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.
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.
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.
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.
A 2014 study on women and middle age found that most women began to feel invisible and dismissed in society by the time they were 50. Among the thousands of women surveyed:
When asked what contributed to their lack of self-confidence, most of the women cited things like graying hair, having to wear reading glasses, and a lack of appropriate fashion opportunities.
What a stark reality for middle-aged women! Are you wondering why these women didn't just simply dye their hair, get contacts, and go on a little shopping spree? I did, but then I began to wonder if there wasn't a little more to the story. So I posted a status on my Facebook page and asked my middle-aged female friends if they ever felt invisible and dismissed, and to my surprise most of them said they did. And it wasn't just my gray-haired, glasses-toting, fashion-challenged, under-employed, single friends who felt marginalized -- my youthful, vibrant, active, career-focused, married friends also often felt dismissed in conversations, ignored at parties, and generally invisible in life, particularly to their male counterparts.
I've been feeling rather lost lately. I made a decision about a year ago to take a risk and pursue a passion and a life dream, and now I'm not so sure I made the right choice. Let me explain. When my son left for college two years ago I entered an existential crisis and found myself suddenly living in a vacuum, a very quiet vacuum. And in the midst of all that silence I began to question the meaning of life, and more specifically, the meaning of my life. I questioned whether I was making a real contribution to this world, and I questioned my purpose, and whether this was all there was to life. I felt compartmentalized, somewhat irrelevant and increasingly invisible.
I believed I was at a crossroads, a fork-in-the-road if you will. I imagined that if I pursued one fork-path, I would accept my life choices, throw in my youth towel, and age quietly, without question or challenge. But if I chose the other fork-path, I would find a way of transforming the many losses of middle age -- full-time mothering, my youthful passions, good skin tone and my body's ability to regulate its own temperature, into opportunities -- life-altering, and transformative opportunities. I imagined this path would involve renewed authenticity, resilience and increased vitality, where I challenged the status quo and increased my visibility. Then I began to wonder if there were other women out there who felt the way I did, and I wondered if I had something to contribute to the conversation.
Dear Health Club,
I'm sorry it's come to this, but after much heartfelt pondering I need to inform you that I'm breaking up with you. I know what you're thinking; we've been down this road before and I have always come back, head down and thighs chaffing. But this time it's different, it really is, because I have met another. So I am writing to tell you that I am leaving you once and for all, for one that treats me better -- one that makes me happier, and I am convinced healthier. Yes, I am leaving you for yoga.
For years I believed your lies, that if I just hung in, you would make me feel better, stronger, and yes, even thinner. But after 10 years I've finally come to the conclusion that your promises are empty. Yes, I have finally come to my senses and realized that this is a one-way relationship where you take my money, and dangle a toned carrot in front of my face, making promises that you simply cannot keep.
Please don't try to talk me out of this, because my mind is made up. During our on-again-off-again relationship I always held out hope that you would step up to the plate and start giving back. I believed your lies that I would start looking forward to visiting you. I believed your tall tale of the endorphin high. I believed your promises to eradicate my cellulite and tone my arms. I believed your assertions that if I just stuck with the elliptical a little bit longer, that calves would slim down and I could finally start wearing regular-sized boots on dates. But alas, winter after winter I was forced to continue shopping in the wide-calf boot aisle, alone.
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.
One of the most painful and life-impacting human emotions is shame. Shame is a powerful universal emotion that often emerges when we feel deeply vulnerable about something and believe that others have the power to judge us, and ultimately reject us. Shame tells us that we're not good enough, that we're unworthy, that we're damaged goods.
Shame elicits feelings of embarrassment, and often, a profound sense of humiliation that makes us want to either fight, flee or freeze. The fact that we most often experience shame in response to feeling vulnerable is one reason why shame is such a powerful emotion. Another reason is that shame usually emerges at the very moment we need unconditional love and acceptance the most.
Envision what you feel most vulnerable about – anything that fills you with a sense of fear that those who you love and care about the most will abandon you if they found out. But before they abandon you, they will laugh at you, gossip about you, hurl insults at you, and then abandon you. The feeling you’re experiencing in response to this scenario is most likely shame.
Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is something we experience when we’ve made a mistake and we need to fix it. Once we take responsibility for our behavior, and do what we can to remedy our mistake, the feelings of guilt should eventually subside. Unlike guilt, shame doesn’t subside after we’ve taken responsibility for our mistakes, and in fact, regardless of what we do, shame often gets worse in time, hitting us in triggered waves, sometimes for years, sometimes for our entire lives.
Guilt tells us our behavior is bad; Shame tell us that we are bad.
A Gallup Health and Well-Being Index revealed that women approaching midlife had the highest levels of stress among all age groups and genders. What's worse, according to the study, they were far more stressed out than previous generations of women, and there didn't seem to be any relief in sight. Today's women are raising children, working, caring for aging parents, and tending to their partners (or trying to), while doing their best to remain fresh and youthful. And as a result, they often feel too stretched, too overwhelmed, too exhausted, too unappreciated, and way too weary.
The study also highlighted the fact that among a range of emotions experiences by these over-worked and under-appreciated women, the most pronounced was guilt. No matter how much they worked, no matter how thinly they were spread, no matter how caring, giving, and sacrificing (and no matter how damned good they looked while engaging in all of their service-related activities) it never felt like they were doing enough -- there was always more they believed they could/should/needed to do. And at the core of these women's souls lurked a fear that they were failing themselves, their employers, their partners, and their children. According to the study, this type of perfectionism is eating away at the mental and physical health of today's women, particularly those who are parents.
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.