The other day, I got an invitation in the mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. [my husband’s full name],” and I had a full-on rant. My husband was walking into the kitchen as I started yelling. “This isn’t even my last name! Even if I had changed my name to yours, why would my first name not even get mentioned? This is arcane to address an entire family by only the husband’s name!”
My husband slowly backed up, his hands in the air. “Okaaay,” he said in his Judi-is-in-one-of-those-moods tone.
I was in a mood. It didn’t help that I had just finished reading about that creep Harvey Weinstein. But I can’t even blame him, or the perv in charge of our country, or the professor who put his hand on my knee freshmen year of college, for what’s really bothering me. (I’m not sure I know a woman who can’t say #metoo.)
Because my rant, though fueled by indignation, was much more about the feeling of being erased. Specifically, how my feeling of erasure is bumping right up against my feeling of being needed so damn much. Which actually has nothing to do with poorly addressed invitations.
I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while now. At 43, I know midlife is gunning hard for me. But it’s only very recently that I’ve put together that, for me, what defines middle age is the clashing of two opposing desires: notice me and leave me alone.
Yes, I’m the generation wedged in between the Boomers and the Millennials. I represent the first generation of American women to wait longer to marry and have kids, so I’ve dealt simultaneously with toddlers and aging parents. Yes, yes, and yes to all the stuff you can say about sandwiched-in Gen X ladies like me. (As suggested in this piece on Oprah.com about why Gen X women are having midlife crises.)
The big sociological picture of midlife for Gen X helps ground me, but the small picture is where I actually live everyday. And in that small picture of this small life of 43 years, I am now profoundly in the middle of so many opposing forces. It’s like I’m sitting up on a wall, watching two people running at me on either side of the wall, both of whom intend to smash into me at exactly the same time.
It’s quite odd, this vantage point of midlife. From here, I’ve never felt clearer on the lessons of my childhood. And yet I’ve never felt so far away from them.
I’ve never felt as much respect and validation for my work as I do now, and also never felt as ignored and unheard as I do now.
I’ve never felt so appreciated as I do now, and never felt so invisible as I do now.
I’ve never felt more desirable and less desirable, more settled and less settled, more of who I am and less of who I am, more independent and more dependent, more free and more tethered.
I’ve gotten to this amazing place in my career and my life, but the things that have buoyed me along the way are now like actual buoys taunting me. You made it to this place. Hold on or it will all disappear. You don’t really want to start over, do you?
My twenties and most of my thirties were infused with this fantastic spirit of building things. Life was all in front of me. Sure, my teenage years were behind me. But they mostly sucked. The rest of adulthood stretched out like pure possibility, with very little at stake.
And then the stakes of adulthood found me, precisely because of what I built: a family and a career and a life. These are wonderful blessings. And really ridiculous, infuriating traps. People don’t want to admit this, because they fear if they give voice to such an ugly internal conflict, everything they’ve made may all be taken away. Even as I write this, I worry that, too. Please don’t let one of my children get sick. Please don’t let everything collapse.
But not saying it just makes it fester. It also makes me feel like a crazy, duplicitous person.
I’m pretty sure the way toward reconciling the conflicts of midlife isn’t silence. Or pretending. Or posting obsessively on social media to make everything look better.
So, long story short, I’m working through how to reconcile the opposing forces. The only way I can think to do it is to write about it. (You probably saw that one coming.)
The world can help me out a little by, you know, getting my damn name right on invitations and remembering that it’s not 1957 anymore.
The rest is probably on me though.
PS. As you read this, I’ll be on my way to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to spend nine days immersed in a writing project. Wonder what it’s like to spend time at a writer’s colony? See my post about it.