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.
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.
Last week I shared my six pet peeves about middle-aged men's online dating profiles, and I promised everyone that this week I'd focus on middle-aged women's online dating profiles. Since I'm far more familiar with men's profiles, I recruited some of my single male friends (and the Twittersphere) to help me with this post. The following list is my best attempt at summarizing the results of my informal survey, with a few of my own observations based on a bit of research I conducted myself. Disclaimer: if you're a woman between the ages of 45 and 60, living in the Chicagoland area, and I popped up on your "Viewed Me" list, I'm sorry, really. Anyway, here goes:
I have been a member of a popular online dating service for a little over a year now, and I have to say that, overall, I'm pleasantly surprised by the quality of men I've met online. While I haven't yet met "the one," I remain hopeful that eventually, I will. Yet despite my generally positive experiences, I have come across a few (hundred) profiles that completely baffle me in a these-men-clearly-were-not-raised-with-sisters-and-can't-possibly-have-any-female-friends sort of way. Like the man who thought that selecting the username "Undertaker" was a good idea, or the guy who shot his photos in a room that clearly screamed "locked residential facility." Or, the childless man who expressed his deep desire to meet a woman with young children (preferably boys). One of my all-time favorites though was the man who spent half his profile narrative writing about how he was still deeply in love with his ex-wife, but since she wouldn't take him back, he was forced to find love online (yay us!).
Some of these profiles represent random oddities, the one-in-a-hundred profile with an eyebrow-raising narrative or a few gasp-worthy photographs. These profiles can actually be a wonderful source of entertainment, particularly if wine is involved. But what I find somewhat troubling are some rather disturbing trends I've noted in many men's profiles who seem to be quite normal otherwise. I do empathize, really. Many of us are dating novices, jumping back into the dating pool after years (sometimes decades) of marriage and child-rearing. We're all winging it to a certain extent, unsure of what the other sex is looking for, or how to get their attention. But these gaffes are so obvious that I think it's time someone opens a dialogue and asks the important question: Why? No really, why?
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.
Dating in our teens and 20s was challenging. Dating in our middle adult years, with significant exes, children, pets, mortgages, careers and a boatload of emotional, physical and perhaps even financial baggage, may seem impossible. I've single parented my son since he was very young, and didn't have much time to date amidst parenting, working, continuing my education, doing dishes, mowing the lawn and attending various kid-related activities. So when my son left for college, I decided that there was no better time to start dating again.
But as often happens when we poke our heads into an activity after a few decades-long hiatus, I realized that everything had changed - and I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Rather than meeting someone at a dance, a bar, or if we go back far enough, a frat party, I soon learned that the majority of dating was occurring online. And rather than having to worry about my first impression when meeting someone, I had to worry about my first online impression.
We now have to worry about leading not with ourselves, but with an image of ourselves. We have to contend with parallel dating, encouraged by the online dating algorithms that push multiple potential partners at us at one time. We have to worry about competition that always seems to be younger, thinner, wealthier and happier. Most of us are battle-weary, still struggling with past hurts and anger, and scared to get hurt again, and now we find ourselves in completely unchartered territory, with very few ‘rules of the road’ to guide us.
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.