Rachel on: A new me at forty

00341738I never really wanted a new me. Sure, the old me has always had flaws; eh—doesn’t everyone? I know some women who have celebrated their fortieth or some other milestone birthday or event by “treating” themselves to a nip here, a tuck there or perhaps an injection or two… It’s not my thing, but then again it’s not my party so I’m not going to waste any time or tears crying about what anyone else is doing.

No, that’s not the new me. The new (just new, not improved) Rachel Dachel still looks and sounds the same as she always has. It’s funny; I still have the same laugh, the same walk, the same cadence to my speech. My clothes fit the same, my hair still loops, twirls and swirls in its same crazy curls. Every freckle on my face is exactly where I remember it being yesterday, last week, last month and for eternity.

I’m still left-handed. Well, yeah, I am pretty much ambidextrous, but just as I always have, I still favor my left hand and enjoy the struggle that is at times a manual can opener. I enjoy the same books, movies and music that I always have and I still drive the same car, go to the same office and have all of the same friends and family that I always have. So in essence, nothing has changed. But simultaneously, EVERYTHING has changed. I don’t know this new woman in my mirror.

While she may look, sound and behave exactly like me, she isn’t me. I know it doesn’t make sense to you because it makes absolutely no sense to me. I never in a million years would’ve thought that I’d wake up to find this stranger inhabiting my body and living my life right before my eyes. I never would’ve thought that it would be so foreign and traumatic. But it is.

You see, I got married at forty years old. I thought that marriage at forty meant that we were mature and more capable of making decisions from a logical and rational point of view. I thought it meant that we were blessed and fortunate to have found one another at a later point in life and that we would be more appreciative than our younger selves and counterparts of the joy and miracle of being in love and getting married.

I thought that after walking down the aisle and saying our vows I would breathe a sigh of relief and that the stress of caterers, florists, musicians and officiants would simply melt away and leave in their place those warm, glowing feelings of love and satisfaction. The knowledge that the government and the world now recognize us as a union, as a united front who will navigate and brave the world together hereafter was supposed to make me feel safe and more connected to my partner. And it does.

But nonetheless, I’m having an identity crisis. You see, before we got married, I agreed to take my husband’s last name. To some it may not seem like a big deal, but for me it was a major compromise; it was the entire reason that we didn’t get married sooner. It took me a long time to consent to take his last name. I attribute that in part to my independence, but largely to the fact that I, as the only female born in the family for three generations, had been quite celebrated when born into the name. And for forty years I have proudly, dutifully and lovingly carried the name that other women could only obtain through marriage. I was special; I was unique, an original.

In recent years, two little girls joined me in that exclusive club. My nieces and I bonded over the special sisterhood we shared that could be summed up in six simple letters. They delighted in the knowledge that I would one day pass down to them my monogrammed handkerchiefs and jewelry. They vowed that they would tell their daughters how I had climbed trees, jumped off of docks, bicycles and big wheels and even wrestled my brother and all of my cousins as the sole dash of sugar and spice in a sea of snakes, snails and puppy dog tails. I showed them every scar I EARNED in keeping up with the boys, and told the harrowing tales that accompanied each one. They laughed at my childhood photos that depicted me in ribbons and curls, soft satin sashes on flowing dresses—with Mercurochrome-soaked bandages on both knees. The perfect portraits of my struggle to fit in while being the only girl.

And somehow, I felt at peace with the fact that upon my death, they would take up the cause and carry on. But now, it feels as though that death is impending. I’ve checked for ravens and crows…thankfully none yet! But it still feels as though a part of me has died. Who knew? Who knew it would have this sort of effect on me? Perhaps if I were a giddy girl in her 20s it would be different? Maybe I’d be excitedly scribbling “Mrs.” followed by my first name and his last name—oh wait, that’s my last name now, huh?

Well there is no time for maybes and what ifs. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it so there is no point in being squeamish now. I’m saying goodbye to the old me and making my best effort to embrace the new me in her stead. It isn’t easy, but I know it is worth it. I’ll wish her well as I send her on her way, in what has turned out to be the bittersweet consequence of being married at forty.

  • Rachel,
    What a great story about turning 40 🙂 Congratulations on your marriage. I can understand why this is a difficult decision for you. Not only do you have the usual concerns about losing independence, completing all the necessary admin, remembering to answer when someone calls you by your new name etc, but you have that special heritage. Is there any chance of compromise? Could you not go for a double-barreled name? Does your husband understand why your name is so important? Why is he insisting that you change it? So many nosy questions!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Suellen!
    Thanks for reading and commenting, and for the congratulations. I am happy to report that we reached a compromise after he read this! “That Wonderful Man” said that after reading my thoughts and feelings it became crystal clear that my family name is not something that I *want* to keep, but something I *need* to keep. We agreed that my maiden name would be added to my middle name so that I’m not officially hyphenated, nor will I generally use it, but it’ll still be there for me like a security blanket.

    I can’t fault him for wanting me to proudly carry his name; he is a traditional and old-fashioned man who has waited forty years to have a wife and he wants her to share his name. I get it. I also concede that I did agree to change my name, so the compromise shows me that he is not just loving, handsome, wonderful, traditional, honorable and so many other great things, but he is also considerate of my feelings and willing to find solutions to whatever obstacles or dilemmas we might face.

  • Sharia Graham

    Beautiful!! I enjoy reading your stories, Rachel!!