Much Ado About Midlife
- 2003 20 Feb
I guess it was obvious that something was wrong. The books stacked high on the shelf above my bed hinted at the struggle: Questions Women Ask in Private; What Every Mom Needs; Pillow Talk: The Intimate Marriage From A to Z; The Guilt-Free Book for Pastors Wives; Working Women, Workable Lives. I may be crazy, I thought to myself, but at least Im resourceful. Unfortunately, the booksthough excellent in their own rightsdid nothing to quell the confusion that was ruining my life.
It started on my 35th birthday. I woke up and confronted myself in the mirror. Im 35 years old, I announced, squaring my shoulders. I have a husband, 2.3 children (okay, only two), I drive a station wagon, and I have a bob haircut. A moments pause and then: How in the world did I get here?! The face in the mirror shot back: Good question. How did a 21-year-old college graduate, ready to change the world, end up with a Kool-Aid mom hairdo? Its not that I really minded doing or being any of these things. I loved my husband. I adored my children. I even liked the station wagon. But something was wrong. Ever been there?
Im just having a bad day, I consoled myself. Thirty-five is, after all, a milestone. Plus, my husband had recently taken a new pastorate. Leaving our old church was traumatic. Once I had time to grieve, Id be okay. Id done it before. I could surely tap-dance my way through another transition.
This time, though, my tap shoes wouldnt budge. I was growing increasingly introspective, and the questions gnawed a little deeper. Who was I, really? It seemed almost selfish to ask. In any case, the question was easily answered: I was Jeffs wife; I was Jonathan and Emilys mother. But those things have more to do with roles and less with identity. Who was I? Then it hit me: Somewhere between here and theresomewhere between the enthusiastic college student and the sleep-derived housewifeI had lost myself.
My husband took me out to eat one night in the hopes of jarring me out of my midlife stupor. After dinner, I browsed through a Christian bookstore. I knew exactly what I was looking for. I knew it had to be there somewhere. Hidden behind the current best seller had to be a book entitled Youre 35, and Everyone Feels the Way You Do. Thats what I was hoping, at least. But no such book existed. My worst fear confirmed: Im 35, and NO ONE feels the way I do.
It was hard to explain to anyone what I was going through. Is it possible to get to a certain point in your life and feel the intense need to re-evaluate everything? How can you tell anyoneafter all, youre the pastors wifethat you are questioning your faith, the foundation of your spiritual life, or your marriage, the foundation of your ministry?
And what unfeeling ogre would ever question the blessing of motherhood? Is it possible to confess to someone that you feel unfulfilled because watching Barney doesnt fill the void that reading Shakespeare once did? Or how it makes you feel when the checkout boy calls you maam, and you know hes not just trying to be polite? Or what about the temptations to escape? Whom do you tell that your fantasy is to throw open the church doors and run screaming? Sure, I had gone through some changes. My children were getting older, less needy. My husband was now firmly established in ministry. But those were good things. I was supposed to be happy. Happy, happy, happy. Why then was I so miserable?
My answer came slowly, but it did come. My depression drove me to look a little harder for someone or something to tell me I was normal. That search led me to the Internet, and the Internet led me to the Web site of Jim and Sally Conway. Jim and Sally Conway dont know it yet, but I owe them an awful lot. A counseling pair, the Conways have co-written the definitive work on women at midlife called Women in Midlife Crisis. By page 19, I had read enough to realize that I hadnt lost my mind (although I was sure someone had read my mail). I breathed a huge sigh of relief, dug in my heels, and resolved to make it through this crisis. A midlife crisis, I learned, is in developmental terms as predictable as the terrible twos or adolescence. Its a necessary time of introspection, re-evaluation, and loss.
I knew it would be a process, but now at least I had a partner. In fact, I had many partners. Realizing that a majority of women go through this same stage took the sting of loneliness from it. I know it is popular to give a step-by-step formula for getting through what ails you, but since I am still taking baby steps, the best I can do is this:
Buy the book.
Read the book.
Ask your husband to read the book.
Ask your husband to read the book again.
Going from young adulthood to midlife is quite a journey. If you have to travel to a place youve never been before, its always nice to have a road map. Even if you have to drive the station wagon.