For every woman who has awakened one morning in the middle of her journey through life and wondered, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” here is Women of a Certain Age. The author, Lillian Rubin — sociologist, writer and psychotherapist — brings to this book not only the lives and words of other women, but her personal experiences as well. At thirty-nine, divorced, remarried, mother to a fourteen-year-old daughter, Rubin returned to school as a college freshman. Eight years later she earned a doctorate in sociology and had completed several years of training in clinical psychology. This experience encouraged her to take a close look at the lives of women like herself, to find out whether and how they answered the midlife challenge.
What she discovered, and writes movingly about, is sometimes painful, always surprising, often
infuriating, and overturns a number of our most widely held beliefs. Here are all of the issues and milestones of the maturing woman’s life — the ambivalent feelings of watching the kids leave
home, the decision to return to or enter for the first time the world of work, the effort to discover a new identity not tied to mothering and homemaking, the quality of sexuality, the specter of divorce — and through everything the difficulties and risks that accompany attempts at even simple change.
Rubin found that, for most women, the “empty nest syndrome” does not exist. If women become depressed when the children leave home, it is not because they miss caring for their children, but because the now unresolved problems of who they are and how they will live the rest of their lives is brought to center stage.
As for sex, surprisingly, “It’s getting better and better!.” But here too there is a terrible irony, for after half a lifetime of struggling with her repressed sexuality, a woman often awakens to find her husband getting ready for sleep.
The changes facing middle-aged women are rife with paradox. For example, well educated, professionally trained women seeking reentry in the world of work find that they have even less of a chance of landing meaningful and appropriate jobs than do their working-class counterparts. While, Dr. Rubin concludes, there is more to midlife than hot flashes and headaches, she is unwilling to deliver simple answers to what are complex questions. Rather, with an extraordinary combination of empathy, the narrative clarity of a novelist, and the trained objectivity of a
distinguished social scientist, she realistically represents the problems and hazards, as well as the opportunities, and offers a vision of the real choices — and their consequences.