This is the Mid-Wife Crisis.
Mind you, when I say Mid-Wife Crisis, I mean the middle-of-married-life kind, not the kind where you go to Yale to learn how to legally brandish a birthing stool. As one girlfriend remarked, it's the age of rage—a period of high irritation that lasts roughly one to two decades. As a colleague e-mailed me, it's the simmering underbelly of resentment, the 600-pound mosquito in the room. At a juncture where we thought we should have unearthed some modicum of certainty, we are turning into the Clash. If I go will there be trouble? If I stay will it be double? Should I stay or should I go?
Our mothers knew better than to ponder such questions, at least not out loud in front of God and the hairdresser. They deliberately waited to reach the last straw until their children were grown and the house was paid for. At 25, they were ladies with lady clothes and lady hairdos—bona fide adults, the astronauts' wives. By 40, they were relics.
But we, we with our 21st-century access to youth captured in a gleaming Mason jar with a pinked square of gingham rubber-banded over the top, we are still visually tolerable if not downright irresistible when we're 30 or 35 or 40. If you believe the fashion magazines—which I devoutly do—even 50- and 60-year-olds are (lick finger, touch to imaginary surface, make sizzle noise) pretty hot tickets.
We are also tickets with jobs and disposable income. If we jump ship now, we're still attractive prospects who may have another shot at happiness. There's just that tricky wicket of determining whether eternal comfort resides in the tried-and-true or whether the untried will be truer.
Our mothers, so old too young, believed that marriage was the best they could get. We, the children of mothers who settled (or were punished for not settling), wonder: Is this as good as it gets?
Our mothers feared being left alone. We crave time alone. Alone-time is the new heroin.
"What are we doing here?"
We were groomed to think bigger and better—achievement was our birthright—so it's small surprise that our marriages are more freighted. Marriage and its cruel cohort, fidelity, are a lot to expect from anyone, much less from swift-flying us. Would we agree to wear the same eyeshadow or eat in the same restaurant every day for a lifetime? Nay, cry the villagers, the echo answers nay. We believe in our superhood. We count on it.
So, did our feminist foremothers set us up for failure? Or were they just trying to empower us so that we wouldn't buy into the notion of having to be a better better half?
Either way, many of us semi–bought into it. As the tail end of the baby boomers/mavericks of Gen X, we still had one foot in the Good Girl pond, or at least the wet footprints leading out of it. In the beginning, we felt obliged to join the race to have it all; being married was an integral part of the contest and heaven forfend we should be disqualified.
Flash-forward to ten years later, when we discover that we can get it all but whose harebrained scheme was this anyway? We can get jobs, get pregnant, get it done. We can try—with varying levels of success—to get sleep, get fit, get control, and get those important Me-moments where one keeps a journal with thought-provoking lists that go "I'm a woman first, a mother second, a laundress third." We get upset, we get over it. What we don't always get is: Why.