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Mallory McDuff, Ph.D. Headshot

A Woman in-Between: Finding Power and Peace in Our Late 40's

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Power can come from a woman in-between.

On my 47th birthday, I found myself between three bald men in their 60s and a good-looking but trashed guy in his 30s. To be clear, I was standing between two groups on the dance floor and searching for my people, the hipsters in their late 40s with emerging wrinkles.

Wearing a loose sweater and a form-fitting mini-skirt, I danced to the music of the "Blue Dragons," a soulful band playing at the local brewery. I wasn't there to pick anyone up. Instead, I was there to dance, an adventurous but humble proposition for a single mom with two daughters. But I felt like a member of a sandwich generation: too young for the over-65 crowd and too old for the youngsters slamming IPAs.

After one beer, I switched to water and found a colleague on the sidelines, a 40-something, happily married male, who raised his own glass of water with a toast: "Here's to us old people!"
I chuckled -- but not because I agreed with him. I've always thought of my late 40s as a "free pass," a time when I'm reading MORE magazine for the nifty articles, not because I reflect the target audience of older women.

I'm not afraid of getting older. I just feel in-between ages, rather than old. In-between represents a middle position, much like my daughter's adolescence teeters between childhood and adulthood. And liminal states, in both ecology and religion, are actually powerful places for growth, opportunism and diversity.

Through the media, I observe the strength of my public contemporaries like Michelle Obama, our 49-year old First Lady. At the same time, I watch my forty-something friends using grace and humor to confront a diversity of private and public challenges: paying for college on limited budgets, confronting cancer, losing jobs, advocating for social and environmental causes, caring for parents with dementia and just cooking supper after a full day of work. It's inspiring to realize that these are my people!

In adolescence, my 13-year old daughter can seem like a thoughtful sage one day and a giggly toddler the next. Likewise, my friends display the ability to look backward and forward in the same breath, relating hilarious details of yesterday as a booster shot for the daunting challenges of tomorrow.

We are drawing on internal resources gleaned from four decades of experience, even as we watch our hair grey, our menstrual cycle revolt and our skin weather in ways not depicted on the pages of MORE magazine (Trust me, I've looked). With change comes power, as well as peace, if we can trust ourselves and release the layers of expectations built up over time.

On that 47th birthday night, I returned to the dance floor for one last dance, with both the old and the young. With no warning, I felt an arm wrap around my waist and turned to see the cute but inebriated 30-something guy grinning at me. Suddenly, I realized that I knew him from somewhere. "Wait! Didn't you give a guest lecture in one of my classes two years ago?" I asked.
Indeed, he had. I stepped to the side, said goodbye and considered how my 18-year old self might have handled the encounter with less efficiency and grace.

In sum, I felt at peace with being almost 50-years old. As the band began to play its last song, I drove myself home for a good night's sleep in those life-giving hours between darkness and light.