Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Finding fulfillment

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Finding fulfillment

Natalie Gelman

Once women enter middle age and are aware of aging, they initially feel empty and discontent. They tell themselves they should feel fulfilled at this time in their lives. Based on prior learning and expectations, they think that their accomplishments should have led to happiness. In an attempt to understand their disappointment and unhappiness, they begin to look within, becoming enmeshed in finding meaning in their lives.

Women recall the first 20 years of their lives as being very self-centered. Life revolved around personal achievements, wants and feelings. Goals were social and academic. The next 10 years were characterized by the sense of being “other” oriented. The “other” may be a husband or partner, children, boss, parents and society in general, and the feeling is one of having put these people before themselves. They report that as they enter middle age, their focus turns within, and the question becomes: “What do I want?”

When I got divorced, my ex-husband took some of the furniture from our home, which left two rooms barren. When I decided to replace the pieces, I realized that I was the sole decider of what to purchase and I was not certain what my taste was. Most of what we had accumulated as a couple was his taste. When we were married years earlier, I had not developed preferences in styles and I went along with his wishes, which were very fixed. I had never taken the time to reflect on what my preferences were.

I began to take myself seriously. Perhaps a change is in order. I want, I must evaluate my life and be certain that I am doing what I want to be doing. So much of what I do seems silly. I mean, within the depth of life, the purpose, the meaning, what is this all about? Am I dooming myself to a life of external triviality, or does it really have meaning for me? And if it does, what is the meaning? I have a need to know that I am truly living my life as I want to script it and not following in the footsteps of the suggestions of those in my life and in society who I have allowed to infiltrate my values and directions.

I live in a great big house. I have everything I want within reason. I mean there is nothing that I, you know, if I push hard — I don’t want anything anymore. Life is the berries. My kids are super. My husband is faithful. Everything is right except why do I feel like, where in the hell, or what’s going on, or why can’t I be happy with all of this? What am I going to do? What should I do? I couldn’t tell you what I want to do, but I sure don’t want to do what I was doing … And there was this terrible incongruity as to what I should be feeling and what I was feeling ... Every day I was doing what I was supposed to do and doing it well, but on the inside just screaming and crashing around ... I’m really pretty mellow now. A lot of things don’t matter right now. I feel much better about myself. I know that there is direction, but I just haven’t zeroed in on it yet. I know I am very capable and I know that I also have the resources to do what I choose to do.

I do feel I am in the part of my life where it’s time to get on. I no longer am just for my children. I can now be for myself, which is real important. When I went back to school I loved it because it was just for me. I took two years and it was terrific, and I am really sorry that I’m not still going. And it’s not because I can’t; it’s because I choose not to go anymore.

I feel like I want to do something that is strictly for me. I have become more selfish in the last year or so. I have less patience with my husband. I have more need for privacy, and yet I don’t want to cut out the sharing. I mean I haven’t closed the door on my marriage, but there is more to me and I want to find it and I feel like time is running out.

Once self reflection begins, there is movement toward more self-acceptance and self-confidence and less self-criticism. Women experience themselves as genuinely adult, which they define as being in control, competent, and responsible. They take themselves seriously. Thoughts and feelings are valued. Opinions are asserted.

My values have changed. I’m feeling safer about letting go of some things I thought I needed. Like crutches. As I enter middle age, I am wanting to go it alone and genuinely examine those things that I imagine I need and want. I feel like I need less and want deeper. I feel more focused, clearer in my perspective. It feels lovely. It feels liberating and colorful. I am excited about this journey.

I find I am taking more time now just to hear what’s going on ... This is what I see as a beginning of a resolution or beginning of the next thing. Only (in the) last six months have I been feeling confident again. I lost it all when I lost confidence in myself. And that’s in a nutshell what happened. I lost all of my confidence, not all of my self-worth. I feel much better about myself. I know that there is direction, but I just haven’t zeroed in on it yet. I know I am very capable and I know that I also have the resources to do what I choose. If one choice does not work out, another will.

Self-awareness increases. Women discover new depths and untapped potential. Each person has different discoveries. New avenues of interest and expression surface. Others are no longer always put first. The ability to trust and accept oneself is a feeling of freedom, which is the third theme of middle age. This will be described fully in my next blog post.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her web site is