There is this page on Facebook I follow called Her Voice Echoes. In their own words:
Her Voice Echoes presents letters, editorials, articles and other documents written by and, sometimes, about women. A few voices will infuriate you. You may even find them abhorrent. Others will uplift and enlighten. Some will make you laugh, others cry. Hopefully, we’ll learn from all of them what it means to be human and the struggles that we share across centuries, social class, ethnicities and nationalities.
They post some great stuff and sometime things I roll my eyes at ever so slightly. Today, or last night probably, they posted something from Oprah.Com called The New Midlife Crisis. It’s about women, for women and Hallelujah we’re finally allowed by society to have a midlife crisis? Is that what it is?
I do have a problem with the article in the context that it seems directed at Gen X women. So yo do only Gen X women feel these things? I am 54 and I can tell you this article resonates with me. And not because my life is so terrible, it resonates because of what a decade ago almost my life could have been.
As I cooked dinner the other night, I thought about the women I had been talking to. They’re just entering, slogging through or just leaving their 40s. They belong to Generation X, born roughly during the baby bust, from 1965 to 1984, the Title IX babies who were the first women in their families to go to college. Or go away to college. Or to live on their own, launch a career, marry in their late 20s (or never) or choose to stay home with their children. They’re a Latina executive in California, a white stay-at-home mom in Virginia who grows her own organic vegetables, an African-American writer in Texas, an Indian-American corporate vice president who grew up in the suburbs of New York, and dozens more. They’re smart. They’re grateful for what they have. They’re also exhausted. Some of them are terrified. A few of them are wondering what the point is.
Oh Ms. Calhoun? Umm Gen X women are not the only ones experiencing this.
Someone I know turned to me recently and said she felt like she had no purpose. This almost broke my heart because this is a person whom I find to always have purpose, someone who has very quietly done some very amazing things.
I said to her that I think purpose as in our life’s purpose can shift and change and is always multi-faceted. I also said I think purpose can change as we change and age and life situations change. What might have been our intended purpose in our 20s isn’t the same as when we hit our 30s. Our 40s. Our 50s. (and so on)
I also think if we stop to breathe, and open our minds and hearts, purpose can indeed find us.
The author of the Oprah.com piece Ada Calhoun continues:
The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.
Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way…..Part of the reason we don’t know much about women’s midlife experience is that the focus has often been on men. For them, the “midlife crisis” (a term coined by psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in a 1965 journal article) usually involves busting stuff up—marriages, mostly—but also careers, norms, reputations….Other research suggests that women’s happiness bottoms out around 40; men’s, around 50. (Maybe that’s another reason the female experience isn’t much discussed: By the time men start thinking about these issues, women seem unaffected, but only because they’ve already been through it.)
Read more: http://oprah.com/new-midlife-crisis.html
More than one in five women in the US are on anti-depressants I personally think in part is because doctors don’t want to doctor, it’s easier to satisfy big pharma and prescribe a pill.
Goddamnitall women don’t just want to be given a pill, sometimes they just want someone to talk to and to listen to them because trust me they do not always get it at home. For the first part of my 40s I often felt a panic because at that time I was in a relationship with someone who preferred the sound of his own voice to anyone else’s. Fortunately for me, that is not what my life held for me and that person exited my life…in a blizzard (I loved snow that year.)
But if I think back on it and that relationship in particular, taking into consideration this Oprah.com article did I subconsciously stay in that relationship far longer than I should have because of some unexpressed and somewhat unknown fear at the time of being alone or not doing what was sort of expected of me? I am thinking that is true because it wasn’t until that relationship was over did I realize again that I did NOT have to panic, I could survive on my own, and I had value as a human being. And at that point, I began to breathe again and rediscover who I was.
I am not a Gen Xer as I was born the year before they designate the appropriate time frame (1965 to 1984). I will tell you that my friends and I feel like we were of the last generations of women groomed to be more highly decorative than highly functional. If we were highly functional it was either a happy accident or an act of rebellion.
Nice Main Line girls were groomed at home, at school, at dancing class. When I was at Shipley there was still afternoon tea. It was served in part by alumnae. My late mother-in-law would even put in an appearance. Only she is someone who had I been given the opportunity I would have paid more attention to because she was independent and a maverick of sorts. I can still tell you what it was like when I watched her come into Shipley for trustee meetings, but I never actually met her then or had a conversation with her. She carried herself like a cross between a dancer and a queen.
After Shipley, we girls were invited (or not invited but in those days people could not just dictate and shove their way in) to dance in the Cotillion of the Charity Ball. Or if your parents had the money and the pedigree you could be a full-fledged debutante. If you had a proper Mayflower or Early American pedigree you also/or did The Assemblies. As I had neither in my family tree, I was never sure which it was, only that until recently if you weren’t part of a select family you couldn’t attend even as a guest.
My two standout memories from the 1981 Charity Ball? My enforced blind date my mother chose photographed on a bench in the Bellevue reading the program book appearing in the 1982 Charity Ball Program with some sarcastic comment underneath it….and boy was my mother furious. The second memory is being ready to go out with my cotillion partner and praying Bobby Scott wouldn’t murder my last name. Seriously.
So we as girls/young women went to college, some on to graduate school, medical school and so on and so forth. But the message was always confusing: were we supposed to be independent and strong women or bits of fluff that looked good at dinner parties? Or both?
Ada Calhoun further noted in her Oprah.com article the following:
Women our age sometimes romanticize the freedom we used to have as kids in the ’70s or ’80s, but sociologist Linda Waite, PhD, director of NORC at the University of Chicago’s Center on Demography and Economics of Aging, has done extensive national surveys of middle-aged people, and she says Gen X was at a disadvantage from the start. Our parents’ choices often led to instability at home. Four in 10 Gen X children were likely to have divorced parents (the divorce rate, which peaked in 1980, recently hit a 36-year low). The effect was both financial (when your father leaves, it’s much less likely he’ll pay for college) and psychological.
“If your parents are divorced,” Waite says, “you see the world in a fundamentally different way. You see the world as unstable. That left people cautious.”
If our childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s was a time of massive changes—the first generation of latchkey kids, high crime rates in the headlines, missing children’s pictures on milk cartons, the AIDS epidemic beginning—our transition to adulthood was equally rocky. Many of us started our job hunts in the early ’90s recession, which was followed by a “jobless recovery.” If you were born later into Generation X, you might have entered the workforce around the 1999-ish stock market peak, but the tech bubble started to burst, landing us in the 2001 recession.
I did not have divorced parents, but sometimes I question where emphasis was placed. I often felt out-of-place and unheard. I was supposed to do what I was told. Period. I will note that this is something my husband has felt on occasion marred my abilities as a step-parent because of what I learned by living through.
In my house growing up there was very heavy emphasis on how you looked and how you behaved. Ok fine, no one wants to be godless and immoral but what does this do to self-body image and self-worth? In the junior high school and high school years I could prance with the best of them, but it was often just a survival charade so weakness wasn’t smelled in the air by the mean girls. To be honest self-worth was an epiphany when I was going to turn 50 and self-body image? I still struggle with it thanks to breast cancer.
Ada Calhoun talks about women our age (ok I will just say “our” since I was only born a year before her age range) possessing a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money (almost a direct quote from the article) and I can’t disagree. And she points out that experts say social security may or will run out in 2040. Or when I am into my 70s. Lovely. I pay my taxes, have paid into social security for years and in the end will the U.S. government just rip millions of us off? I do not think I will ever relax about money. It’s a love hate relationship. If you have ever worried about falling down a financial rabbit hole, you understand the fear rational or irrational.
When my parents were in their 30s and 40s they had a nice house and so on. When I was in my 30s and 40s I was still struggling on occasion and shock and horrors, I was single. I swear that is what was hardest on my mother, that I was not married. I remember when my sister and brother-in-law threw my parents a fancy 40th anniversary party. I was told by my mother I could not attend without a DATE. Yes seriously. In the end I did indeed attend without a date and much to mommy’s chagrin I did not in fact turn into a pillar of salt or something.
But that whole single thing was stressful and depressing at times. Not because I was upset particularly but because everyone else was. Because I was single so long it was always funny to see things I was left out of. It’s like I was viewed as a freak or unnatural. Sometimes married couples viewed me as suspect. One time someone told me once they couldn’t include me at a dinner party because she didn’t want an odd number and she was sure I would understand. No not really, that was kind of rude.
The article goes on to say that a lot of us feel stress and depression because we feel stalled in our careers. I don’t quite see that for myself personally because when I survived breast cancer my doctors literally sat me down and told me I had to change my life, job, and reduce stress. That was when I left my former industry. Truthfully, it was one of the best things I ever did for myself. It was scary because the unknown was/is scary but it was incredibly freeing.
You could say I joined the gig economy after a fashion. A gig economy is defined as a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. Otherwise known as freelance. Sometimes it is frustrating, but it’s not so scary and it is doable. Sometimes you just have to hustle.
What was also freeing? Finding the relationship I had always wanted slightly later in life. Knowing more of who I was and who my partner was made all of the difference. We came together because we wanted to be together, not because it was expected to be so. My husband is an amazing man, and yes I feel blessed every day that he loves me and I love him.
That love and understanding for me has been all the difference. I won’t say I still don’t have my occasional midlife panic moments but I am more grounded now I think and actually supported. When you feel supported as a human being, the panic of crisis points will subside. You are not walking a tightrope without a net when you have someone you love and trust implicitly.
Slowly I am learning you are only as stuck as you allow yourself to be. I never truly knew that before. When you run around in your head from thought to thought you do get stuck sometimes.
Dean Douglass was certainly ahead of her time. I also saw something else I took note of fly by on Facebook today also on Her Voice Echoes:
They refer to a letter written by one of my colonial favorites, Abigail Adams, to her husband John in March, 1776:
…I feel very differently at the approach of spring to what I did a month ago. We knew not then whether we could plant or sow with safety, whether when we had toild we could reap the fruits of our own industery, whether we could rest in our own Cottages, or whether we should not be driven from the sea coasts to seek shelter in the wilderness, but now we feel as if we might sit under our own vine and eat the good of the land.
I feel a gaieti de Coar to which before I was a stranger. I think the Sun looks brighter, the Birds sing more melodiously, and Nature puts on a more chearfull countanance. We feel a temporary peace, and the poor fugitives are returning to their deserted habitations.
Tho we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trembling least the Lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusilanimity and cowardise should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the Evil and shun it. — I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend….
Doesn’t.That.Just. Blow. You. Away???
Where am I going with this post? Not sure at this point. It started as one thing, has segued to other things like a good old flowing stream of female consciousness. Sorry, not sorry I have a busy brain. Sometimes it takes a while to turn it off.
The article on Oprah.com is huge and I think really interesting. I will finish with one last quote from the article:
And I think of what my friend who grew up in Mexico once told me: “The 30s are the adolescence of your adulthood,” she said, “and when you reach 50, it’s a restart—empieza de nuevo—a second chance.”
Well dayummm. Like Miss Jean Brodie I am in my prime now I guess?
Thanks for rambling. Stay dry and warm this evening and Happy Valentine’s Day a couple of days early.