An Interview with Ada Calhoun, author, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis


In a few sentences, can you please tell us what Why We Can’t Sleep is about?

Why We Can’t Sleep is a book for middle aged women who are having a hard time. If you’re sleepless, anxious, freaked out, broke, exhausted, or overwhelmed, this book is about all the reasons why it makes total sense. It’s a book that looks closely at women of our generation, a group that is so often ignored. I talked to hundreds of us and did a ton of research I found out some things that I think it’s really liberating and empowering to know.

This story originated on Oprah.com. What made you want to expand on the topic?

The hundreds of emails I got from women saying “Thank you, I thought I was alone.” As women with a ton of responsibility we tend to minimize our unhappiness and say we’re lucky. The truth is, many of us are in full-blown crisis. We should call it what it is.

Was there a particular moment where you felt like there had to be so many other women feeling the way that you did about this?

I kept hearing really similar things in the interviews: “What did I do wrong?” Maybe we didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe the dice were loaded.

You talked to more than 200 women around the country. What was the most surprising thing that you heard when doing interviews?

I was surprised by how much women from all over the country who are different politically or in other ways shared certain cultural touchstones and experiences. So many of us were latchkey kids who watched a ton of television and have worked extremely hard while being downwardly mobile. Many of us are terrified about money, feel no job security, and have decision fatigue. One woman told me she was at the grocery store one day and got an Amazon alert saying that her book about polyamory was on its way. Only she hadn’t ordered the book—her husband had. And she thought: so I have to figure out the kids’ schools, our home repairs, my work situation, and now I also have to decide if my husband can sleep with other people? Hearing women talk honestly about their frustrations ultimately made me proud of us, that we’re so hard-working, so ambitious, and so resilient. There is also a certain dark humor shared by Gen X women across the country that I deeply appreciate.  

Did gathering this information from these women influence your own life choices in any way?

It cured my midlife crisis. It made me realize I wasn’t alone and that a lot of what I’m going through is inevitable. That some things can make life better. And that one day this tough phase of life will end.

Why do you think the problems of women within Gen X are often so overlooked? 

Gen X is overlooked, and middle aged women are overlooked—if we’re both we tend to be pretty much invisible. The attention is on Boomers and Millennials, and on men. But we have different problems at this age, and we handle them differently. Women rarely go buy a fancy sportscar or have a big affair. We are far more likely to work a full day, answer a thousand emails, clean the house, take care of several other people, and then stare at the ceiling in the middle of the night.

Speaking of Millennials and Boomers, what will they get out of reading the book?

Well, older Millennials and younger Boomers are in that mid-life spot so I think they’ll relate to a lot of the book. And then what I’ve found is that men want to learn more about the women in their lives, older Boomers are interested in what’s become of their dreams for their daughters, and younger women are looking at us as a cautionary tale. There’s a lot of talk about “Millennial burnout,” and I worry about them so much. If they’re struggling now, I am scared to think of how they will feel when they have all that work stress while also caring for children and aging parents, dealing with all that student loan debt, and coping with symptoms of perimenopause. I hope things will change before they get to where we are.

Do you have any advice for a Gen X woman who woke up this morning in the rough place where you and so many others have found themselves previously?

Yes. She should get a good gynecologist, one who truly understands perimenopause—and that is harder than it sounds for reasons I get into in the book. She should spend as much time as possible with other women her age having honest conversations about hard topics like money. Finally, she should read this book immediately and form a book club to discuss it!

 

Ada Calhoun is the author of the memoir Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, named an Amazon Book of the Month and one of the top ten memoirs of 2017 by W magazine; and the history St. Marks Is Dead, one of the best books of 2015, according to Kirkus and the Boston Globe. She has collaborated on several New York Times bestsellers, and written for the New York Times, New York, and The New Republic. Visit https://www.adacalhoun.com/why-we-cant-sleep.

 

 

 

 

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