Furiously Unhappy: The New Midlife Crisis for Women
January 7, 2020 6:27 AM   Subscribe

"Midlife is when we need to take care of everyone else while we are our most tired, to trust ourselves when we're most filled with doubt. What makes it worse is that many of our midlife fears are well founded. We may, in fact, die alone. Our marriages may never improve. We may never get the number of kids we hoped for. We may never save enough money to make the retirement calculators stop screaming. We may never do a fraction of what we thought we would do in our career." The New Midlife Crisis: Why (and How) It's Hitting Gen X Women, by Ada Calhoun (Oprah.com).
posted by MonkeyToes (61 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah. I went through it all at age 38/39 - later this evening I'll share some of my thinking through all of this, as a childless divorcee, while walking up and down the shores of Lake Michigan in 2003/4
posted by Mrs Potato at 6:32 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


I feel a lot of that. Not all of it, because it is the rare article that considers the perspectives of both childless women AND mothers and I am not a mother, but a lot of it.

I quit my previous job and went back to school, and have landed in a situation that is likely to be more stable over the long term than what I was doing before, which helps ease some of the worry. My mother already lives with my brother, so if elder care is required it is going to fall on him (or his wife) and not on me. I don't have kids. I do have (some) savings.

Despite all of that, sometimes I lie awake and night and just sort of vibrate with anxiety. At least I'm apparently in good company.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:57 AM on January 7 [14 favorites]


As a Gen X woman who intentionally took a lower paying job so I could help my kids and elders, I can assure you it all stings. The pay gap is real for a reason.
posted by EinAtlanta at 7:15 AM on January 7 [12 favorites]


it is the rare article that considers the perspectives of both childless women AND mothers

I really appreciated this aspect of the article.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:17 AM on January 7 [24 favorites]


Well, shit.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:23 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Yup.

I heard Calhoun interviewed on The Current yesterday and she spoke about lying next to her partner being completely anxious and her partner being asleep and that really kind of spoke to me and describes a lot of my nights.

I've spent the last few years trying to become less anxious and frankly, angry. I'm not just angry but angry at myself because I have a pretty decent life, but I live on an edge where I feel that making the wrong move will result in that house of cards coming down. And that does come from being a member of the grand divorce/latchkey generation as well as PTSD, but it's also a lifetime of layoffs, market crashes, #MeToo moments, watching mediocre men shoot past great women, watching friends divorce, friend die of cancer...it goes on and on and on.

But I'm also angry at myself because I'm aware of what luck and prosperity I have. I just can't relax about it. Yes to yoga and meditation and all that but that's still where I sometimes am at 2 am.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:29 AM on January 7 [39 favorites]


Ooooof. As a younger woman, this just makes me feel terrified of getting older.
posted by noxperpetua at 7:32 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Many women I spoke with said things like, "I do it all. What is he even here for?"

Hahahahaha. Hahahaha!
Sob.
posted by kitcat at 7:39 AM on January 7 [56 favorites]


I'm 50. I grew up poor, was poor in college (but was the first in my family to go!), was OK for a bit in my 30s, then lost my well-paying job at 40. It took 3 years to find another (at a company that I'm about to be let go from in about a month). I have no savings or retirement funds, because I went through it all while unemployed, and have lived paycheck to paycheck these last 7 years. My salary isn't great, let's put it that way. I took what I could get.

I'm estranged from my toxic family, so I'm more or less alone in the world, but not taking care of elders, for which I'm grateful, in a sense. I cannot imagine having to deal with them aging while I'm in my current place.

It's frightening to me what my future holds. I've been scrambling for the last 3 weeks in a job search, asking for help (which I'd never done before because I have to do it myself or look weak, right?), combing LinkedIn/Indeed/Idealist for leads, and extremely anxious that I'm going to be in that 50% who won't find anything because of my age. And my race. And my gender.

I put aside what I wanted to do (write and direct films) to survive, and for what? I've had no more security in making that choice. I'm not sure what I could've done differently, but surviving massive childhood trauma and abuse has primed me to seek "security" and "stability", possibly to the detriment of my future prospects.

I'm not even thinking about a man, not right now, not as I'm staring a job loss in the face and wondering what I'm going to do in May when my rent goes up. Anyway, the last guy who seemed interested was years ago, but was also married (I shunned him, though I lost his wife's friendship in the process). I have no kids, thank goodness, because if I were single now with children, we'd be impoverished.

In any case, I'm in both panic and survival mode right now, so at least this article helps me to feel less alone. I felt seen in that article.

Thank you for letting me rant.
posted by droplet at 7:39 AM on January 7 [65 favorites]


This is a double, but I hope MonkeyToes can have another whack at it (or it stands, with extra context) since Calhoun's book-length version of this article is out today. Which you should get, as it's bound to be as insightful and compassionate as the article itself.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 7:50 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


[It's a double but I was going to leave it, since it's been a few years and new people are finding it worthwhile]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:52 AM on January 7 [19 favorites]


Is this a double? I definitely remember the iPad smashing.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:53 AM on January 7


Wow, do I ever relate to this. In particular: All of the information is: 'Lady, you better save money because no one else will take charge of your financial future!'

So, when I ask "How much should I be saving?" the answer has always been "Save as much as you can!!". But...how much? Is there a number? How do I know that I'm not shortchanging my present while squirreling away cash for the future? Along the same line, when I ask "When should I save for retirement?" the answer is "as soon as possible!!" as though I should have saved a percentage of that first $10.00 paycheck I got at the age of ten for playing the flute at a nursing home. I feel like I'm already behind. Everybody I know feels that way, like they're pushing that rock uphill. Oh, and all of a sudden your Silent Generation parents are hanging on to your shirt and your children are hanging on to your pant legs. And those younger folks - who also have rocks, but nobody hanging on - are beating you up the hill towards those few jobs left in your field.
posted by Gray Duck at 7:54 AM on January 7 [17 favorites]


I'm very lucky to have a husband who pitches in quite a bit (honestly he probably does more than I do but the flipside of that is I have the stable job - he works but he's got a lot more flexibility - and even though I like my job quite a bit I am absolutely trapped here because we can't afford to lose my health insurance and sometimes I just want to get in the car and keep driving until, I don't know, I'm submerged in the ocean with mermaids or something, it's not a realistic fantasy). I put aside all of my dreams for stability, and we're doing ok I guess, but we're about two missed paychecks away from disaster and never mind retiring. I've been grindingly poor and this isn't it, at all, but it's still very precarious and I thought that at 46 I'd have things at least halfway to figured out. Thank God it turned out I was infertile. I'm a writer, at least in theory; I published a lot in my early twenties and then I thought it would really cool to run a small press and all that meant was that I was stressed out all the time and never wrote anything. I'm really proud of the books I published but I've had to stop because of some pretty bad burnout and in the end the whole endeavor was just a money-sink.

If I could do it all again, I wouldn't. I often feel like I should have just embraced instability and gotten a shack in the woods and written all I wanted. I'd make a great grizzled mountain man and at least then I wouldn't have to shave my legs.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:04 AM on January 7 [21 favorites]


(Apologies to drlith; I owe you a coffee next time.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:10 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Having to tackle middle age in the context of the climate catastrophe and our current political moment feels especially brutal.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:11 AM on January 7 [41 favorites]


Having to tackle middle age in the context of the climate catastrophe and our current political moment feels especially brutal.

There are moments where I think to my childless, middle-aged self "At least if the planet goes up in flames, I won't have to worry about who will take care of me when I'm old." It's not that I want the whole world to die together so I don't have to die alone, it's just that if the whole world is going to die together anyway, at least I wouldn't have to face that kind of catastrophe by myself. I think this feeling is less about pessimism about the end of the world and more a function of how intensely lonely it can be to be a single, childless woman in your 40s.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 AM on January 7 [29 favorites]


This was absolutely my mother, who got a shitty divorce, became a single mother, and cared for her dying mother within the same two spectacularly shitty years. And the shit-gift that keeps giving for both of us is that all of it became so wrapped up in her understandable despair that our family unit never re-stabilized, and for many reasons, both of her own children now keep her at arm's length because she is a black hole of anger and sadness. I empathize with her pain very deeply but I can't fix it for her.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:54 AM on January 7 [20 favorites]



So, when I ask "How much should I be saving?" the answer has always been "Save as much as you can!!". But...how much? Is there a number? How do I know that I'm not shortchanging my present while squirreling away cash for the future? Along the same line, when I ask "When should I save for retirement?" the answer is "as soon as possible!!"


OMG, all of this, plus the "how should I balance paying off loans and saving for my future? Should I bother pretending I'll ever pay off these loans?"

Several financial guides I've read recommend paying off your high interest debt before you save for retirement. UMMM OK.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:59 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


I’m 41 and no children. I used all my meager retirement funds to start over a few years ago.

I am kind of only half joking that I hope marry a rich guy because I literally have no idea how else I’m going to save enough to retire nor how I’m going to work forever. I’m mostly overthinking it because I do make a decent salary now but it’s still terrifying. I don’t have any family either. So.

I have been spending my money on travel quite a bit so that I can see the places I always wanted to and have those memories.
posted by affectionateborg at 9:08 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


So, when did this article come out? Was it pre-election? Add to my list of midlife crisis annoyances how internet articles seemingly never have a date anymore!!!

I do recall this article and still very much identify with the constant anxiety. My husband seemingly has about a 10th of the anxiety. I think men* are generally given so many passes in life starting in boyhood that they just think that’s how it is. Women are always left in more dire straights including less access to those mythical “bootstraps” that appear more for men when they need them.

*cis, white, middle class, etc.
posted by amanda at 9:09 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


42, single, mortgage, no children... and as far as I can tell, in order to have enough in retirement to cover my expected living costs then, I'd need to put so much of my current income into a pension that I wouldn't have enough left to cover my living costs now.

I have no idea how this is supposed to work.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:10 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


Also 42, single, mortgage, no children. Just got out of a 6-month period of unemployment. Not seeing a lot of light at the end of this tunnel.
posted by rewil at 9:23 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I have exactly the number of children I wanted, which is none. So I've got that going for me.
posted by Gwynarra at 9:37 AM on January 7 [25 favorites]


I'd need to put so much of my current income into a pension that I wouldn't have enough left to cover my living costs now.

This, exactly. Plus have watched the economy over the past few decades, having seen how pensions get looted, will anything I put away be there when I need it?
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:51 AM on January 7 [12 favorites]


I missed this article the first go-around, and while I’m tempted to get on the waitlist at the library for the new book, I don’t have much hope that it ends with solutions or next steps. But I really do appreciate the honest conversations that come from articles/books like these, if only to pop out of our self-imposed perfectionist bubbles and talk honestly with one another about the very real struggles we are facing.

I’m on the border between Gen X and Millenial, and last year I got a real taste of the caregiving sandwich struggle when my mom was going through cancer treatment and my dad proved to be worthless throughout. I feel deep dread about the expectations of me as the lone local child (and daughter, natch) during their next health crises and inevitable decline. Those pressures will likely start to peak at the same time as I try to launch my son into adulthood, which will bring its own challenges due to his rare medical condition and need for stable, robust health insurance.

When I think of my future, I mostly feel grateful for steady government employment and hope to coast along here rather than seek out more challenging, interesting roles elsewhere. Is that a waste of a career? Or are jobs for the 99% mostly bullshit anyway? As the article mentioned, seeing those empty houses haunted by the person you might have been is... haunting. And where the hell does my husband fit in? His worries are so much different than mine, and if I were to offload some of my mental burden to him I don’t think it would truly make it go away.
posted by Maarika at 9:54 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


So, when I ask "How much should I be saving?" the answer has always been "Save as much as you can!!". But...how much? Is there a number? How do I know that I'm not shortchanging my present while squirreling away cash for the future? Along the same line, when I ask "When should I save for retirement?" the answer is "as soon as possible!!"

So the advice for when to start saving = 'as soon as possible' is correct, because the effects of compounding take a long time - and by long time I mean like 20 years minimum before the effects really start kicking in. So with that, you can see the advice to 'pay off high interest first before saving for retirement' is bad advice.

However, the answer to 'how much' is not quite so boundless, and the woman in her 40s with $1m in retirement, even if she like has twins starting college in May, can help with their college if she chose to do so. Even though the anxiety she feels about it is 'real' to her, everything is relative, and the amount she currently has is in the top few percent of net worths in the US and she is not yet retired. If you get to that number by the end of your career, you are top 10% in the US. You may still be stressed because top 10 is not good enough and 7% or 5% sounds better, but just recognize what you are stressed about.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:00 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


if there were a recipe for a midlife crisis, it could be showing up day after day for a job that's slowly corroding your soul

but also

I mostly feel grateful for steady government employment and hope to coast along here rather than seek out more challenging, interesting roles elsewhere. Is that a waste of a career? Or are jobs for the 99% mostly bullshit anyway?

is my last 10 years. Add in some nihilism of the "does paying off my credit card/saving for retirement really matter if we're heading toward nuclear war/climate collapse/the post-antibiotic era?" variety and you're all caught up.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:18 AM on January 7 [23 favorites]


My parents died broke and I've kind of always felt that was my fate. I am trying to save and have some retirement but will it be enough? Depends on whether our country continues on this path to going entirely ass-up or not.

If I'm lucky I'll have enough once I can't work anymore to go protest constantly in Washington demanding "where the fuck is my money and healthcare, you assholes?" until I either kick it or they put me in jail. Fine, whatever.

My only real fear is being a burden on my son as he launches into his life. I "escaped" that by having my parents die young enough (yay?) that I didn't have to do any elder care after age 40.

Anyway, my two plans are:

a. keep trying and hope it works out
b. it doesn't work out so I use whatever health/energy/funds I have to make as big a stink as possible before I die.

Or I guess c., get carried off by something early, but nothing I can do about that one.

The one that scares me is d. get incapacitated early by something that doesn't kill me but drains all my money/my son's earnings as he tries to keep me alive. I would do a lot to avoid that.
posted by emjaybee at 10:34 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


Add in some nihilism of the "does paying off my credit card/saving for retirement really matter if we're heading toward nuclear war/climate collapse/the post-antibiotic era?" variety and you're all caught up.

Also the likelihood that any true reckoning - or failure to reckon - w/climate change is going to involve a massive destruction/abandonment of productive capacity and capital that will greatly reduce - if not zero out - much of the savings and investments of me and my fellow Gen Xers. We really are standing on a precipice.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:34 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I am 39. Three years into a 20 year mortgage. One child under 2 and a 9-year-old with ADHD and a learning disability. Unhappily married (will that ever change? could i even look after the kids on my own? could I afford it? i ask myself these things every night as I chant 'i will divorce you i will divorce you'). I have a good job as a software developer with a pension(!), but the pay where I live isn't fantastic, and I started this career very late, with only a 2-year diploma, at 32 (even as a young gen-X I never even touched the internet until about 2000 when I was 20, never googled a single thing until 25) and yes I worry about smarter, younger, more nimble folks overtaking me, or my employer simply moving towards using contractors with far better educations and experience than me.

The rage has subsided, now that I'm more heavily medicated after a major episode in the spring. But oh, the rage. I thought it was pregnancy rage, but it just roiled and oozed out of me and poisoned everything long after the baby was born. Trump (I'm not even American, I feel for you women who are). Men. Predatory sales tactics. Childcare costs. Work. Not being taken seriously. Never quite feeling in control. Never getting ahead. Always thinking - maybe THEN we'll have enough money. Mom guilt. Bullshit judgy old aunts who clutch their pearls and gossip when they hear the baby crawled off the bed or was unsupervised in the living room for a few minutes, but conveniently forget how they let their drunk husbands drive their kids around in the 70s with no seat belts.

I started smoking again. I fantasize about one-way-tickets to Mexico.

The first thing I brought up when I started seeing my therapist in the fall was the rage. She recommended a book called "When Anger Hurts". There are some good parts but the central thesis is that anger is a choice.

Fuck that.

I don't think that book is for US.
posted by kitcat at 10:36 AM on January 7 [35 favorites]


I sometimes entertain myself while washing dishes/baby bottles by wondering how I could fake my own death in such a way that the life insurance would still pay out. Can't make it look like a suicide, they won't pay for that. If I make it look like a murder, my husband would be the prime suspect, and I don't want that. So that leaves accident. Should I try to pull off some sort of body-switching stunt? Engineer something that would destroy a body so thoroughly they wouldn't even try to recover it? I saw a PostSecret postcard once, years ago, that was a picture of the Twin Towers burning with the words "Everyone who knew me before 9/11 thinks I'm dead." Could I do something like that? But if I knew in advance that a major attack like that was coming, I couldn't live with myself afterward if I didn't warn people or try to stop it.

And then the fun part to speculate about: if everyone who knows me thinks I'm dead, where do I go and what do I do?
posted by octothorp at 10:46 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


with $1m in retirement

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WHOOOOO boy that is waaay beyond the realm of possibility for a big segment of the population. I'll be lucky if I even have a van to live in down by the river once I'm too old to be considered employable - and I'm a white male American; I can't imagine how much more misery and anxiety women (let alone BIPoC folks) must be feeling.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:49 AM on January 7 [20 favorites]


And then the fun part to speculate about: if everyone who knows me thinks I'm dead, where do I go and what do I do?

That's the hard part, yeah. I remember reading Ladder of Years (plot: middleaged woman basically walks away from her life/kids/husband and starts a new one) and rooting for her never to go back.
posted by emjaybee at 10:51 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's time for a Crone Strike though. If none of us can afford to retire, why keep working? Women do way more than our share, middle-aged ones especially.
posted by emjaybee at 10:53 AM on January 7 [20 favorites]


I felt such a sick foreboding horror reading about the mother in The Hours (also walks away) - long before I was even married. I try not to think about that now.

On preview - yes, crone strike!
posted by kitcat at 10:57 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Life was pretty darn desperate in midlife. I was broke and angry all the time. And overwhelmed. I'm 68 and happier, but my mother is dead, my father is my sister's problem, my husband finally mellowed, my kid is grown up and has a solid partner, and I'm physically deteriorating at a nice steady rate and healthier than many people my age.
posted by Peach at 10:59 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


Also, (from the article) "By the time men start thinking about these issues, women seem unaffected, but only because they've already been through it.)" is absolutely right.
posted by Peach at 11:05 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


So the advice for when to start saving = 'as soon as possible' is correct, because the effects of compounding take a long time - and by long time I mean like 20 years minimum before the effects really start kicking in. So with that, you can see the advice to 'pay off high interest first before saving for retirement' is bad advice.

So to clarify, the advice I've read from reddit's personalfinance where they love this stuff is to max out your employer match for retirement if they offer one, then pay down high interest debt, then contribute to an IRA or other stuff. So if you don't get an employer match, according to them, it's more worthwhile to pay down debt and not snowball that interest for 20 years than it is to put in retirement $$ and let it sit for 20 years. And the rationale becomes muddy and overwhelming when you feel like you only have $50 a month, if that, to kick to one or the other anyway.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:09 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


And it's depressing when however you allocate between savings and retirement feels like equal amounts of Doing It Wrong either way.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:11 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I’m not quite gen X (‘81) but damn. I had to stop reading halfway though. All my anxieties right there. I’m glad to know it’s not just me, but I couldn’t read all of it.

I did take some hope in the happiness starts going up after 40 thing, though.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:51 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


and the woman in her 40s with $1m in retirement
posted by The_Vegetables


LOL.

I have just over $50k in retirement savings and I make less than that annually. My husband has nothing – his retirement was supposed to be the business he started but his business partner was hit by a truck. Sooo.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:35 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I've known people that started canning just to get some control over these kinds of fears. The fantasy/dream of having food stored if it gets(?) bad(?) helped. I've seen other similar kinds of efforts(coop(s), clothes making, etc). It seems to help mentally as much or more than the (feared) bad times physical help it's done for. Plus, for the people that can manage the different efforts (and no, a lot of people can't for diff reasons), it actually does help them live cheaper.

Which is something I've tried to do all my life. Learn skills to live cheaper (if you need to) at the same time you pursue other efforts, job, career, etc. Most of the time I've found that it's more cost efficient to pay for the different things instead of doing them myself. But that's *now*. It didn't used to be that way and I got lucky to be where I am now and *can* pay for them.
posted by aleph at 1:16 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


Last night I almost tweeted about the particular kind of panic you get when you're going to bed and in the middle of working yourself into a nice solid anxiety attack about finances - the "I will never be able to pay off this debt and will lose my house and end up homeless and alone also my children will inherit nothing maybe I should just kill myself now" variety - and then suddenly the dogs go bananas and the motion detector porch light flickers on and whooooo, yes, now THAT'S some quality panic. Welcome to the whirlwind. I've been having hot flashes for EIGHTEEN years now and they show no sign of ever stopping and really, why should they.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:41 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


I just spent a week visiting a good friend who I lived with for a while when we were in undergrad together, and is about the only person I've kept in close touch with since that time, visiting her for her 40th birthday (and mine is in a couple of months). We had a lot of conversations about this stuff.

We were in similar circumstances starting university. Neither from well-off backgrounds. Neither from families where it was normal to go to university. Neither of us had parental financial support for our degrees. She took out loans; I was lucky enough to get scholarships. It was a comparatively small amount of money (about $10,000 per year for three years), but it definitely set her back significantly when she was starting out with work. Neither of us got well paid jobs right away. She spent about five years working on supermarket checkouts after university. I went on to postgraduate study, still on scholarships, but not actually earning enough to save.

She made it into the world of earning a proper paycheck about seven or eight years before me. We both got married around the same time. My husband had much better paying work than hers (her husband working in IT support, and mine as an academic). But now her husband has had 15 years of an upward career trajectory, while mine has only ever had short precarious contracts, and now is only employed a couple of days a week (and that is soon ending). I live in a city with a much higher cost for housing than she does, but my salary is also higher than hers. We both bought houses around the same time. The income/mortgage ratio probably worked out exactly the same.

So really, there's not a lot of reason why we should be extremely differently placed, financially. Except...

She had children and we didn't. In both our cases our parents divorced, but she was an only child, and her father had a stroke and needs round the clock care. I have siblings to share responsibility, and my parents, while they need financial help sometimes, are physically still okay for now.

So here we are: she is completely shattered. She's had years of caring for her father full time while working part time while bringing up a child almost entirely single-handedly (because her husband earns more and works full time so doesn't see childcare as his responsibility). (She wants to leave him but can't figure out how to afford it.)

Meanwhile I feel pretty comfortable. I have savings, and I have no kids to worry about. I do stay up at night worrying about what happens when my parents need care. And for sure my savings wouldn't go far if I lost my job and we needed to stay in our current city for some reason. But that's very different from all the must more immediate worries on her plate.

It feels like just dumb luck that we are currently in such different positions. We spent a lot of time the last couple of visits shaking our heads at it and trying to unpick how we got here. But I feel like really it comes down to small things having huge consequences, which is a scary thought projecting further into the future.
posted by lollusc at 1:45 PM on January 7 [13 favorites]


Just got this from a friend my age (51) on Facebook: Gen X Women Get Less Sleep Than Any Other Generation. I've been an insomniac since I was a teen so can't blame that on middle-age, but it sure is getting tougher to go to work and be a competent person while sleep-deprived now that I'm older and more exhausted.

The past 10 years have been pretty rough - people I know and care about have started dying, I adopted older rescue dogs in 2011 and they've since died which was surprisingly devastating , my dad (75) has been on and off hospice (and in and out of the hospital) since 2016, my mom (75), who I have helped through 2 hip replacements can't handle my father being so ill and is unbearable much of the time, my father-in-law (who is also a pill) just turned 80, and since our younger siblings live far away, all the elder care so far has fallen to my husband and I.

I have a chronic health condition that worsened in my 40s and I am still struggling to control (migraines.) I've been working for over 30 years and I'm burned out and tired and can't seem to get any energy to do the things I enjoy in my small amount of time off.

And I'll be honest - I did not need yet another health problem but thank you anyway, I guess, menopause for tinkling in my underwear. Sorry to be such an Eeyore - I usually keep all this locked up inside and try to keep smiling but I guess the new year has made me really look at all of this.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 1:56 PM on January 7 [12 favorites]


thank you all for this thread. It reminds me of an epic thread on emotional labour, and really, its not very much different is it?
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:09 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


"...and really, its not very much different is it?"

Well, this seems to also have hard physical labor as well. Though maybe that was more of the emotional labor discussion than I realized. And it certainly seems to have the emotional labor part all woven through it. Reminds me of different times when people got *really* sick of what had to be done to live. Then there were waves of different attempts to find something/anything different. Some were pretty successful. But it still was hard. :(
posted by aleph at 2:56 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Too old to order off the kid's menu and too young to die. What stupid age am I?
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:20 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


The age where you can stop wondering what age you are?
posted by aleph at 4:21 PM on January 7


I am 49, cis Caucasian female. I have lived 3 lives... First marrying young at 22, having 2 daughters by 26. Divorce from the breadwinner (not my choice) at 30. Happiness level a solid 6/10.

My second life was an amazing exploration of self. Being broke, finding a career path, making shit work out to be strong for my daughters. Nursing my father through a cancer that turned out being terminal. Surviving his death. Having rebellious teens, and an ex husband who thrived on causing discourse in my world, particularly in making my daughters dislike me ( the whore, drunk cheating bitch) if which I was neither, but hey... 8/10 still good years.

I'm now married to my 2nd husband. He's a good and honest person. We are financially stable in U.S. Terms. We travel a little. I cook good meals. I have my mom in my life. I knit and sew and paint. However, my daughters hate my new husband (thanks, ex) so I have a divided life. One with them, one with my husband. 9/10 I'm still so fucking blessed .
posted by kiwi-epitome at 4:45 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


Welp. The game may be rigged, but it's the only game in town.
posted by windykites at 5:08 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Naah. There's other games. But they don't tend to tell you about them. And some you have to create on your own.
posted by aleph at 5:13 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I'm reading the actual book and it is really good. The article is an adaption of the first sections.

I wish there was a little more on how friendships wither under the social pressures, debt, shitty family support structure, etc. I've seen people flake out that I've known for most of my adult life. Single women can't do all the calling and event planning, but some of my friends haven't gotten that message.

Doing most activities alone is a little more expensive, which feeds debt, which is fun!


Debt is just a slightly bad smell to me now. It doesn't make me too angry.
posted by Freecola at 5:22 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


“Single women can't do all the calling and event planning, but some of my friends haven't gotten that message”

I have to tell you, I’ve pretty much decided that it’s my burden to carry for now, especially when the kids are very young, and it’s paid off for me. When we’re all sixty, then they can do the planning.

I’m a fairly contented singleton but I’m at a really painful inflection point in my career, where I have a job that’s relatively secure, usually has more or less reasonable hours, and makes the world a better place, at least a little bit, but is not quite well paid enough to have me comfortable about retirement and professionally increasingly frustrating for other reasons. If I’m going to jump, I need to do it soon, before the age discrimination really starts to kick in, but the main alternative is a 60 hour workweek and the hope that I won’t be actually making the world worse.

Wishing all of you an easing of the burden.
posted by praemunire at 6:28 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I saw a PostSecret postcard once, years ago, that was a picture of the Twin Towers burning with the words "Everyone who knew me before 9/11 thinks I'm dead."

octothorpe, I think about that postcard all the time. As soon as I read your first couple sentences I was going to respond with that exact description of it.
posted by bendy at 9:04 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


I wish there was a little more on how friendships wither under the social pressures, debt, shitty family support structure, etc.

It's been interesting to see who I'm still friends with, what that friendship looks like, and how friendships surge and ebb in this midlife time. Group texts and private Slacks have been a lifeline for doing the joyful friendship "work" of keeping the conversations flowing and staying invested in the lives of people I like and love. (These online spaces are enriched/augmented by face-to-face meetings ranging anywhere from weekly to annually.)

What I've had to learn/am still learning about friendship now in middle age is how to make peace with something lollusc talks about: The divergences that spring up as a result of choices or circumstances. Things like the quality of one's life-partnership, the approaches to child rearing, the career prospects, the aging parents, one's own personal habits ... there's fertile ground for the kind of fearful magical thinking of "Well, I didn't do [X], so I shouldn't have to worry about [Y]," and that sort of attitude helps nobody.
posted by sobell at 9:15 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


A real estate agent that I had some time for, who has been dead now for probably more than a decade, told me that her target clientele were single women - and that she had targeted that group when she started in the 1960s. She would say to them, "I am a single mother, and I need to make sure that I can look after myself and my needs when I am old. You are a single woman, and you need to make sure that you have enough, so that when you stop working you can pay someone to look after you."

I met her more than 30 years ago - and I still give that advice to my clients. Her strategy - look for small, cheap properties that have been rented for a long time. Odds on - no-one has properly cleaned the property or done any basic maintenance on it for years. If you are a tenant in such a property - track down the landlord and give them the full list of defects - and offer them a low-ball price on the condition that you get 12 months to pay for the property and in the meantime get a discounted rent - minimum 15% discount. Get it really CLEAN. Then see what you can sell it for or what it would rent for. Either way, there should be enough increase in value, that you should be able to do the same for another property. Rinse, repeat.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 9:14 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]


I'm 38. I have a ten year old, I'm a non-custodial mother, I live in my best friend's spare room, and I eke out a living as an adjunct while applying for a Real Job as I call it. This Christmas was the first after the separation (also my first birthday post-separation). We had lived and been together seventeen years, thirteen married.

And I'm mostly happy? My retirement savings aren't great but aren't that much worse than his, and after he bought me out of the house mine look better than his. Our daughter lives with him, since he has The Real Job and is also a five minute walk from her totally irreplaceable school. We separated amicably, still have dinner together, and so on. I have my daughter weekends and school holidays, and see her after school two or three times a week. I write, I do art, I have made my bedroom my own with all the things I love. I eat what I want. My best friend refuses to accept rent since I do most of the cooking and groceries.

But. I also took up smoking again. I have days I lose to the rage about the unfairness, the PTSD, the exhaustion I still feel, the unreliability of my body further falling apart in middle age. My meds doubled. I don't sleep well most nights. I put an ad on a queer dating app and I'm terrified of how much attention I attracted because getting close to another person seems like an insurmountable barrier. I have deeply intimate friendships with people thousands of miles from me, codependent/queerplatonic/whatever you want to call it, that satisfy any emotional needs I have. Which seems sad, but I can't bring myself to care.

My grandfather died three days before I separated from my partner. My entire family network is shifting. One of my cousins is on meth, and probably an uncle too. My dad has never really recovered from cancer treatment and while my mother is tending to my grandmother's emotional needs next month (a cruise) I am going to be ferrying my father around for tests. Or at least that's what he tells me - they are still in the habit of not telling or downplaying medical news, so it's a guessing game. I'm the eldest, but also precariously employed, with a wide open schedule. It obviously falls to me to help.

Meanwhile, my ex, he is dating and worries about the big homeloan, and sees his friends, and tends to his own health (one big yearly test). His family help him with childcare as much as they can - partially from selfish reasons since they would adopt our kid if they could, but also because Single Dad is a signal for help in a way Non-custodial Mother is not. He complains about the drive to drop her off at my house once or twice a week (I do it two or three or five times depending on schedules). The state of her bedroom. Having to create a routine of cleaning. She sleeps on a mattress on my floor with me, taking up almost all the remaining floor space after my furniture and bed. When she leaves we stand the mattress up to slide between my bed and the wall and by god the perfect for of that made me happy, it's so neat and tidy. We put her things into Her Drawer, locate cables and pens and notebooks, clothes and toiletries.

But I have a pool at least, and we do art together a lot now. Small steps. Small blessings and mercies and kindnesses. My housemate loves my child. My child has adapted well. I am financially secure for now. I have good prospects. I will not dissolve into screaming.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:48 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


"Ambiguous losses are a particular type of loss that lack a definition and lack closure," says Kelly Maxwell Haer, PhD, of the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, in California. "The ambiguous loss of singleness is particularly challenging to navigate. The person could be found in five minutes. Or never. You're not going to get an email from God that says you're never going to have a partner. That hope lingers on, and it's really hard to live in hope that is not met, but there's no end. Humans don't do uncertainty well."

I grapple with ambiguous loss, so I found this helpful. geek anachronism, I also live out of a room and I am also trying to make it feel like home. Thanks for your comments; thanks to everyone who commented.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:04 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Some of the more ambiguous losses are covered here for eg. I can never go back to the house I grew up in, because its a continent away and the whole country has changed since then
posted by Mrs Potato at 12:55 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


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