Why We Can't Sleep Is the Midlife Crisis Book Every Woman Needs to Read After 40
This is not your mother's midlife crisis tome.
Photo: Kari Lehr/Getty Images
If you were a middle-class girl born in the U.S. between 1965 and 1980—typically defined as Generation X—you might have grown up thinking you had it made. Thanks to Title IX, you could excel at sports on the field of your choice; thanks to boomer women who banged down doors in the workplace, you could excel at a job in the field of your choice. And you could be a mom, too—because you'd be married to a proudly evolved guy who knew his way around a dirty diaper. You were among the first generation of women for whom "having it all" wasn't a ludicrous fantasy.
Most of those Gen X girls are now women in their 40s and 50s. And for many, things haven't turned out as they'd hoped. Yes, they may have careers and kids, but a sense of fulfillment eludes them, says journalist and cultural critic Ada Calhoun, who, at 43, is familiar with the feeling. Three years ago, after she published Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give—a wry, sometimes rueful ode to marriage—an acquaintance called and said, "I just read your book, and I think you're having a midlife crisis." Calhoun was skeptical:
Her? Crisis? And yet she identified with all the free-floating malaise that had become a constant in conversations she'd been having with women her age. Calhoun wanted to know more. The result is Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis, which evolved from an article Calhoun wrote for Oprah.com—a personal and sociological exploration of Gen X women in middle age. We asked Calhoun: What's bothering this otherwise blessed demographic, and how can we turn all those frowns upside down?
You talked to more than 200 Gen X women from across the country, of different religious, ethnic, cultural, and political backgrounds—but all middle-class. Why?
I was intrigued by women who, by virtue of class, grew up with reasonable expectations of opportunity, success, and fulfillment, yet are still floundering. Poor women in this country struggle under burdens that are beyond the scope of this discussion, while the very rich—well, The Real Housewives has them covered. I wanted to talk about the vast middle, the women like me who think of themselves as lucky, and who by any measure are lucky, yet are deeply frustrated.
Frustrated by what?
Their job, marriage, kids, parents, health, and general unhappiness. They'd invariably say, "I'm not having a crisis!" But if feeling unsatisfied and like they want to "burn it all down" isn't a crisis, what is?
You say these disappointments feel more acute because Generation X was given so much encouragement and opportunities.
Many of these women were raised to believe they would live the dreams their mothers and grandmothers couldn't. For example, a girl might say she wanted to be a nurse, and her mom would counter with "Why not a doctor?" This was well-intentioned, but it created a steady pressure for us to achieve more while continuing to manage the caregiving and housekeeping responsibilities that, as it turned out, continued to fall largely to women. So we get to midlife, the time when we're supposed to be at the top of our game, and it's a bit of a shock: Women talked about not having the family they wanted or the career they imagined or the money they expected. I can't count how many women looked at me and said, "What did I do wrong?"
It's an issue for this demographic: Our potential versus what we can realistically get done in a day, a week, or a lifetime.
As I write in the book, boomers deserve full credit for blazing trails while facing sexism and macroaggressions and also raising families. But Gen Xers entered the world with "having it all" not as a goal but as a mandate. Even for our mothers who worked full-time, the expectations were less intense. Research shows that women today are spending more time in the labor force than in the past, but also more hours on childcare. The pressure to be super present as a parent while also always working is new. And then, on top of it all, we've got perimenopause—which, of course, women of the past dealt with, but not while working 50-hour weeks plus raising kids or teens and being confronted with social media images of your peers doing everything better than you while looking great, whether it's the result of filters or fillers.
Read the full story here: Why We Can't Sleep Is the Midlife Crisis Book Every Woman Needs to Read After 40