Gail Sheehy: Younger Boomers Reinvent Their Work and Love Lives

When it comes to change, the “In-Betweeners” —  men and women aged 45 to 55 — are all about resilience

Are you “in transition?” Is something radically changing in your relationship, your health, your work, or your geographic location? If so, you belong a gigantic, non-exclusive club — what I call “The In-Betweeners.”

We live in volatile times. And the largest bulk of boomers are smack in the middle of the midlife passage: between the ages of 45 and 55. They are not young anymore, but they’ll have you know they are a long way from old. This is now the largest cohort in America – and  one-third of them are “in transition” in one way or another, according to research by Richard Lieder, author of the bestseller “The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work” and a consultant to AARP.

More of these In-Betweeners are unmarried than married. Their relationships are likely to be in a state of flux: in rehab after a breakup, enjoying a splurge of sleepovers, or, discouraged by a surfeit of doofus internet dates, back to a retreat into porn video nights or cuddling with a toddler or the dog.

If you are male, your work life is likely to be uncertain. The numbers of unemployed white professional men have more than doubled since the financial meltdown in late 2008, now totaling more than a million. The primary breadlosers are over 45. Many are uncertain if they will ever find another job with equal status and salary. If you are a woman in such a marriage, you are probably in transition from the supplementary role of at-home mom and part-time earner to a work-around-the-clock wreck.

But younger boomers are nothing if not resilient. They are reinventing themselves for their Second Adulthood. More 50something boomers are re-entering the workforce than 20something “millennials” who are entering the workforce for the first time. And more 50-plus women and men are becoming entrepreneurs than any other age group — presumably because they are tired of hanging around unemployment lines and waiting for corporate America to wake up to the fact that this cohort is the best-educated, healthiest group of 50-plus-year-olds in the history of humankind.

You may be tempted to pull a “geographic” – i.e., moving to where you can pick up a distressed house for a song and start over. Or you may be ready to try an unconventional partnership. One divorced woman of 45 with three young children found the transition from suburban mom to Manhattan apartment renter an expensive form of isolation. She and her best friend, another divorced mom, are thinking of starting a new trend – a “MOMMune.” They are shopping for a two-story rental where they can live together, much as they did as singles in their twenties — but this time, with a vow to share babysitting along with shopping and rent.

Don’t get the wrong idea. These women are not lesbians. They are like most seasoned bommers of “In-Between” age who find themselves single again after divorce or being widowed. When you go out to New York restaurants or cafes at night, you notice that about two-thirds of the tables are occupied by women, and maybe one-third by couples. Rarely do you see men dining with each other. They are either at the bar or at home in their unchanged beds watching porn videos (or, on a really bad night, C-Span).

Same story in San Francisco. A psychologist friend of mine has been trying to persuade a 60-year-old woman who has been widowed for six months that she doesn’t have to hide for a year in black before making herself available to date. It’s not only ok to have different and less conventional priorities as an older, unpartnered person; it’s the only thing that makes sense. You can’t replace a soul mate of many years; that life belongs to the past. But you can shift your priorities. If you enjoyed being partnered, look for what is offered. Never turn down an invitation. Every new situation offers the chance of a new friendship or love interest. What does he or she bring to the party?

Like most widows who have enjoyed a marriage with a true soul mate, I would like to be partnered again — preferably with a man who has a sense of purpose, a sense of humor, low BMI (body-mass index) and high net worth (or at least enough to go Dutch treat at a white-tablecloth restaurant). If he wants me to give up my career to hostess for him, or if he refuses to drop forty pounds and return to a healthy BMI, I can’t afford a long-term relationship. I have to work and I enjoy my career. And I don’t want to become a nurse or a purse.

You may find that you really enjoy friends with benefits – those with whom you can share a mutual love of opera, playing tennis, hiking, biking, arguing politics — or a common interest in pets. When I was waiting in the line in a San Francisco post office, a deep voice behind me said, “Can I pet your dog?” I turned to find a tall, handsome man. He had lost his own dog in the divorce. After nuzzling with my Cavalier King Charles puppy, he invited me to go hiking with him. As he turned to leave, I asked, “Did we just play Post Office?”

A few days later he called to reissue the invitation to take me hiking on the breathtaking Lands End trail overlooking the Pacific. He had one condition, he said, at which point my BlackBerry went dead. I later called him back. “My phone knows to turn off when a man sets a condition for a first date.” He laughed. But he was serious.

“Will you bring your dog?”

Journalist and lecturer Gail Sheehy is the author of 16 books about adult life stages, including Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence. This story appears in USA Today


4 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Reinvention is the byword of those of us in our middle years. We’ve broken barriers closed to our parents generation and our attitudes are completely different. Over the coming years will reshape America with new business developments and ideas. We may be older but we certainly aren’t washed up.

    I hope your hike was a success and will lead to more happy times.

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Geez. By this definition, I am pretty much ALWAYS in transition.

    Well, at least I’m used to it.

  3. avatar crystalclear says:

    If we aren’t experiencing change we need to check our pulse!

  4. “Resilient” is definitely an adjective I have used to describe myself, and I am in that 45-55 age bracket. I’m not sure what this has to do with bringing the dog. But it’s definitely a promising gesture. 🙂

    Susan Gabriel
    author of Seeking Sara Summers