Show me a woman in her late 30s/40s, whose life partnership is at least a decade old and whose kid(s) is out of diapers, and I’ll show you a woman who is about to say, “Wait. What?” to her life.
This woman has done life mostly by the rules. She did both what was expected of her and what was needed from her. And she did this willingly.
Career. Marriage. Pregnancies. Feeding/sleeping schedules. Back to work (part-time/full-time/all-time). Daycare, preschool, grad school. Meals: three a day. Exercise: four times a week. Cleaning/laundry: constant.
Doctor appointments every year. Specialist appointments when things aren’t right. Sex when things are. Vacations away. Holidays at home. Weekends with friends. Parents with failing health. In-laws with baggage (both kinds). Adolescents with braces. Teens with attitude. Homework/report cards. Work evaluations/deadlines/colleagues. Soccer cleats/mouth guards. Terrible, no good social media. One million emails. Two million texts.
And right around this time, right after the millionth email, but in between soccer drop off and rotisserie chicken pickup, she says to herself, “Wait. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? I don’t even like chicken.”
This woman’s partner has been busy too. Long hours away; working hard earning external achievements at the cost of internal connections. For many men in their late 30s/40s, success is narrowly defined and their numbers are upside down: too many bank accounts, not enough friends.
But as interesting as he may be, let’s stay focused on her. We will need to do this – stay focused on her – because odds are very high that she won’t. And despite her best efforts, after the kid is picked up and the rotisserie chicken is eaten, our girl is going to come face to face with the “Wait. What?” from earlier. It is following her around now, nipping at her heels, getting louder. She is going to have to make a choice.
She’s got Three Doors to choose from.
Door One: Opt Out.
Behind Door One, our girl drops the pretense, even to herself, of having any real curiosity about the “What?” Behind this door, it’s low lighting and even lower expectations. She stays busy, stays numb, stays in control, stays the same. She doesn’t look too closely at her life, her marriage, her work, her world.
She chooses Door One and stays small. She can stay here a very long time. She can, in fact, stay here forever. Lots of women do.
Door Two: Opt Other.
Behind Door Two, our girl gets highly curious about SOMEONE ELSE’s “What?”. Her husband, perhaps. She can fix him. He needs support, understanding. Also, he really needs to get his shit together. He should look at his childhood, his traumas, his insecurities. She will help him with this.
And her kids. They need better food, more sunlight. They need more space, less pressure. Also, they need to find their passion, write a compelling essay about it and get into a good school. They need to unplug, engage, and focus, and their lives will be better, happier. She will help them with this.
She chooses Door Two and pours herself into the lives of others. She can stay here a very long time. She can, in fact, stay here forever. Lots of women do.
Door Three: Opt You.
Behind Door Three, our girl accepts an invitation (which often comes in the form of a marriage crisis, a health crisis or a job crisis) to hold up. Wait. Go back and look at her “What?”
What happened back then? What expectations work for her today? What does she need to move forward tomorrow? She finds support, a person or two who can help her grapple with these questions. She shows herself some understanding. She looks gently at her own childhood, traumas and insecurities. She gives herself better food, some sunlight, a little space, less pressure. She stays here for some time and is a little (a lot) uncomfortable. She learns what is hers to keep and what is hers to let go.
She chooses Door Three and pours herself into her own life. She loves herself first, and then she loves her kids and her partner and her world – madly, deeply, passionately. And has the wherewithal to do it.
She chooses Door Three and moves along, because she cannot, in fact, stay here.
She chooses Door Three and knows that she is lucky, because lots of women don’t.
Erin W. is the managing editor and lead writer for the She Recovers blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.