Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun
Narrator: Ada Calhoun
Published by Audible Studios on January 7, 2020
Source: Purchased
Genres: Non-fiction, Feminism
Length: 5 hrs 43 mins
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook
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four-half-stars

When Ada Calhoun found herself in the throes of a midlife crisis, she thought that she had no right to complain. She was married with children and a good career. So why did she feel miserable? And why did it seem that other Generation X women were miserable, too?

Calhoun decided to find some answers. She looked into housing costs, HR trends, credit card debt averages, and divorce data. At every turn, she saw a pattern: sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, Gen X women were facing new problems as they entered middle age, problems that were being largely overlooked.

Speaking with women across America about their experiences as the generation raised to “have it all,” Calhoun found that most were exhausted, terrified about money, under-employed, and overwhelmed. Instead of being heard, they were told instead to lean in, take “me-time,” or make a chore chart to get their lives and homes in order.

In Why We Can’t Sleep, Calhoun opens up the cultural and political contexts of Gen X’s predicament and offers solutions for how to pull oneself out of the abyss—and keep the next generation of women from falling in. The result is reassuring, empowering, and essential reading for all middle-aged women, and anyone who hopes to understand them.

This summer was the first time someone referred to me as “middle-aged.” I’ll be honest, it threw me for a bit of a loop. Usually, people tend to think I’m younger than I am, but this person has known me since I was a kid and knows exactly how old I am. He’s also not the most tactful of people. Apparently, Gen X-ers are hitting middle-age.

Why We Can’t Sleep is for and about us – middle-class Generation X women in America. Calhoun has done a lot of research, historical and social, and spent a lot of time interviewing women from across the country. If you’re one of us, at least parts of the book will strike a chord. She talks about watching the Challenger explosion at school, about Oregon Trail, about being new to the workforce during the early-2000s recession and about buying our houses right before the housing crisis. She looked into housing costs, HR trends, credit card debt averages, and divorce data. We were taught we can have it all, but having it all is tough. Caring about everything is tough. One in four middle-aged American women is on antidepressants. Nearly 60% of those born between 1965 and 1979 described themselves as stressed.

The last thing we need at this stage of life is self-help. Everyone keeps telling us what to do, as if there is a quick fix for the human condition. What we need at this stage isn’t more advice, but solace.

I’m pretty happy and not overly stressed. But we had our daughter earlier than a lot of our generation, which means I don’t have the stress of small children and carting them around to school, classes, etc. She just turned 20, while my brother’s twins are not yet 3, and he’s only about 3 years younger than me. My mother, while over 65, still works, lives in her own house and requires little from us except the occasional furniture moving, so I’m not currently a caregiver of anyone except our dog. I’m not part of the sandwich generation, but I do relate to many women in the book in other ways.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Happiness really is relative and we have to fight for what happiness feels like by our own definition, not by what society claims will make us happy. Calhoun offers strategies for dealing with such varied things as pre-menopause, divorce, being single with children, being single and childless, work-related stress, and reconciling the dreams you had for yourself with the reality you are now experiencing.

There’s even a fun little Mid-Life Crisis Mix Tape Playlist at the end.

Assuming we keep living, there will be a next year and another year after that. There will be tears and money stress and caregiving pressure, but also moments when we might walk through a supermarket parking lot and feel the sun on our face and think, out of nowhere, What a lovely day.

About Ada Calhoun

Award-winning journalist Ada Calhoun is the author of the NYC history St. Marks Is Dead, chosen by Kirkus and the Boston Globe as one of the best books of 2015; the essay collection Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, named by W magazine one of the best 10 memoirs of 2017; and Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

One Comment

  1. The mid 40’s are tough for starting to see yourself in a different stage of life. It’s not bad, but it is a little bit of a struggle. I got a little freaked out when I realized that after my birthday this year I’d be going on 50. Yikes.

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