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.
The moment my baby came out of my body, the most natural instinct to parent him in certain ways flooded my mind, body and soul. I refused to let him sleep in the hospital nursery, opting instead to let him sleep on my chest. Once we got home and started our lives together, I chose to co-sleep, breast feed on demand, and I often “wore” him in a sarong-type carrier popular in African countries. And guess what? I was criticized almost every day of his childhood.
Fears of fostering dependence, of spoiling my child, of creating a monster rained down on me like confetti at a New Year’s Eve celebration. It was as if there was some collective responsibility to raise my child, and if I failed, I would be letting down the world (incidentally, my son is a junior at a university about four states away, having the time of his life).
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 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 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...
Anyone who knows me also knows that humor, particularly playful banter, is very important to me. It's in my blood. It's how I was raised. And I've proudly passed the legacy of humor onto my son. Whether I was using paradoxical parenting ("don't forget to leave your room a mess before you go to school, sweetie!") or engaging in banter to diffuse a touchy situation (making sure he got home on time, monitoring his social media, etc.), parenting was made much easier because there was so much laughter in our home.
My son and I have many things in common -- we're both generally easy going and have a lot of similar interests. But we also have our differences, and it's these differences that could have led to some rather testy situations along the way. For instance, I am rather "indoorsy," and not a particular fan of many aspects of nature. My son, on the other hand, is an avid outdoorsman. His idea of a great family vacation is a trip to the rustic Northwoods of Wisconsin, whereas mine is a weekend spent at a luxury hotel in the city. My son can be rather messy at times, but I get anxious with too much clutter in my midst, and we shared a very small house, with only one bathroom. Also, I tended to be a rather overprotective parent, happy-go-lucky by day, monitoring mom by night, and that wasn't always appreciated by my very independent son.
We were a mother and son living under the same small roof in the 21st century. Banter was a must...
Today I had a fight with God when I was driving in my car. Well, I don't really call God God anymore, now that I no longer follow a traditional religious path, so in reality, I yelled at God-Universe-Higher-Power-Guardian-Angel (and yes, I'm still trying out different names). But that's not really important to this story. What's important is the fact that I yelled and I yelled (and thank god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel for Bluetooth, so other people on the road would just think I was yelling at someone on the phone).
You see, I'm on a journey in search of my heart-career. It's an exciting experience, filled with joy, wonder and meaning. But I've also experienced some suffering lately, because I'm in a holding pattern, waiting for god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel only knows what. I hate limbo and I get really impatient when I have to wait too long. Normally I do a great job of holding it all inside. In fact, typically I appear quite stoic in the face of suffering. But every so often, I get overwhelmed with negative thinking, and I begin to feel impatient because I'm really putting myself out there in a number of ways, and not much is happening, and I'm 54, and time is ticking, and that makes me angry. It also makes me afraid.
Things don't always go as we plan.
I learned this adage early, at about age 13, when my parents divorced and my world fell apart. Their divorce, and the ensuing chaos, significantly impacted my ability trust in marriage and family. I swore I'd never marry. I swore I'd never have children. I imagined instead a life of international travel and humanitarian work, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead I got married on a cold January day in 1991.
Because we were in our 30s, my husband and I decided to start trying to have a family right away. He wanted a large family, and although I hadn't previously allowed myself to dream, I too began to yearn for a baby, or two.
Several of my friends were also trying to get pregnant. It was fun. We drank coffee together and chatted endlessly about our future babies -- they'd play together, they'd attend school together, they'd grow up together.
And just like that, my trust in marriage and family was restored.
One by one my friends got pregnant, while month after month I did not. Although I never received a definitive diagnoses, there was talk of low progesterone, or perhaps just a lazy ovary or two. Regardless of what the actual problem was, it was clear something was wrong because I couldn't get pregnant.
I began my journey into the world of infertility treatments with hope and excitement, believing we just needed a little extra help. I was certain I'd be pregnant in a few months. I was naïve. The first year of infertility treatments turned my body into a stranger. My life consisted of injecting myself with hormones, tracking my ovulation cycle and having highly scheduled sex.
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.