Mid-Life Genesis by Natalie Weaver


Natalie Weaver

My mother-in-law, quoting her mother, has often said, “a woman who tells her age will tell you anything.”  I think the “anything” here she is referring to is sexual disclosure.  She may be correct because I am not above or below talking about that, but that is not what I am talking about today.  Today, I am talking about age, since I am on the cusp of my fortieth birthday.

Still two months out, I am surprised that this birthday registers for me as much as it does.  The experience has caused me to plumb my mind in search for vanities that I had not previously noticed.  In the depths as on the surface, I have observed, for example, subtle changes in my skin and muscle tone.   I will catch a glimpse of my profile and see my mother or my sister, occasionally even one of my grandmothers.  My feet look a little, well, bonier somehow.  I had to buy glasses recently.  However, when I go spelunking, it is not really these things that trouble me.  I actually like myself more as an adult than I did as a child or very young woman.  I developed a wonderful sense of my body’s strength when I bore and nursed children as well as a compassion for its limitations when I had surgery.  I seem more suited to my own flesh these days, and sometimes I actually feel sorry for my younger self who did not know how to appreciate herself.  In twilight moments, I occasionally drift backward mentally to a previous iteration just to offer her a little affirmation.  It is not really the getting older that I find myself snagging upon nor (and I think I am being honest here) the loss of youth per se.  What is it then?

Here’s my hypothesis:

By the time a person reaches the start of his or her fifth decade, s/he is no longer in the phase of foundations-laying.  Of course, anyone can start something anew at anytime… I myself do so all the time.  But, those first decades of: surviving childhood, then adolescence, then early adulthood; establishing a career; perhaps early marriage and parenting; love and loss of love; grief, bereavement, sometimes trauma; geographical relocations; apartments and homes; finances, and on and on… these foundational decades have been irrevocably traversed.  What is more, it seems to me, it is only in the traversing that one actually comes to know who s/he is.  Put another way, these foundational experiences are not so much the freely elected choices of a fully formed agent but the things that produce a fully formed agent.  One acts haltingly and imperfectly all the while until a genuine, empirically formed, minded, and voiced self can emerge.

That such a process occurs is not as troubling to me as the fact that by the time one is really comfortable in oneself, life is already greatly defined by obligations and patterns that are inextricable.  Even worse, the patterns that inform and often dictate our early choices seem crippling when they stipulate essentialist roles and boundaries.  We internalize unwittingly pre-existent, socially constructed norms (frequently writ as divinely prescribed) for career, marriage, parenthood, family participation, religious creed, political identity, and more.  By the time we can articulate a vision of self-in-society or self-in-relationship over and against those norms, we have become stakeholders.  One cannot un-write the set up or the dramatis personae just because the hero realizes: 1) s/he is in a play and 2) the play is already well into the second act.   This is the stuff of the midlife crisis.

Had I been asked a few years ago to weigh in on the apparent madness that can overtake people in these years, I would have had a lot more to say about the purchase of sporty red coupés, marital infidelity, and trading in one’s life to sell daiquiris under the thatched roof of some sea-side cabana.  Now, though, I think I get it.  Although you won’t find me in Margaretville yet, I do have a revised ethics of disrupting the status quo.  Where once I would have felt there was tremendous moral value in meting responsibilities within one’s contingent circumstances, now I would argue that the greater value lies in transforming those contingencies so as to bring one’s lived truth to power.  For, surely, this is was it means to be truly human, to be co-creator, to be agential.  Wherever possible, one must do more than fulfill functions and enact scripts.   One must especially have the courage to ask whom and what ends their assigned, conscripted, and adopted functions serve, especially those deemed ontological, teleological, and essential.  How often is some mendacious power or economic dynamic served by the continuance of our role-performances?  Who and what stands to lose by our stopping?

I cannot speak generally for the experience of women or men.  Not all social locations afford the luxury of midlife, let alone midlife crises.  However, where and as they exist, I submit that midlife crises might be reclaimed and celebrated as an opportunity for midlife geneses.  Wakeful midlife is an opportunity to take stock of one’s being from the vantage point of adulthood.  One here knows herself now well enough to know whether she’s made good choices that fit her skin, whether she was living out someone else’s vision, and what preferences she has in food, recreation, car color, or even room temperature.  One now has the weight of her own years to push back against deference to everyone else’s vote and the tyranny of precedence.  Frankly, I think midlife is kind of awesome.  So, I conclude with this, if you exhibit any of these “warning signs” (wants more passion, has newfound ambition, is concerned about health and fitness, wants to change things in your life that are dissatisfying to you), be fearless.  You are not crazy; you’ve just grown up.  Be wise.  Be You.  It may be the first time you’ve ever really stepped onto the stage.

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.



Categories: Aging, Family, Relationality, Relationships

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. This is wonderful- Thank you so much, Natalie, from someone who saw forty a while back. I think the task continues… May your journey forward be blessed with your own continual finding if your own truth and life.

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  2. What a lovely post. In many ways I did not have your wisdom at 40. Though I was never afraid to speak, I mourned for things I could not have–in part because of my decisions to speak.

    On the recent Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, one of our sisters kept saying: Women have to take risks. We have to speak out. When she said it, I said, oh yeah, heard that before. But yet…I have been speaking my truth more freely and strongly since the tour.

    Now is not the time to keep silence. As the drums of war are rolling again and the Supreme Court majority definitely is not keeping its mouth shut.

    Thanks or your words.

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    • “Now is not the time to keep silence.” Words of encouragement for me this morning Carol. I’ve moved to a new city just last month. Extreme “Right Wing” things going on in the name of “Christianity”. I’m tempted to call it “nonsense” but it’s too dangerous to be dismissed so lightly.

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  3. Great title and it really is true — aging can be a genesis indeed, and absolutely awesome, thanks Natalie!!

    In my case, midlife meant the roller-coaster, emotional fatigue was gone, insomnia disappeared, and a whole new energy arrived, lifting me into a journey of research and creativity online, which continues to evolve with much joy.

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  4. I loved your post. As a Women’s Studies Professor, after I turned 40, I’ve made a point of telling my students when it was my birthday and what my age was, and what was so great about middle age – confidence, wisdom, the ability to reject worrying about the small things. Now as an almost 50 empty-nester, I’ve told them how excited I am about the coming years. The extra time and energy I have to devote to my own interests is thrilling. My students (male and female) are usually surprised by what I say, and many have told me it’s the first time they ever heard a woman my age speak positively about this stage of life. I like letting young people know that middle age not only isn’t something to be feared, but is a great time to look forward to.

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  5. Loved this post Natalie – it brought back memories of “long ago”! Might I suggest that the best is still to come as Wisdom continues to have her way and old “hang-ups” drop on the wayside. ;-)

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  6. I will refrain from gushing about how much I enjoyed this post. No wait … yes, I *will* gush because that’s what I feel like doing, it expresses *me* in this moment! LOL I love, LOVE this post — thank you!!! When you said “I actually like myself more as an adult than I did as a child or very young woman” I was right there with you, fully. I plan on not only saving a copy for myself, but sharing it with as many friends as possible. Gorgeously written and greatly appreciated. Blessings!

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  7. You write, “I actually like myself more as an adult than I did as a child or very young woman” and I wholeheartedly agree. Yesterday was my 50th birthday, and I feel more empowered now than every before. My goal is to get to at least 115. I’m not even halfway there! Nothing but opportunity and excitement ahead of me.

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  8. My favorite line: “Where once I would have felt there was tremendous moral value in meting responsibilities within one’s contingent circumstances, now I would argue that the greater value lies in transforming those contingencies so as to bring one’s lived truth to power.”

    So true and beautiful. Thank you Natalie.

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  9. Tomorrow I turn 43 and this post resonated with me on so many levels. I have eschewed the “normal” pattern that western society dictates for a middle class white woman; I’m not married, I have no children, I live alone, I don’t have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend), and most rebellious of all…I love my life.

    I loved this, “Wakeful midlife is an opportunity to take stock of one’s being from the vantage point of adulthood. One here knows herself now well enough to know whether she’s made good choices that fit her skin, whether she was living out someone else’s vision, and what preferences she has in food, recreation, car color, or even room temperature.” This is the absolute best part for me. Being able to assess the past objectively and make considered and thoughtful choices for the future is such a blessing after the floundering blunders of my 20s. So thanks for celebrating the best part of my life so far. xoxo

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  10. I appreciate all the positives here about aging. I think they’re all true. And yet…when I turned 40, I became quite depressed. Being an intellectual, I had to figure out why. What I discovered is that for most of our existence as a species, 40 wasn’t just the end of youth, it was the end of LIFE. Until quite recently, most people were lucky to reach 40 years old. So turning 40 has to do with dealing with our mortality, even if it’s not coming very soon in this day and age. And I think that’s a good thing, too. When we learn that every day is a priceless gift, we don’t waste our time with the little stuff.

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  11. Thank you for your post. I appreciate your take on the midlife crisis. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I had a ton of issues with my midlife crisis and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is with Your Best Age is Now I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling with dealing with midlife. I got hit hard during my 40’s and this book really helped me to become a better version of myself.

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