by Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
It may come as a surprise to some of you that I struggle with fear, but I do. Let me clarify that—I struggle with irrational fear. Some fear is good. Fear keeps me from taking a shortcut down a dark alley at night, from going into basements when I hear creepy noises, and from jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Rational fear is not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about the what if fears.
The what if I never get tenure and lose my job fear. The what if I run out of money and become homeless fear. The what if I get cancer fear. The what if something bad happens to my son fear. The what if I make another bad decision in a relationship fear (which is closely related to the what if I die alone fear). And my most frequent fear visitor, the what if I take a huge risk in my quest for a meaningful and relevant life and fall squarely on my face fear.
These are the types of fears that I have far too often awakened to , with a rapidly beating heart and quick breath, mind racing, before my logical brain steps in to rationalize them away.
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.
Romantic relationships are wonderful. They make us feel alive, dynamic, validated and loved -- when they work. They can also make us feel deficient, undesirable, depleted and broken when they don't.
A key ingredient in successful relationships is the ability and willingness of each partner to be authentic. Authenticity requires transparency, which is pretty easy for most of us when things are going well, but throw in a wrench or two, such as middle age, kids, and a long trail of failed relationships, and for many of us, all transparency flies out the window.
Being transparent means having thoughts, feelings and motives that are easily perceived.
Being transparent requires the ability to trust, to see the goodness in others, and to give others the benefit of the doubt, even if we don't think they always deserve it, and even when it's scary.
Being transparent with friends, family, and even our co-workers can be challenging at times, but many of us can manage this without too much difficulty. Romantic relationships are different though because they often serve as a portal through which we re-experience all of our past hurt, rejection, and trauma -- both from our adult lives, as well as from our childhoods. For those of us who have had a lot of past hurt, rejection and trauma, it's easy to hide and protect ourselves from potential future pain; it's rather automatic in fact. In other words, for many of us, when we feel threatened, all transparency flies out the window.
I've noticed that a side effect of dating in midlife, particularly post-kids, far too often involves shining a flashlight on all of my perceived personality deficits and physical flaws. When I'm not dating or in a relationship I tend to be just fine with the fact that I'm not a big party person, that I have no legitimate hobbies, that I'm not very outdoorsy (my favorite outdoor activity is coming back inside), that I've never run a marathon, or that my chin is too small. Yet get me out on a first or second date, and suddenly I find myself fretting about every little shortcoming. I really should socialize more, read more, paint more, hike more, ski more, run more, bungee jump more, and really, how much could a chin implant cost?
I'm not sure why, but for some reason dating seems to evoke feelings I thought I'd parted ways with in middle school; that in some indiscernible way, I just don't measure up, I'm less than, I'm "other than."
Last year when I first started online dating with the serious intention of snagging a boyfriend, I had a series of really great first dates, but no second ones. I found this rather unsettling and wondered whether there was something perhaps undesirable about me that was causing this trend. This was before I developed my "online dating/car shopping" comparison theory, where online dating can create a disincentive to settling down with one person, since there's always a newer, shinier model rolling onto the lot. So I called a good friend, whom I've known since high school, and who knows me better than almost anyone else in the world, and asked for her opinion. "Tell me the truth, it is me? Maybe it's me. What's wrong with me? I think it must be me. Is it me?" She assured me that it was most certainly not me, and that she'd had similar experiences with online dating.
Why does dating seem to elicit these middle-school-spawned feelings of being different, less than, or "other than," where unreasonable self-scrutiny so quickly evolves into the slippery slope of thinking if I just had, were, could, was, wasn't...then life would be just grand?
I love yoga. Actually, I don't just love yoga, I love, love, love yoga. I love yoga culture. I love yoga inspirational sayings. I love yoga clothing.
I love the concept of mindfulness living that often accompanies the yoga practice, with its emphasis on connecting mind, body and soul. We live in a world that encourages compartmentalization, so I appreciate pondering the concept of greater interconnectedness.
I love waking up in the morning and going online and reading all of the yoga-inspired quotes posted on my Facebook timeline from yogis around the world -- each sharing ways that I can unblock my Chakras and live a more balanced life.
I love my beautiful mint green Lululemon yoga mat. Sure, I had to choose between paying my son's college tuition and buying this mat, but when I see it all rolled up and majestically leaning into the corner of my bedroom, gently reflecting the soft light streaming in from my window, I know I made the right choice.
I love the yoga body. Strong, long, lean and healthy. I love the yoga diet. Clean and organic, with no gimmicks.
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.