The Big 5-0. The half-century mark. Five decades. The Third Act.
No matter how it’s labeled, women of a certain age can either approach this milestone birthday with unabashed grace or totally freak out. Author Mindy Littman Holland addresses the questions that we have all wanted to ask about the myths of midlife crisis and the potential for stylish reinvention.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
You’ve just penned a new book, Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into Midlife. Two questions immediately spring to mind: (1) Is 50 the new 30? and (2) are there things that women should be thinking about – and doing – long before they hit that half-century mark?
People, in general, are living longer and healthier lives so 50 isn’t what it used to be. But, is it the new 30? I don’t think so. If you’re vying for a position in the corporate world, it’s more than likely that the 30-year-old is going to get the job, even with your 25 years of experience. You’re probably not going to start procreating at 50 – so, no matter how much you’ve agonized over whether you should have children or not, by the time you’ve reach the half-century mark, the point is moot. And, if you’re in the market for a partner, you may find that 50-year-old-men are looking for women who are actually 30 as opposed to the new 30.
With the proper attitude and maintenance, 50 can be tolerable and maybe even fine, a time of reinvention and spiritual growth. However, it can also feel like a protracted journey through a seemingly endless wall of fire.
Women who are approaching 50 should be thinking less about how they can emulate 30 and more about how they can enhance their minds, bodies, desirability, confidence and creativity going forward. I also think that’s true for women approaching 100.
What was the inspiration for this book and how did you go about planning its structure and content?
When I was in my early 40s, an older friend waggled her finger in my face and gave me the title of my book. She said, “Wait until you’re 50.” That certainly gave me something to think about because I wondered what difference a few years could make. Then, I found out. And, I’m still finding out.
Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into Midlife is not a clinical book. Content is based on interviews with strangers from all walks and climes of life – women and men of all ages speaking from their own experience and perspectives. No concern or issue is trivialized. It’s real stuff.
Your academic background was a dual major in Psychology and Fine Arts. How did these two areas of study contribute to your world view and what you wanted to say to your target demographic?
Before I was a dual major in Psychology and Fine Arts, I was a dual major in Theater and English. After I graduated from college, I went on to study Print and Broadcast Journalism. Since then, I went on to a career in Marketing and Public Relations. Today, in addition to running a long-term business, I have authored two books (nonfiction and fiction), write a blog, paint, dance, play piano, cook, bake, sing, hike and practice financial management, photography, yoga and Pilates. My relationships remain the most important part of my life.
All this to say – we can participate in this world in unlimited ways. What I would like to say to my target demographic is “Use every bit of the buffalo.” Try stuff. If you fail or don’t like it, try something else. Do whatever you can to keep your mind and body healthy and your eyes facing forward because unless you check out early, aging is inescapable. Embrace it and move on with your journey.
During the 1950’s, marriage rates were high, divorce rates were low, couples tied the knot at a younger age, 90 percent of children grew up in homes with both parents, and most families were able to live comfortably with just one breadwinner. Fast forward to the 21st century and the realities of midlife divorce, retirement dollars that fall woefully short of expectations, and an empty nest that vacillates between a permanent state and a revolving door (i.e., “Hey, Mom, is it okay if I move back in ‘til I find another job? Oh, and is it also okay if I bring my girlfriend and our three kids?”). What does all of this say about as a society and, specifically, the challenges and transitions that a lot of women over 50 never anticipated?
We are living in a society that says “If something doesn’t work, throw it away and try something else.” I am seeing more of my friends divorcing after age 50 – basically, after the last kid is out of the house. Many are living alone for the first time and some are handling it better than others. Some feel liberated and others are terrified. Midlife divorce, the prospect of getting old and going broke, aging alone and feeling simultaneously responsible for adult children and aged parents are issues I am covering in my next book.
One of the issues you’ve addressed is that of “becoming invisible.” How do we allow this to happen and are there ways to reverse its effects?
If you feel like you’re disappearing at 50, it’s because you are. You’re going through one of the biggest transitions of your life , beyond puberty. You know what you looked and felt like going in, but how are you going to look and feel when you emerge on the other side? The media reinforces this feeling of fading into the background.
If you are accustomed to garnering a lot of attention from the opposite sex, this sensation of invisibility can be particularly debilitating. You become overly self-conscious, compulsively stealing peeks at mirrors, seeking reassurance that you are, in fact, still there, still beautiful, still desirable. The minute a woman slips into this trough of insecurity, she cuts her sexual desirability in half. Actually, that goes for women of all ages.
As you mature, recognize that your appeal is more a matter of presence than appearance. You are so much more than your face and body. Carry yourself like you’re proud and you will be seen.
“The magic of first love,” wrote Benjamin Disraeli, “is our ignorance that it can never end.” According to a recent report of U.S. Vital Statistics, over 40 percent of people getting divorces are 50 or older. In addition to being overwhelmed with financial issues, downsizing a household, and dealing with reactions from family members and friends, there’s also the angst of whether true love will ever manifest with a new partner. What are your thoughts about the forecast for midlife romance?
Love can show up on your doorstep at any stage of life, and usually does when you least expect it – even if you’re both toting 20 years worth of baggage. Some of your bags now contain wisdom, compassion and a true desire to connect. You may now finally find the love of your life. In fact, finding love at midlife can make the back 50 feel great – better than a bathtub full of chocolate.
What’s your favorite quote about getting older?
“Aging is not for sissies.”
Who are the top three women over 50 that you most admire and why?
I can name 20 but I can’t name three! The women over 50 I most admire are those who focus more on living than on aging. I’m not talking about women who have achieved celebrity – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I am talking about women who have achieved health and sanity and who use every bit of themselves – women who take responsibility for their lives and live with a sense of purpose, vitality and creativity.
As we age, we often discover that there are names in our address books of acquaintances we once thought we could never live without. Were they the ones who took the first step of moving out of our orbit or did they only fill a time-sensitive niche – i.e., a newcomer to the neighborhood, kids on the same soccer team, officer coworkers – that we outgrew without realizing it? How do we reprioritize our friendships without feeling guilt or abandonment issues?
I consider myself extremely fortunate that so many of my friendships have survived my 50 some odd years, but some have certainly fallen by the wayside. People change and we live in a very mobile society. Solid relationships typically stay solid through space and time but you can’t be all things to all people.
When I speak of reprioritizing friendship in midlife, I mean assigning it a higher level of importance. You get to a point when work can only fulfill you so much. Your children grow to independence and leave, if you’re lucky. Your spouse spends more time on the golf course than he spends with you. The pool boy is getting long in the tooth. And, you may have fewer responsibilities and more time.
Old friends share your memories and reinforce that you have lived your life, for better or for worse. New friends bolster the notion that you still have much to offer, perhaps now more than ever. Nurture the old and new friends who add joy to your life.
Menopause. Eeek! The dreaded “M” word. Is there life after it?
I looked forward to menopause about as much as I looked forward to the arrival of my first gray pubic hair. Menopause is like being on the wrong end of puberty. At this point, I’ve had several years to hate this period (so to speak). However, yes! There is life after menopause – and a rich life it is. When you emerge from this chrysalis of change, you will have a far greater appreciation for what lays beyond the tiny space that is your physical life.
How can adjusting your attitude help toward accepting changes that you’re just not keen on?
Life is a series of events, good and bad. It’s hard to appreciate one without the other. By the time you’ve reached midlife, you’ve had a pretty good dose of both. You begin to recognize that your time here is finite and you start to contemplate what happens when you leave – especially if you’re not all that happy with the hand you’ve been dealt.
As we age, we frequently reach out for something bigger than our work, our children, ourselves. Allow a little spirit in. Adjust your expectations. It’s not all going to work out the way you want it to. Live with it.
All right, so you can’t slow down the aging process but what are a few simple things you can do to prepare for Life in the Back 50 and, if necessary, reinvent yourself?
Wisdom is supposed to be the big prize of aging. If we are savvy enough to pay attention to all that life has taught us to date, we have a crack at real happiness going forward.
If you love your work and have the stamina to continue with it, don’t retire. Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. Don’t impose age restrictions on sex and other physical activity. Have it as long and as often as you can. If you die, you die. Take inventory of your life’s accomplishments and figure out what else you would like to do. Having a sense of purpose will keep you going. And, finally, understand we are all just aging children. Never lose your sense of wonder.
So what’s next on your plate? Any new projects in the works?
I am currently promoting my new novel, The Rebirth of Gershon Polokov, which tells a story of how conjoined souls find each other in different lifetimes. I am also working on two new books: one is about the nature of the long-term relationship and the other is a sequel to Wait Until You’re Fifty. I am generating at least one short story a month on my blog. And, I will be hanging my art at The Screen at the Santa Fe University for Art and Design in January 2013.
Where can readers learn more about you?
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would someday like to try stand-up comedy and flamenco – hopefully, not at the same time.