By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
What the heck is going on in our world?! Correction: What the heck is going on in our country?! In my ongoing attempt to keep up with current events, maintain my full-time job, keep a reasonable social calendar, and not neglect my family too much, it's a miracle I'm getting any sleep at all. Forget yoga, forget meditation, and absolutely forget any sort of regular grocery shopping.
I have shared this meme before, but it popped up again today on my Instagram feed (and if you aren't following @ThugUnicorn, do yourself a favor and follow them now), which got me thinking about what makes some people turn their past trauma and healing journey into advocacy for the oppressed while other people turn theirs into the perpetration of abuse. Why when two people have gone through similarly difficult times—an abusive childhood with a parent who humiliates and destroys or various other types of trauma, does one person go on to become a champion of the hurting and another go on to spread fear and hatred through dominance and control?
Images are copyrighted and purchased from Shutterstock
I read a book years ago about Chinese culture in the mid-seventeenth century. The way the story went, young girls got their feet bound so they would be desirable to a future suitor. There really were no other options available for women back then, and parents who rejected this custom were all but ensuring their daughters lived solitary lives of dependence, with no independent means of support.
The process was quite gruesome. Girls would have their feet bound with ribbons so tightly that their bones would break. Every few days the ribbons would be removed, and their feet would be rebound, until more bones would break, and eventually turn dust.
I'm reviving my Aging Naked blog after an almost-two year hiatus. Why did I stop? I'm not really sure...I moved and got really busy. Also, the election happened and suddenly the plight of middle-aged women, living an authentic life, the travails of online dating and my heartbreak over empty nesting, seemed a bit trivial. But lately, I've been feeling to urge to write again and to share my various epiphanies, even if some of them seem rather mundane compared to the fate of our dying democracy. I had to be reminded though of why I started this blog in the first place—why I felt it was important to bare my soul to strangers—my middle-aged, empty-nesting, very single soul. So I reflected, and this is what I came up with:
When I hit middle-age and looked around me, and I sensed something was up. I'd been told for years that these would be the best years of my life, but I wasn't getting that feeling. I knew some middle-aged women who seemed to be doing okay, but most of the women I knew appeared to be going through the motions only, telling themselves they should be happier than they actually were. The truth was though, that they weren't, happy that is. But why? Many of these women, including myself, had relatively good lives, so what was all the angst about?
For me personally, I dreaded empty nesting and despite having a good career, and many interests and hobbies, I sensed my identity leave right along with my son. There was wide open space out there, and I could finally have a bit more freedom and flexibility in my life, more opportunities, perhaps even an overnight guest! But I didn’t feel happy about the increased space in my life. Actually, it terrified me.
I have been told how nice I am my entire life. This is usually a great compliment to me. I love it when people tell me I'm nice, because I am nice. In fact, throughout my life I've tried my best to be kind, caring, empathetic and helpful to just about everyone I meet. These qualities are the bedrock on which much of my identity is based.
I have learned over the years though that "nice" is good, but "too nice" is not. "Too nice" is the person who doesn't like to ruffle feathers. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to set boundaries. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to say no. "Too nice" is the person who I used to be (and still am, sometimes).
When I reflect back on my life and my various relationships -- with men, with friends, with family, and even with some co-workers, I can now see how being "too nice" was my way of ...
Aging can be difficult, even for the most hardy. Our hair follicles die, our bodies ache, and our skin sags. A few weeks ago I went to a concert and had to stand for five hours and my feet still hurt (and so does my left hip). And recently I've noticed I have to be very careful with my chin placement, especially in photos (it's either that or demand Photoshop rights from all of my friends and family), because if I don't, my once proud chin collapses into a series of smaller, less proud "chins," sliding right into my neck.
Aging can be difficult for everyone, but I think it's particularly difficult for women. Of course, many middle-aged men struggle with aging as well, but I do think middle-aged women have it worse. Maybe I believe this because I'm a woman, but I really do believe this.
Women experience more pressure to remain youthful, both in physical appearance and spirit. We may be well into the newest millennium, but men still have the advantage of more vocational opportunities, greater personal freedoms, fewer social stigmas, more mentoring opportunities, and more social outlets than women.
Society dictates that women are pretty much washed up by the time they're 50, and if we have the "misfortune" of being single, well then, forget it. In fact, a 1986 Newsweek article entitled "The Marriage Crunch" coined a phrase that may forever be cemented in the minds of anxious middle-aged single women everywhere, when it satirically sounded the dire warning that a never-married, college-educated woman over 40 was more likely to be "killed by a terrorist" than get married.
I’m at the tail-end of a monumental life transition. It’s very exciting, but it’s also been scary as hell. A part of this transition involved accepting a new job in a new state, on the other side of the country. It also involved the picking up of my very settled life and hauling it 2000 miles away to create a new one, as a single, empty-nested, middle-aged woman.
Each step of this journey involved about 5 million smaller steps, and now that it’s all over, I honestly cannot believe I actually pulled it off.
I’m a woman who likes stability. I like solid ground. I like to know what I can count on. Even though I’ve taken some pretty big risks in my life, I am in general a woman with a certain amount of anxiety (the wake-you-up-at-3-am-like-the-house-is-on-fire kind), which tends to anchor me, sometimes a little too much. I tend to overthink, overanalyze, overquestion. I look backward rather than forward, sometimes a little too often.
If I had a dollar for every time I was told I was being too emotional, that I needed to lead with my head and not my heart, well, let’s just say that my Starbucks habit would be fully funded. It’s taken me years to recognize that what I was often criticized for — in relationships, at work, in my academic studies — was actually one of my greatest strengths: my inner voice, my gut instinct, my intuition.
Intuition is defined by researchers as our brain’s ability to draw on internal and external cues in making rapid, in-the-moment decisions — an important skill, particularly in high stress situations. Often occurring outside of our conscious awareness, intuition relies on our brain’s ability to instantaneously evaluate both internal and external cues, and make a decision based on what appears to be pure instinct. When people make decisions based on their intuition, they often have difficulty explaining why they did what they did. They just knew what to do, as if a voice was telling them to do something, and they heeded its call.
I've been thinking a lot about New Year's resolutions, and why they are so hard to achieve. And this led me to thinking about why change is so hard, and how most of us have a vision of how we'd like our lives to be, how we'd like to change, what we want to become, but for whatever reason, we can't seem to get there, at least not completely.And then that got me to thinking about why the actual process of change is so unsettling, particularly for those of us in midlife and beyond. What keeps us rooted in place, rather than forging ahead, despite our deep desire for change?
I have discovered a new species of the middle-aged single male, and if my discovery wasn't so frightening, I'd be really excited to report my findings. Unfortunately, what I have to say isn't good news for all the middle-aged single women out there searching for a forever partner. This public service announcement isn't just for women though; it's for middle-aged single men as well, because my discovery impacts both sexes in a not so very good way.
I call my new discovery "Cinderfella" -- the middle-aged single man with an insatiable hunger for intense emotional and physical intimacy. Cinderfellas want passion! They want fireworks! They want to feel alive! They want to be rescued from their loneliness wastelands! And they want it all by the second or third date. We often think that only women want to be swept off their feet within minutes of meeting someone new, but I've discovered that this is not so -- there are men out there, a whole lot of them in fact, who desire intense and immediate feet-sweeping as well...
Welcome to my Blog!
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.