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.
Praise for Why We Can’t Sleep
“Ada Calhoun’s soulful investigation into the complex landscape women in midlife face today is downright stunning. Calhoun has captured the voices—some broken, some resilient, many barely staying afloat—of over 200 women from around the country and in doing so, shown us how much we share in divisive times. You will recognize yourself in these pages, breathe a sigh of relief, and think, I’m not alone.”—Susannah Cahalan, author of the New York Times bestselling Brain on Fire
“This is the book of our generation. Ada Calhoun brilliantly encapsulates the struggle and confusion that is the Gen X woman’s experience in middle age. And by placing this condition into the context of the generations coming before and after, she makes sense of how it is that we’re so surprised that we have failed at having it all. Heavily researched, expertly paced, and seamlessly woven together, Why We Can’t Sleep provides an ‘aha’ moment that at once validates our experience and establishes a sense of community and hope.”—Janet Krone Kennedy, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, author of The Good Sleeper and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor
“It’s difficult to grapple with the immense anxiety and fear so many women go through alone, but Ada Calhoun’s artistry as a writer makes her the perfect guide through the rough business of middle age.”—Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill
“Helping women realize that some difficulty, some confusion, is not just all in their mind is probably one of your more feminist acts, and the impressive amount of research Ada Calhoun did on the very specific forces, past and present, that are bedeviling Gen X women as they face the strange period that is midlife is just that kind of gift. But the other gift is that she writes with clear sight, compassion, and hope about our very specific talents and tenacity. Which means: this book is a thousand times more healing than a jadeite egg!”—Carlene Bauer, author of Not That Kind of Girl
“I love Ada Calhoun’s writing. Why We Can’t Sleep just took me to school, laughing all the way there.”—Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys
An acquaintance told me she’d been having a rough time, working three jobs as a single mother since her husband left her. Determined to cheer up her family, she planned a weekend trip. After working a long week, she started packing at ten p.m., figuring she could catch a few hours of sleep before their five a.m. departure. She asked her eleven-year-old son to start gathering his stuff; he didn’t move. She asked again. Nothing.
“If you don’t help,” she told him, “I’m going to smash your iPad.”
He still didn’t move.
As if possessed, she grabbed a metal hammer and whacked the iPad to pieces.
When she told me this, I thought of how many parents I know who have fantasized or threatened this very thing, and here she’d actually done it. I laughed.
“Yeah, my friends think it’s a hilarious story too,” she said, “but in reality, it was dark and awful.” Her first thought as she stood over the broken glass: “I have to find a good therapist…right…now.”
Since turning forty a couple of years ago, I’ve become obsessed by women my age and their—our—struggles with money, relationships, work, and existential despair.
Looking for more women to talk to for this book, I called my friend Tara, a successful reporter a few years older than me who grew up in Kansas City. Divorced about a decade ago, she has three mostly-grown children and lives on a quiet, leafy street in Washington, D.C., with her boyfriend. They recently adopted a rescue dog.
“Hey,” I said, happy to have caught her on a rare break from her demanding job, “do you know anyone having a midlife crisis I could talk to?”
The phone was silent.
Finally, she said, “I’m trying to think of any woman I know who’s not.”