo. Three years into it? Breast Cancer. (Despite being much healthier on all other levels.)


Unlike Atoosa from Seventeen, I am generally at peace and experience tremendous joy in my life. I have shifted my relationship patterns in a way that most people don’t in an entire lifetime. That shit is as real as real can get. Despite not writing about it here, I have very much been processing the bad parts of my divorce almost full time for the past few years. (Although the compassion and “loving brother” way I speak about my ex makes my friends insane.) But I was doing myself…and you, my beloved reader, a disservice by pretending everything is always Namaste or that what creates the ups and downs of my life is who I’m dating or even cancer. Cancer is in my body because I’ve been pretending that the real cancer doesn’t exist.

May the speaking of this very unfortunate situation bring much needed light and resolution. Let the pretending end so the real next chapters begin. Let it be written, let it be done. Bestie David wants me to become a one-name wonder after my divorce. Tbd, tbd.

xo atoosa

Manifestation Music so my ex- and I can both move on and be happy:

Atoosa Unedited
Atoosa Unedited
When your life gets bat sh*t crazy, I can help.
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Atoosa Rubenstein