Not too long ago, I asked a friend how she's doing. After a long pause, she said, "I keep wondering if this is all there is."
A lot of us have that feeling.
She and I are both 50-something and like many 50-somethings, we are empty-nesters or about to be empty-nesters; we're either 20-something years into a marriage or any number of years divorced. We're in midlife, crisis or not; a time when we question what we've done -- and, more likely, haven't done -- and where to we want to be.
Our conversation was oddly timed, coming just days after Monique Honaman's provocative post, "I Just Wish He Would Have an Affair", in which she detailed how many wives have confided in her that they just don't want to be married anymore:
These women are done. They say they aren't happy. They say they aren't in love with their husbands (or any other man -- they aren't having affairs). They say they simply wish they were no longer married to him. They aren't fulfilled. They wonder if this is how they are doomed to live the rest of their lives (and God-willing, most of them have another 40+ years ahead of them). ... The common factor amongst all of these women is that they say that their husbands are really solid, good, nice men ... they just don't want to be married to them anymore because they have fallen out of love.
Honaman doesn't say how old these women are or how long they've been married, but since she indicates they have another 40-plus years ahead of them, it seems that they are middle-aged, too.
Why is midlife so wrought with angst for women? One study found that age 48 is the pivotal year for women's unhappiness, and women tend to be more prone to depression anyway. But at midlife, we're dealing with menopause, the loss of our role as nurturer, the loss of our youth and beauty, etc.
And, sure -- some women have been inspired by the "Eat, Pray, Love" syndrome: After raising a family and tending to the home and baking Lord-knows-how-many brownies for Boy Scout fundraisers and volunteering to drive on countless field trips while doing paid or non-paid work (and, yes, being a stay-at-home parent is work), many feel it's finally "me" time. We want to stop nurturing others and start nurturing ourselves. We want to feel a little bit selfish instead of selfless, even if we don't find ourselves in Italy or India.
Older women are "the most dangerous on the planet," Jane Fonda says. "We have nothing to lose!"
That doesn't mean we're all filing for divorce. There are many women who live in loveless and sexless marriages for a variety of reasons (as do men, although at least some 50-something men left their marriage because they "fell out of love" or realized they had "different values or lifestyles," according to an AARP study). As Pamela Haag discovered while researching for her book "Marriage Confidential, "33 percent of respondents agreed that 'even if you're unhappy, you should stick it out for the children.' That's up from 20 percent in a 1970 survey." And as Pamela Paul detailed in a New York Times piece called "The Un-divorced," many couples live together but have separate lives. So much for being married happily ever after.
But since two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women and many women tend to do well after divorce, I have to wonder -- are middle-aged women done with men?
For some, yes. There are many who put aside their needs, including sexual, to focus on their kids. There are also many women who prefer the company of girlfriends to men, throw themselves into their career and travel, and relish their freedom. There are also many women who want to find love again but give up -- frustrated, unhappy or uncomfortable with the 50-plus dating scene.
And then there are older women who are happily dating or in relationships. According to that same AARP study, most divorced women in midlife do find someone new -- 75 percent of women in their 50s reported enjoying serious, exclusive relationships after their divorces, often within two years, compared with 81 percent of men in their 50s (although more older men tend to marry again than older women).
All of which would indicate that, no, women in their 50s and beyond are most certainly not done with men.
We just may be done with marriage.
This story appears in Issue 32 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Jan. 18.
A version of this article appeared on Vicki Larson's personal blog, OMG Chronicles.
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