Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis

Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis

by Ada Calhoun


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A generation-defining exploration of the new midlife crisis facing Gen X women and the unique circumstances that have brought them to this point, Why We Can’t Sleep is a lively successor to Passages by Gail Sheehy and The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802147851
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,189
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

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.”

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Introduction 1

1 Possibilities Create Pressure 25

2 The Doldrums 56

3 The Caregiving Rack 68

4 Job Instability 89

5 Money Panic 106

6 Decision Fatigue 121

7 Single, Childless 138

8 After the Divorce 156

9 Perimenopause 169

10 The Very Filtered Profile Picture 190

11 New Narritives 208

Appendix: A Midlife Crisis Mixtape 225

Bibliography 227

Acknowledgments 233

Endnotes 237

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Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
virtual_realist 4 days ago
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for potentially providing a review. That said, this book was written for me. The author, Ada Calhoun, is clear from the start that her target audience is middle class women from Generation X. She gives a well-reasoned explanation for why she doesn't include other groups in this book. That doesn't mean other people can't read it. In fact, if you are trying to understand a middle class Gen-X woman, read this book. I related on a very deep level to the stories of the women Ada interviewed. Spoiler alert: they are not all happy. However, there is comfort in knowing you are not the only person facing a particular dilemma. And in this case, knowing that the existential crisis that often overwhelms your thoughts might be affecting many women in your generation. Lucky us! The author also does a good job of showing how mid-life is different for Gen Xers than it was for Boomers and will be for Millennials. So if you are on the verge of melting down over life stress, pop a couple of Tylenol for the existential dread and read this book. It won't solve your problems, but it might give you some insight into why life sucks right now.
Leah_E 12 days ago
I received a digital copy from netgalley and the publishers. I loved this book! As a Gen-X female, I felt like this was telling my story. The exception is that my parents were Depression Era kids, not boomers, but the results are the same lol. I’m not a fan of self-help books, and let me say this is definitely not one of those. Instead, this is more along the lines of “This is why you do what you do, or how you act, and it’s ok. You aren’t alone, and you definitely aren’t strange or F@#$& up.” Well, no more than anyone else. I did find one point interesting-our generation made the Millennials the way they are and everything we complain about, we are responsible for. Our generation were helicopter parents and gave ribbons to everyone because our parents didn’t love us enough or tell us they loved us enough, so we over compensated. Well are also a smaller group than both the Millennials and the Boomers and are taking care of both. Think about that ladies. So while we are working our full time jobs, we are still taking care of our kids and taking care of our aging parents. Who’s going to take care of us? Ultimately, this helped affirm what I’ve been feeling and thinking. I have already recommended this to my girlfriends! Thank you again to Grove Atlantic and Grove Press and Ms Calhoun fir the opportunity to read this ARC.
SAF1 25 days ago
I"m the prime demographic for this book, born the same year as the author, so I'm solidly a Gen-Xer. While this book doesn't offer a ton of solutions, it does make you feel like you're not alone. It covers topics ranging from family, society, workalike, health and mental well-being. Highly recommend it for all us stressed-out Gen X women!
LouiseFoerster 3 months ago
In WHY WE CAN'T SLEEP, Ada Calhoun shares the stories of women at mid-life, the reckonings and realizations and resolutions that are too often unacknowledged or dismissed. While I am not in the particular cohort of women facing mid-life that she focuses upon, every single point rings true. I delighted in the stories, the individuals she encountered, and the conclusions she reached as a result of her journey into unseen, unexplored, rich, wild territory. I received an advance copy of this excellent book courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. Truly exceptional work!
JenaHenryBooks 3 months ago
Have you seen that meme? The one about your brain at 3 am waking you to review every dumb and cringe-worthy thing you have done lately? Then this is the book for you, especially if you are part of Generation X. In her fascinating end notes, the author tells us that there is a range of years that can be called Generation X. One range is 1965-1984, from the movie Dr. Zhivago to the movie Ghostbusters. Another range is 1965-1980. Whichever range you pick, if you are a Gen X-er, this is the book for you. You may be single, married or considering divorce; you may want or not want children and you may be caught up in the busy childhood years; do you have parents who need help, too? And what about your health- do you exercise, diet, meditate? Are you in peri-menopause or menopause? No wonder you can’t sleep at night. I advise you to read this book with your friends and discuss it. You will find that author Ada Calhoun is like a friend, as she giveus friendly, comforting, and well-considered facts and advice. She also includes a lengthy and fabulous “Midlife Crisis Mixtape.” The book consists of research and the author’s interviews with Gen X women, all blended in an interesting and relatable way. The writing is positive and encouraging, even while describing some grim scenes. There is no shrieking or gnashing of teeth, more like bemused reflections. In addition to chapters that consider the challenges of Gen X, the author also presents some solutions. I especially liked her advice to join a club or start a club. I highlighted so many passages in this book. I loved, loved loved this book and I am in the Baby Boomer Generation- but I remember my middle decades all too well (and so does my brain at 3 am.) I agree with the book- as an older person I AM now happier and yes, Gen X friend, someday you will be me. In the meantime, read this book! Many thanks to Net Galley and Grove Press for a digital review co-y. This is my honest review.
Anonymous 3 months ago
From the title of this book, you might think it's about sleep, but really the focus is more on what are the biggest worries of the Generation X. The author is only a year older than me so being in the same cohort, it was reassuring to read that I am not alone in my anxiety. Financial concerns make up a large part of what keeps us up at night. An interesting read.
Belladonna_Thomas 3 months ago
Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun Book Review by Dawn Thomas Pages Publisher: Grove Atlantic / Grove Press Release Date: January 7, 2020 Non-Fiction, Women’s Midlife-Crisis, Generation X I looked at this book for a while before deciding to read it. I should have read it sooner. The author interviewed over 200 women born within 1964-1980 and asked them life related questions. The topics ranged from finances, education, housing, family relationships, job opportunities, etc. I could relate with so many of the responses. In addition to the answers from interviews, the author also adds her own stories. This book is well written, easy to read and very relatable. I felt this book was written just for me and I was born in 1961. I highly recommend this book if you are in this age range or close to it and have faced or are facing these types of stressful issues. This book will show you are not alone in your feelings.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for this ARC! The premise of Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep is simple – to investigate why Gen X women are struggling in midlife – but the takeaway is impressive, whether you belong to Gen X. In a voice that is never preachy and is full of the compassion we all wished we could regard ourselves with, Calhoun begins with the premise that women’s lives have improved over the past 35 years – but that their level of happiness has not. Calhoun writes, “So many Gen X women were told that they were raised believing that if you don’t care about everything, you’re squandering opportunity. They felt pressure to take advantage of all the chances their mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. And they’ve worn themselves out in the process.” Writing about the Boomer Generation and Millennials alongside the ladies the study focuses on, Calhoun traces a history we should be familiar with: the history of women entering the workplace in higher numbers, “without any significant change to gender roles at home,” and without the support (spousal, governmental, etc.) to make this feasible. Further complicating things, women of this generation were told they could – and should – have it all leading to an increase in self-flagellation and shame when having it all proves harder than it looks. The particular and peculiar history of Gen X in regard to trauma, rising crime, and decreased parental supervision is examined. While acknowledging plenty of gains and good news (closing wage gap, increased education, lower divorce rates, etc.), the book looks at the challenges facing Gen X women. Financially, this generation is downwardly mobile, has less in savings, has more debt. Some of the best-educated earners in history, Gen Xers are in worse financial shape than their parents. When it comes to family, Gen X is often torn between the needs of aging parents and raising small children. Healthwise, the health challenges that come with middle age (hers or a family members) may derail a woman’s career and decrease her earnings; perimenopausal complications are often pushed aside by women who fear being seen as less for struggling with these changes. A vexed relationship with advertising and consumerism, social media pressure, and too many choices leave women blaming themselves if they don’t end up with picture perfect families, impactful careers, and gorgeous bodies. Furthermore, capitalism capitalizes on women feeling bad about themselves by flooding our lives with products that will help us do more, be more, and look better. Calhoun does not give any easy answers, and this isn’t an easy book to read. Despite that, I closed it feeling more hopeful about being a woman, about middle age, and about how much we have to teach (and learn) about each other. More books like this are needed to help each age and gender see each other – and each other’s challenges – more clearly.
mudder17 3 months ago
4.5 stars I took my time reading this book because I wanted to think about each of the chapters as I read them. When I requested this ARC, it was the title that caught my eye, because I don't sleep. So I thought it was going to be some sort of self-help book that might help me sleep better. But it turns out it's about the different generations (boomers, gen-x, millenials, etc.) and in particular about gen-x women and why life seems to be such a struggle that we don't ever rest or feel like we can rest. Although some of it does not apply directly to me, much of it did resonate and several of her discussions mirrored discussions I've had with close (online) girlfriends. And it makes me value, even more, these girlfriends that I've discovered over the past 15 years. After reading this book and reflecting on motherhood, I realize that life would have been even harder without the support of these women. This book is incredibly well researched (the references alone take up 10s of pages) as she describes the gen-x generation (born 65-79) being sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millenials and the different current events that occurred as we were growing up, as we graduated from college, as we entered the workplace, and as we raise our children (or struggle with infertility or choose not to have children) while taking care of aging parents. It does not discount the struggles that the previous generations or current generations have, but with mounds of research, she talks about why Gen-X women are feeling so broken and useless and down on themselves. In the end, she says that perhaps it's a matter of reframing our experiences. "It's about telling the story of our mistakes, our life, in a new way, in which we're heroines worth rooting for." "Maybe the Generation X story need not be: We're broke. We're unstable. We're alone. Maybe it can be: We've had a hard row to hoe. We've been one big experiment. And yet, look at us: we've accomplished so much." And she backs this up with tons of research. This book was dry at times, but that's partly because nonfiction is not my usual genre. But as I read this book, I kept thinking, "She's talking to me!" I think all women (and men) born between 1965 and 1979 should read this book. Looking back over the past 5 years of my life, I can see how I've started applying some of what she talks about in this book. And I agree that is has been helpful for me. I still need to consciously get more sleep though, lol! Special thanks to #AdaCalhoun, #NetGalley and #GroveAtlantic for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
LeslieLindsay 3 months ago
A searing exploration of stresses that keep GenX women up at night (literally and metaphorically), I raced through this book, which completely resonated. So, so grateful to have received an early copy of WHY WE CAN'T SLEEP: Women's New Midlife Crisis (Grove Atlantic, 2020) by memoirist/journalist Ada Calhoun. I was feeling especially down the day it arrived--you know, that existential angst--and was immediately gleeful after reading the book's description: we are a group of women with outward markers of success and personal fulfillment, but still feel lousy. Work and marriage, kids, houses, parents, all of that...we might look 'successful' and 'happy,' but underneath of that is well, a struggle. Money isn't very flow-y, work isn't as easy or satisfying. The marriage gets dull. The kids zap your energy. And what about all of that 'aspirational labor?' What then? WHY WE CAN'T SLEEP mostly focuses on women in GenerationX (GenX), that is, those born roughly between 1967-1980, with a median birth year of 1976. I'm sitting right there. And I feel this, deeply. Calhoun delves into a soulful investigation of women in this cohort. She talked with many women from all walks of life--married, single, divorced, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, religious, atheist, childless, partnered, with children, wealthy, not-wealthy, black, Hispanic, white, Asian. It is WELL researched. Her sentences and paragraphs flow effortlessly and I read in awe. I found this entire book wholly consuming and was thinking, "I really should give a copy to my [Boomer] parents. Then they might 'get' me.'" And I thought of my book club (we're all GenXers). And I thought of the woman who does my massages. My HS girlfriends I'm still in contact with. Calhoun investigates housing costs, workplace trends, credit card debt averages, divorce data. At every turn, there's a familiar pattern: GenX women face unique concerns and challenges that other generations don't. It's about that analog to digital world, the way women/mothers were when we were growing up (working mothers/latchkey kids, at-home mothers, hands-on mothers, hands-off mothers), divorce (latchkey kids), and our Boomer parents telling us: "You can have it all." Why? And what can we do about it when we fall short? Or perceive we do? At times, I was a little panicked reading WHY WE CAN'T SLEEP. It was a bit of gloom and doom, but *insightful* gloom and doom. There is hope, but this title doesn't exactly go into many details--other than--we can prevent the next generation from falling into the abyss. We can dig ourselves out. And it's not about scheduling more 'me time' or creating a chore chart. Such a unique and compelling read. I don't typically re-read books, but this one, I think I will. I found some similarities between this book and the writing of Alexandra Robbins (PLEDGED, OVERACHIEVERS, THE NURSES) Susanna Cahalan (BRAIN ON FIRE and THE GREAT PRETENDERS) meets Malcolm Gladwell's work. L.Lindsay|Always with a Book
Nana--- 4 months ago
I am a boomer but wanted to read the book to learn what my kids would be facing. I think the book was informative, well written and a book that will be used over and over. I think it will give many, peace of mind to know they aren't alone. I received an ARC from NetGalley and bought this for my kids. I had a go-to book that I used over and over and I think this is a book that they will read if only to know they aren't alone. It will help them to understand what they are going through is part of the journey.
Leslie129 4 months ago
Review of: Why We Can't Sleep by Ada Calhoun I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Here goes. I picked up Why We Can't Sleep because I've struggled with insomnia for most of my adult life. Although the book is written for the women of Generation X, I felt that as an older millennial (1985) who has trouble sleeping I was close enough to the target audience to justify reading and reviewing this book. While there were portions that were relevant to me, I really wouldn't recommend this book for Millennials, and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to Boomers. The book is dismissive of other generation's struggles and I found this off-putting to say the least. The book is divided into eleven chapters with each chapter delving into a different aspect of why Gen X women can't sleep. Topics include biological factors that affect sleep such as Peri-menopause, as well as cultural and personal factors such as worry over crushing debt and struggling relationships. Although each chapter was well researched, there were many instances where the author included quotes and stories from her personal friends. While I feel that every woman's voice is valuable and it's important to look at the people behind the statistics, there were times when including her friends' experiences without providing credentials or some type of background information about her friends weakened the point the author was trying to make..It seemed like most of the author's friends were from the middle and upper classes and this resulted in women in poverty being underrepresented. This book does a fantastic job of validating the average Gen X woman's experience. The author recognizes that in situations where there are no easy answers sometimes the best remedy is the support of others who have been there too. Overall, this book was well-written and well-researched, but it wasn't for me and that's okay. Rating 3/5
nfam 4 months ago
Gen X: The Between Generation Gen Xers, both women and men, grew up in a rapidly changing world, but perhaps it was changing most for women. WWII was over, the men were home, many women were stay-at-home moms, but there were plenty of them to share experiences with in their neighborhoods. Their daughters grew up looking for something more, encouraged to stretch for the stars, have it all. Now the Gen Xers are middle-aged. Many have more than their parents, but they’re not happy, and they don’t know why. They succeeded, perhaps not as well as they hoped, but they have jobs, they’re married and have children. There are many reasons for this malaise some real, some imagined. Calhoun does an excellent job of researching the causes and presenting her findings. I think the best part of this book is making people feel that they’re not alone, and they’re not imagining things. Being sandwiched between aging parents and children entering the job market is stressful. The prevalence of communication is new. Growing up many Gen Xers had only television with rabbit ears on the top, or an antennae on the roof. Now they can carry their entertainment around in their purse. Neighborhood coffee klatches may have had problems for their mothers, but social media contacts are a whole new phenomena, not always pleasant. If you’re a Gen Xer, this is a must read. If you’re in one of the generations on either side, this can be a helpful book for you, too. I received this book from Net Galley for this review.