We were on the ground floor of Macy’s, surrounded by pretend beds, choosing sheets for summer. Flannel sheets were our favorite for winter, but the weather had warmed and the cast from my broken wrist last summer had chewed up our five-year old sets. There were pulls that felt like pebbles on the fabric and those sets had to go.

Rob and I both love high-count cotton sheets, and the luxurious sensation of summer nights on the cool material. Macy’s was having a sale, so we drove to the store, grabbed what we needed and were on our way out when Rob said, well, maybe we should look at a new down comforter as well.

He asked a simple question, but then he said something about us not needing the comforter in summer anyway.

What I heard was, “you don’t need a comforter,” and all hell broke loose. Of course I needed the comforter! How could I keep the room temperature icy without one?

Since menopause arrived, I have only been able to sleep (though my version of ‘sleep’ does not connote ‘restful’) in crazy cool rooms with air circulation. I like the air so chilly that I pull the covers up to my chin. I hate air conditioning during the day, but at night the machine becomes my friend. Or, I like a fan, fast and furious, spinning the air all around me and the soothing white noise. 

My husband doesn’t mind the cool room per se, but he doesn’t like the weight of covers in the summer. He can sleep without covers. I cannot. The weight of the blankets makes me feel secure and safe. The weight allows me to keep the Arctic temperature in the bedroom so I can spend the night snuggling deep inside the blankets or shrugging the covers off and kicking my legs out as I cycle between hot and cold.

Rob said something about needing to keep blankets untucked, and I was convinced he was telling me he was impatient and frustrated with my sleep needs. It’s a joke between us when we wake and ask each other how we slept in the morning, because for my man, it’s almost always good. For me? Have you seen a unicorn lately?

I’ve begun to understand my body and what I need for comfort; and perhaps if I was a woman alone, it would be easier. But my marriage is still new and old demons from youth make their appearance from time to time, whispering in my ear, ‘you need too much, you are too much, you will drive him away unless you temper your needs.’

I sometimes wonder if we had been together for ten years before menopause arrived if I would feel this anxiety, but our marriage is only three years old and when I met Rob, I was skinny and energetic and menopause had not shown all her true colors.

Both of us have changed in enormous ways since we began our relationship and we have evolved as a couple as we create and define our marriage together. Developing a partnership later in life is rich in a way I didn’t expect, and my husband and I have grown as individuals. Our growth comes from navigating our inevitable differences and confronting the demons we each have.

These are beautiful elements.

And yet sometimes I think of other changes, and how much I’ve changed in three short years. My growing inability to sleep, a rounder body, vagina that needs lots of lube before sex, lower libido, my need for more solitude and silence and a voice that must be honest. My body takes far longer to heal and needs patience now. No more powering through. I often feel ashamed of these changes and the things I need now though I also feel more real and true to myself. There is a beautiful conflict raging inside my bones.

I am more intense, thoughtful, serious and selfish with my time. I don’t suffer bullshit and seem to have lost the ability to keep my mouth shut, and I’ve abandoned the need to be what others want me to be. I refuse to be the background music in my own life.

Like it or not, Rob has had a front row seat as I’ve morphed into this new chapter.

When we got back in the car, I asked him, “what just happened in there?” referring to our going from happy couple buying sheets to two people walking in different directions full of anger.

He said, “I don’t know. I made a comment about not needing the comforter in warm weather and you just freaked out.”

He was right. I did freak out. But I realized it had little to do with sheets or a comforter and everything to do with the old demon of not wanting to be a burden. The demon that teaches women to suffer through when we are uncomfortable and not rock the boat.

Menopause teaches you that you are not infinite. Menopause teaches you that changes are on the horizon and not all of them will be in your control. Menopause teaches you to pay attention to and rely on your inner self more than your exterior. This is powerful, but also bewildering because we cannot pull the reins on these changes and pause time while we adjust. We learn to live with a life that is destabilizing, and we learn that time is the most precious element in our hands.

Menopause takes us back to our most real and true human form as it frees us from societal inspection. The problem is, I think, learning how to let this incredible freedom grace and grow our inner self.

As we drove away from the store, I could feel tears welling up and the dam began to burst as I told him I wished men experienced menopause, how hard it was to have a dry vagina, boobs with a mind of their own, worry about my shoulder, weight that wouldn’t budge, hot flashes, and as I really got into it I kept saying, my body doesn’t work. My body doesn’t work.

The entire incident was like a hot flash, uncomfortable and unsettling, and then it was over. There is respite in speaking the truth and in being vulnerable. There is respite in releasing fear.

Rob sat next to me silent and then his hand reached out to hold mine.