"I dread the feeling of becoming invisible. What if I never have sex again?"
Abigail Thomas, 63, fiction and autobiographical writer and author of Safekeeping: "I wouldn't even go back to as young as I was yesterday. Being this age is completely freeing. To walk out of the house without wondering who's looking back at you makes it possible to focus on what you really want to focus on. It makes it possible to get your work done. For a long time, all I thought about was, Who's looking at me? Who's interested? I didn't even really look at what I felt like looking at on the street. That's what I called sexual power. About ten years ago, exactly what I'd feared came to be: My 'sexual power' changed. For so long, how I looked represented everything to me: who I was as a woman, my power, how I could engage. When it was over, I discovered so many other things. I began to write. I started to see that I wasn't at the world's disposal—I call the shots, and what I'm interested in is what I'm interested in. One day in my 50s, I just woke up and realized I really didn't care about any of the rest of it and hadn't for quite a while. The heat was gone, and what replaced it was an avid desire for life."
Maya Angelou: "At 50 I began to know who I was. It was like waking up to myself."
"I'm terrified of ending up alone."
Florence Falk, PhD, psychotherapist and author of On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone: "Historically and prehistorically, women have existed in a context in which, because they bore children, they stayed together while the men were out hunting. So in terms of our collective unconscious, we have a history of being in some kind of connection with other people. We've been nurturers in an earthbound role, so it's difficult for our psyches to contemplate anything else. What's it like not to be tethered with the responsibility of a mate and children? We haven't had a template for that. Of course, it's a human reflex to want to be connected to others. But for women, we expect the connection to make us feel more realized, whole, alive. This is where many women get caught: wanting to be in connection but at the same time resenting it."
"What if I leave my jerk husband but find myself too broke to survive on my own?"
Elizabeth Lesser: "I've gone through a divorce and the terror of leaving a marriage. I know what it's like to feel stuck in something that is draining your life force, to stay because you're afraid of what's on the other side, especially financially. Helen Keller has become one of my heroes. She was blind, deaf, and mute, and you'd think she'd sit cowering in a corner. Yet this is what she once said: 'Security...does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.' I often think, If she could live life as a daring adventure, then any of us can. I used that when I finally made the decision as a 32-year-old mother to become a single parent and to leave a marriage that had been difficult for 14 years. It was about going for quality of life as opposed to security. It's not just in marriages that this decision is required. It's in everything—your job, where you live, how you relate to people. Much of the time, choosing security isn't a good idea."
Joan Borysenko, PhD, 59, cofounder of the Mind-Body clinical programs at two Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals and author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind and Inner Peace for Busy People: "I've left a couple of husbands, and here's what I've learned: If you cannot support yourself, you set yourself up to be a prisoner. We can't stay home like June Cleaver and expect a man to take care of us financially. The world doesn't work that way anymore."
Joan Hamburg: "Even some of the smartest married women don't know their financial standing. I once talked to a bunch of women at a bank in Staten Island, and I asked, 'Do you know what's in your husband's will? Do you know where his papers are? Do you even know what you're worth?' Not one woman knew. The truth is that we're very complacent when it comes to seizing control of our finances. It's part of that old syndrome: Be the best girl possible, make people happy, and Daddy's going to take care of you. That's over. For women, dealing with money doesn't seem graceful. Many see it as sort of embarrassing to know about money. It's time for us to step right up to the plate and learn. One reason women are so totally unprepared for the financial devastation that can come after a divorce is that they have no clue how to handle their money."