Like a lot of women navigating the change and midlife, I’m also navigating life as a single-again woman. I was separated in 2017 and divorced at the end of 2018 with full custody of my children. In order to support this new version of my family, I sometimes worked two side hustles in addition to my full time job. I remember daydreaming about fainting so that I would be taken to the hospital and forced to rest. In the middle of it all, my dad’s mental health spiraled downward and he died by suicide.
Looking back on that time, I don’t remember how I managed to walk through it, but fortunately, I didn’t have to walk it alone. Several of my girlfriends formed a hedge support around me. When I needed a financial boost, the church I attended at the time stepped in to offer help.
It was one of my girlfriends that asked if I was going to resume the use of my “maiden” name after my divorce. I hadn’t even given it any consideration until she mentioned it. She said, “It will be a great way to honor your dad.”
(I really hate that term, “maiden name.” Could we change it to “birth name,” “former name,” anything other than “maiden name?” I mean—I’m using my maiden name, but I am no “maiden!”)
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Even though I regularly cycle through anger at my dad for choosing to take himself out, I also regularly cycle through love and forgiveness. Life is complicated. So is love when it’s tied up in grief.
Retaking the name I gave up when I married seemed like a good start towards finding myself again. Before I made the final decision, I asked my kids if they would be okay with it, “It will mean we will have different last names, and I wasn’t sure how you would feel about that,” I said to them.
“I think you should do it Mom,” they both said.
I filed for divorce from my ex-husband, and he did not contest it. In the state of Maryland, that meant we didn’t have to go to court. A court-appointed lawyer would serve as mediator and finalize the paperwork for a judge to sign. A date was set to go over the finalized terms of the divorce judgement. On the appointed date, my soon-to-be ex-husband texted to say that he would be running late. I texted back that he didn’t actually have to be there since he wasn’t contesting anything. He said, “Alright. I think I’ll run errands.”
And so, it was all very anti-climatic. The mediator asked if I wanted to resume using my “maiden” name, I replied yes, and it was written in the divorce judgement. Once I got the document with the gold seal, I went through all the red tape of reverting back to my original name. It felt good taking that name back, as if I was closing one chapter in my life and beginning another.
The one thing that I didn’t do was change my personal email address that has my “married” name. My ex-husband had changed our email addresses so many times that I thought it might be even more confusing to change again. That email address is also associated with so many accounts and websites, that I couldn’t even think about the work of tracking it all down and just left it, reasoning, it’s just an email address—it’s not me.
My children both moved out of the house over a three month period last summer into early fall. This newfound solitude, no matter how much I thought I was prepared for it, sparked a journey back to “me.” I looked around and realized that there are many aspects of my life that no longer, “fit.” I’m talking about things as simple as the clothes in my closet, which may fit my physical form, but no longer match the spiritual one that is emerging, to whether or not church, in any shape or form, is still relevant in my life. I’ve been sharing quite a bit of this journey—writing about it on my blog. Sometimes it’s received well, and sometimes, not so much … but it is out there for sure.
A friend suggested I write something for a literary journal. I decided I would give it a try, not expecting anything to actually come of it (I struggle with calling myself a real writer). This particular publication wants the entire body of the submission to be in the email.
I found myself weirdly recoiling at the thought of sharing something so vulnerable as a piece of writing that pours from the depth of my soul and attaching it to that email with my “old” name. It just doesn’t fit any more. Like most people, I had to join the Google revolution, and so I have a gmail account with my current name.
I decided then and there that if I went through with submitting to the journal, it would be from an email address that bears my name, my real name, my forever name, the one I won’t give up even if I legally partner up in marriage again. The gmail address is there, waiting for me to use, and so I’m going to slowly start moving things over. It won’t be easy, but that old address just doesn’t fit, and I’m committed to looking for what does fit in my life and following that path to the journey towards me.
These small steps can feel so insignificant. On the outside it’s an email address. On the inside, it’s my name … it’s me … and I need to stake my claim and own myself once and for all. I’m fifty years old. It’s about damn time.
Laura is a mother, a dreamer, and a school-based speech-language pathologist. At 50, she discovered she wasn’t sure who she was as a single again woman with an empty nest. Not one to give up easily, she put on her dancing shoes and started learning her own rhythm.