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 their issues 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.
Memoirist Calhoun (Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give) explores the stresses keeping Gen X women up at night (both literally and metaphorically) in this bracing, empowering study. As women born between 1965 and 1980 enter middle age, Calhoun writes, they face "a gauntlet of anxieties" related to their status as "the Jan Brady of generations," sandwiched between older baby boomers and younger millennials. Interviewing middle-class American women she met through friends, social media, and in doctors' waiting rooms and other random encounters, Calhoun discusses worries about money ("Gen X has more debt than any other generation"), divorce ("our generation are the beta tested victims of the Boomers' record-high divorce rate"), and caring for young children and ailing parents simultaneously ("the caretaking rack"). She shares her own experiences as well as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Harvard's Equality of Opportunity Project, among other sources. Despite all the damning statistics ("one in four middle-aged American women is on antidepressants") and real-life reports of exhaustion, ennui, and husbands who go on ski trips instead of paying the electric bill, Calhoun persuasively reassures Gen X women that they can find a way out of their midlife crises by "facing up to our lives as they really are." Women of every generation will find much to relate to in this humorous yet pragmatic account.