“But I don’t want to be called Nikki. Everyone is going to think I’m a boy.”
I’m pretty sure that was the sentence I whined to my mom at the age of 4 or 5 when told that I would go by Nikki in order to not be confused with the other Nicole at school. Despite exactly how it happened, I have this distinct memory of being frustrated that I would now go by Nikki and not Nicole. 13 years later, though, I seemed to blossom as a “Nikki”. Nikki was that girl who bopped easily from group to group in high school (I won’t get into whether that was actually the case or not). Nikki was the girl who went through that whole Manic Panic phase, first bleaching just the front of my head and dyeing it purple and then just going for it and bleaching my whole head and dyeing the whole thing blue and purple. I believe my mother’s precise words were “well if that’s how you want to go out of the house.” Nikki was the girl who shopped at second hand shops and cut slits in her jeans to sew in fabric with stars on it. Nikki was the girl who wore overalls and loved rainbow sweaters. Nikki, like most high schoolers, did things that she is finally admitting to her parents in bits and pieces.
Nikki surprisingly joined a sorority in college when faced with the harsh realties of making friends at a city school where half the students either live off campus or are on co-op. Nikki was the girl who would dance with her sorority sisters, shout out the lyrics to every typical Boston bar song, and would go on to jump out of a plane and off a cliff while studying abroad in Australia. Nikki was the girl who made a somewhat rash decision to move to London. Nikki, to be honest, mostly made that decision to escape heartache. Nikki was fairly impulsive, especially when it came to matters of the heart.
Now while many in college and at my first jobs knew me as “Nicole”, I was still Nikki to most of my friends. But in April 2006 when I moved to London, a change occurred. Brought there for work, where again, I was known as Nicole unless the guys on the desk were poking fun, I became known completely as Nicole. Something, that at 26, was entirely new to me. But it seemed that this was my chance to “grow-up”, to mature, and to, maybe a little bit, be a new person. I also felt very strongly that Nicole would meet her husband in London.
Every person that met me from age 26 to 29, would meet me as Nicole. Nicole worked for a bank. Nicole travelled to European cities on the weekends. Nicole lived in Kensington. Nicole actually dated. Of course Nikki was still around to have fun and to be silly, but at least in name, I was now Nicole.
The confusion, for me, began as a practical matter. I found upon moving back to Boston in 2009 that I wasn’t sure if I was Nicole or Nikki. I was meeting all sorts of new people in graduate school and introducing myself as Nicole. But I was re-connecting with all of my old friends from high school and college who mostly knew me as Nikki. At times I sounded like I didn’t know my own name myself as I would stutter introducing myself, confused as to whether I would say I was Nicole or Nikki, depending on the day. My best friend wasn’t even sure how to enter my contact details in his phone.
Slowly, over the last three years, Nicole seems to have taken over in Boston as well though. There are probably more people at this point who know me as Nicole than as Nikki. I sometimes miss Nikki. But I wonder if it’s not that I’ve lost Nikki, but that I’ve just integrated more of Nicole into Nikki.
A few weeks ago I met a guy at a bar. Yes, I know, that never happens to me and was ironically right after I wrote this post. For some reason, in our first conversation that night at the bar, the topic of my name came up. I told him the evolution from Nikki to Nicole. And how I thought each name made up my overall personality. He ended up asking for my number and putting my name in his phone as Nikki.
We went out a few times but it never really amounted to much. But what I took away from it was a comment he made in passing. At first I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted or touched, but he told me that I should try to be more Nikki. That Nikki seemed to be a lot more fun. That Nikki didn’t seem to think too much about the consequences. Nicole thought before she acted. Nicole was more reserved. Nicole had a bit of a wall up. Nicole guarded her heart a bit more closely.
And he was right. And it’s probably especially true when it comes to my dating life. But isn’t that what happens as we get older? It’s not that we stop being ourselves. It’s not that we stop acting impulsively. It’s not that we stop wanting to have fun. And it’s not that the oppositie of those things is a negative. Our experiences make us. Our experiences can also teach us and hopefully help us to grow.
Maybe I do think a bit too much. Maybe I don’t act as rashly as I used to. Maybe I’m more afraid of being exposed and vulnerable than I used to be.
But maybe I’m learning. Maybe I’m becoming a better me. Maybe I’m finally understanding the many parts of me. Maybe I put myself out there just enough. Maybe when I put myself out there fully I also now know how to protect and comfort myself should I be hurt. Maybe I am more confident now that I will bounce back.
And maybe, it’s not that I have to choose which me I’m going to be. Maybe they are two halves of me becoming a whole.