Aging Gracefully (or Not): Women in middle age

Aging Gracefully (or Not): Women in middle age

Natalie Gelman

Aging has continued to be a rewarding and growthful journey for me with minimal preoccupation about getting older. This way of handling aging was enhanced by research I did in graduate school.

I was fortunate to have gotten my master’s degree and done the coursework for my doctorate at institutions where I studied with Clark Moustakas. Clark was one of the founders of humanistic psychology. He had come up with a design for doing research on human beings. It is called heuristic research.

Here the researcher has him/herself been through the experience being explored. Interviews and discussions take place with people who have experienced the same phenomenon. The researcher then determines themes that were common with the participants.

I became sensitive to the subject of aging in 1983 when I began to do work on my doctoral dissertation. I made the decision to write my dissertation on mid-life because I was going through the experience myself. I wanted to know what the common themes were for women going through this stage of their lives.

I kept a journal of my own awareness and experience. I interviewed many women. And I read all of the material I could find on the topic of women in middle age.

During the interviews, it was intriguing to discover how much commonality existed for people at this time in their lives. Many felt their experience to be unique, and often, there was a reluctance to disclose to anyone what they thought or felt because of embarrassment or discomfort. One example was women feeling awkward about envying how their teenage daughters looked. I had discovered that most of the women I interviewed were grieving the loss of being considered sexy. When their daughters entered that stage of their lives, the women were envious. The irony was that most said they had felt ambivalent about being seen as sexy. On one hand, they felt they had achieved the goal set by society, and, on the other hand, they felt uncomfortable or threatened when men “came on to them.” Yet, once they were no longer seen that way, they envied their daughters’ ability to do so.

Middle age typically is made up of three stages or themes. It begins with a sense of loss, moves into an exploration of the self, and ends with a new dimension of freedom.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her web site is