Empty Nest Marriage Syndrome
Two years ago my husband and I faced the most serious crisis of our marriage.
This AWESOME article on a lovely blog by an American living in the Netherlands called Wordgeyser.com articulates what we were going through:
It is not a bad thing for a couple to evaluate their relationship, and each other, at this stage of life and this point in the marriage. The majority do. But holding up a mirror to a marriage can be tough.
Tough? How about gut-wrenching?
You Say Tomato; I Say There is No Spoon
Two years ago, my husband and I turned 50 within six months of one another. How we each dealt with those milestone birthdays sharply contrasts our different coping styles.
I hit 50 with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I had my blog and my friends seeing me through the trauma of my emptying nest and the early throes of menopause.
What did my husband have?
He had his John Wayne-esque upbringing that taught him that men don’t have crises, and they certainly don’t talk about it if they do.
I thought turning 50 was a catastrophe, while my husband convinced everyone that for him it was just another day.
Turns out that for both of us turning 50 was a critical turning point that would change everything.
Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity
After a lot of very serious, and sometimes hilarious, counseling, my husband and I started dreaming about the second half of our lives. We were highly motivated to throw out anything that stood in the way of making our dreams come true.
Take This Job And Shove It
The first thing on the chopping block was my job. I hated it. We both knew I needed to quit. But with two windy mountain passes standing between me and all of my other potential employment options, quitting wasn’t that simple.
My husband offered to let me stay home and be his sex slave, but as much fun as that sounds I knew I could only stay tied to the bed so long before I’d go stark, raving mad.
Plus, as a Labor and Delivery RN with 20+ years of experience, I have a good earning capacity that I did not want to squander in my remaining working years.
What to do?!?!
There were no easy answers.
The Money Pit
And our house?
Our house has lost 45% of its value since we purchased it in 2004. And, with over an acre of manicured landscaping, it had way too much upkeep for two people who like to travel a lot.
Plus, we are very worried about retirement. Continuing to pour good money into a bad investment while underfunding our retirement seemed a dangerous financial strategy for two people who will likely live well into their 80s or 90s.
Worrying about the financial situation with our house was a constant source of stress, robbing us both of peace and joy.
What to do?!?!
Again, there were no easy answers.
The Birth of Generation Fabulous
This was going to be my ticket out!
Erroneously believing that blogging could actually make someone like me a living, I quit my full-time job, got another part-time one an hour away, and threw myself into building the business of Generation Fabulous. I fancied myself a CEO, and invited two other women to become my financial partners.
The Death of Generation Fabulous
Unfortunately, after pouring my heart and soul into the idea that midlife women could become an influential and lucrative demographic on the internet, and spending a shit-ton of my own money and oodles of my precious time flying around the country and being as fabulous as I could trying to build the Generation Fabulous brand, it fell completely apart due in no small part to my own spectacular inability to successfully run a company.
Due to my own idiocy, I’ll never see one red cent from Generation Fabulous.
And that’s okay.
Other than my admittedly sometimes overwhelming feelings about the sad and cruel way it ended, I have no regrets.
Generation Fabulous was a thrilling ride well worth the cost of admission that gave me the courage to quit my crappy job, put me in contact with many bright and fascinating midlife thought-leaders like Richard Leider, author of Life Reimainged, and brought me exciting speaking opportunities at big blogging conferences like BlogHer, Type A, and the upcoming Mom 2.0 next month in Atlanta.
The short but exciting life of Generation Fabulous and my spectacular failure as its CEO served its purpose. I learned a lot, and I’m much clearer now about what I really need from a career.
It sounds all self-actualized to say you want to live your life for joy and meaning, and that anything that stands in the way has to go. But what do you do when other people stand in your way?
For me, relationships with other women have always been fraught with a lot of emotional Sturm und Drang. My therapist says it’s because I had a complicated relationship with my mother. Who doesn’t? I say it’s because I don’t have a fucking clue when it comes to how to play in the sandbox with other girls.
I don’t make friends or trust easily.
My father was a Marine. It goes without saying that we moved a lot when I was a kid. Eight times before I was eight, and six or seven more time before I was 16, the age when I left home.
All that moving around made making friends difficult enough, but having an alcoholic father and a mother so depressed that most days she didn’t bother getting dressed or cleaning our house didn’t help either.
Oh, and let’s add being a Mormon, shall we? Because there weren’t enough weird and isolating things about me without that, too.
I can’t even begin to describe what life is like for the Mormon child of a closet alcoholic parent. There just aren’t any words for the hell of that. My childhood wasn’t just ignoring the elephant in the room; it was walking around with that damned elephant attached to me everywhere I went every single minute of every single day and praying like crazy that nobody noticed it.
Me and the elephant kept mostly to ourselves.
I always made at least one friend wherever I went, usually another outcast like me, and when I moved, those friendships were over, and I rarely gave them another thought.
So because I spent my childhood as a perpetual outsider dancing around the periphery of human relationships, especially female ones–full of dirty little secrets and terror–I learned to be an observer. And what I often observed about girls is that they can be very cruel.
It seemed to me that one minute someone could be your best friend, and the next she might betray you in order to climb some sort of invisible social ladder, leaving you behind as collateral damage.
I’m no saint. I’ve played this sick game too and hated myself even more than I hated the girls who did it to me.
This is why I preferred boys. At least boys played games with consistent rules I understood.
Then my mother died with only me as her friend in 2009, and I decided I didn’t want to go down that lonely path. This meant opening myself up wide to female relationships. These last few years have been the only ones of my life where I could say I had a lot of girl friends.
Some of those relationships look like they’ll survive the failure of Generation Fabulous, and some of them most definitely won’t. And, optimistically, it seems like some new ones are appearing on the horizon, although I’ll admit that I’m pretty scared of ever really trusting anyone again.
One of the most troubling parts of breaking up with friends is the question of what remains of the sacred trust once shared after the bonds of friendship are broken. Are the promises once made about keeping a friend’s secrets safe forever in a vault of silence null and void after the friendship ends?
Knowing what I’ve observed about female relationships, I’m sure I’m not the first woman in history left wondering after a friendship ends whether the vulnerabilities once shared in confidence are now part of her former friend’s social currency.
What? Me Worry?
Remember that elephant I told you about? Well, after years of therapy, he’s gone, but his ghost is always with me. I fear I will always be haunted by my deep feelings of inadequacy and shame. But it is clear to me that if I want to live an authentic life full of joy and meaning then I must let go of pesky things like fear and worry about what other people say and think about me. It doesn’t really matter, but it hurts just the same.
Living the Dream
Back when the shit was hitting my fan I was scrambling to figure out what to do.
With shit flying everywhere, and my fear and anxiety at an all time high, I searched for people who could help me out. I wrote about Rebecka Eggers and how she helped me learn to ride my dragon named Purpose.
Another amazing woman who helped me was work/life/success coach, Marilyn Suttle, author of “Who’s Your Gladys”. (By the way, Marilyn is having a retreat in Canada called Good Food, Good Wine, Good Sex. Good-Bye. What you have to give up to get everything you’ve ever wanted.) Marilyn and I spoke at length and she thought that Mary Lore, CEO and Founder of Managing Thought could help me get to a place of clarity.
One of the exercises Mary has her clients do is draw a tree that represents their ideal life.
I think this is highly ironic since a tree was Genfab’s logo.
I feel a little exposed putting this out here, but this is my drawing of my tree:
What do you notice?
What was EXTREMELY fascinating to me was that $$ only shows up once. It is at the extreme right of the branch I labeled “work”.
This was a HUGE Ah-Ha! moment for me.
First, it probably means I’ll never be rich.
Second, it means that money might matter to me some—I mean, it DOES show up–but it is NOT a prime motivator.
For me, a project whose sole focus became about making money—AND IT WASN’T EVEN DOING THAT!—was destined for disappointment and failure.
I can’t live for just making money. And I certainly won’t chop off all of the other living branches of my tree to live for one damned little leaf!
Regrettably, the people in my life who can’t appreciate that don’t have a place anymore. And that’s sad. But I’m about living the best life I can with integrity and purpose and encouraging and inspiring others to do the same.
I wish those who have chosen to depart from my life all the luck in the world. From what I’ve learned about the blogging industry, they are going to need it.
For me, I’m pursuing a life that I believe is truly worth living. I believe the best is yet to come.