Average And Then Some
I’m an average American woman in many ways. I’m from the heartland – Missouri to be specific – and while I’ve lived on both coasts I think I’m pretty solidly Midwestern at the core. I’m a size 12, which is just about the average. I have two children, only slightly higher than the current national average of 1.9.
I’m middle aged, at 46 smack in the middle of life. And until recently I followed a fairly average path, which could have been taken right out of the “Mid-Life” chapter of the Ordinary Housewife Handbook, if something like that existed.
Raise the kids? Check. Volunteer in school, church, and community? Check. Get the house painted, the tires rotated, the dog’s teeth cleaned…the mammogram, the high fiber cereal, the reading glasses, the sensible shoes? Check, check, and triple-check.
I did all these things and more, not just for myself but for my loved ones, day in and day out, year in and year out. And then one day I looked around and thought to myself:
“Wait a minute – that’s it?”
I had arrived at what I have come to think of as the Average American Woman’s Mid-Life Crisis. In some ways, it’s not so different from they guys’ version – it has to do with accomplishing everything society demands of us and suddenly realizing it’s not enough, that something is missing, that we yearn for something more. More meaning, more satisfaction, more excitement, more sense of accomplishment.
Unlike some of our male counterparts, we women don’t typically buy sports cars or take up with waitresses…we tend to go inward. I think a lot of us wonder where we went wrong, what we did or failed to do, what cues we missed or what rules we accidentally broke. When our needs start to make themselves known, we reject them at first as being unseemly, unacceptable, untoward….un-something.
And, tragically, a lot of us stop right there. We assume we’re the problem, and we try to suppress and contort ourselves into the box we’ve outgrown. If you ask me, a lot of the pissed-off old ladies in the world are just really really uncomfortable from having ignored the cues that it was time to break free, to pick out a whole new box – or put the box aside entirely.
It’s not for me to say what middle age ought to look like, but it does seem clear that we’re meant to do a little reinvention. The things that occupied us in our twenties don’t necessarily satisfy us two decades later. And that’s not a bad thing – we’re wonderfully complex, capable, sturdy, unique beings. One size emphatically does not fit all when it comes to deciding what our mature years should bring, what our work and relationships and leisure ought to look like. And guess what: we’re allowed to change our minds. Shall I say it again? We are allowed to change our minds! It may feel as though we are locked into contracts that we signed as new brides or new employees or new mothers, but those contracts are not binding. They’re not even real.
Change is hard. It’s terrifying and uncomfortable and our loved ones generally hate the idea. They like us the way we used to be – there’s no guarantee they’ll like the new us. But for some women, the need to grow will not be contained. The little voices get louder and louder, the zest for life chokes out the resistance until one day – BAM. Grown-up woman on the loose.
At its core, this is what my mystery series is all about. My heroine, Stella Hardesty, kills her husband and does a variety of other dramatic things once she hits fifty, but the way I see it, she’s just a woman figuring out who she really is at the mid-point of life. And like most of the fascinating and inspiring middle-aged women I know, she does it by making a lot of mistakes – and picking herself up and trying again and again.
There’s a line in A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY, a saying that Stella is considering putting on a sign to hang out front of her shop:
“The less a woman has to lose, the quicker you better get out of her way.”
That’s what middle age feels like to me, lately. I’m still average in many ways, but I’ve got a wonderful new career, and a host of fascinating people in my life – and my kids are proud of me. No way I’m going to stop now. What have I got to lose?
Join the discussion! Tell me what wonderful new things you’re discovering about yourself – at any age – and I’ll choose a random commenter to receive a signed copy of the paperback version of A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, which just came out last week.