You Are More Than the Living Room Furniture
The biggest myth about womanhood is that we reach a completed version of ourselves
The longest relationship I’ve had is the one between me and my anxiety. We’ve survived a lot together (or, rather, I’ve survived a lot in spite of it). Every time I think I’ve transcended my deep-seated existential fears, another life change comes along — I get pregnant again, or our family moves, or a pandemic upends everything.
Lately, my anxiety has shifted focus. Despite engaging with the usual tools of therapy and journaling, I’ve been overcome with the dreadful thought that my life is essentially over, even though I’m only in my mid-30s.
I recently discovered why this might be so. It has to do with the fact that, for as long as I can remember, I didn’t know where to find the stories that could prepare me for the next stage of life — the phase after wedding vows and baby strollers — that other women had already gone through.
I grew up on fairy tales. They were comforting because there was a clear formula about how we, as young girls, needed to move forward in order to succeed in life. We were meant to focus on marriage and babies, and once we did, the story ended. We all wanted our Happily Ever After.
So it’s no wonder I feel like I’m at the end of my own personal story: I didn’t grow up hearing stories about how I could still be a person once I’d created a few of my own.
Narratives about women entering middle age weren’t prevalent. On the other hand, how many novels and movies about men dealing with midlife crises are in circulation? As a reader, I’ve become very well acquainted with the idea that men have deep interior lives, regardless of their age or how many children they have.
I was prepared to face the battles of my teenage years, college, and my late 20s. I even had a strong foundation of what early motherhood might look like, how it would change me, and how I would grow as a result of the extraordinary experience. There were books and movies about these stages, which were instructive to me.
But I found that the interior lives of women over the age of thirty-five were mostly ignored, or otherwise turned into props and punchlines. I saw stories that portray these women as the nagging wives hindering the progress of their male counterparts, the overprotective moms who can’t let go of their children, the ditzy, white-haired spinsters who drank too much.
I didn’t grow up hearing stories about how I could still be a person once I’d created a few of my own.
I often think about the film American Beauty. I distinctly remember how Annette Bening hassled Kevin Spacey over the care of their expensive new couch. My husband and I also bought a couch recently; we are making the grownup purchases for our home that I always imagined would be a significant preoccupation once I reached a certain age.
There’s a part of me that wonders if I should obsess over this couch, if I’m meant to get stressed whenever I see a stray crayon coming too close to the crisp white fabric or a plastic bowl of crackers placed precariously on someone’s lap as they read.
Maybe I should care more about it. But I’m busy. I’m in the middle of writing a novel, re-entering the workforce, spending time with my family and my community, as well as trying out different hobbies and intellectual pursuits. These activities keep me busy and fulfilled.
Yet those long nights of the soul lead me to believe that I must hurry up and accomplish all my endeavors before I get my requisite middle-age lobotomy and the living room furniture becomes my sole concern.
Where are the stories about older women with ambitions, wishes, successes, failures, second lives, and new seasons of growth and adventure? We need more than the one runaway bestseller or the occasional blockbuster movie.
It’s necessary for young women to absorb and integrate these narratives, so they don’t fall prey to the same lies: that our value diminishes when we exit our 20s, or once we’ve had a baby.
When I reflected upon this, my anxiety softened. I did more therapy and more journaling, and I wrote a few angry short stories about middle-aged women becoming entrepreneurs, inventing technologies that change the world, and discovering they wield magical powers.
The biggest myth we were taught about adulthood, especially womanhood, was that we would reach a completed version of ourselves. It’s high time to write new fairy tales and spin new stories for one another and for the generations to come.
Christie Megill writes short fiction, personal essays, and stories for children with work published in Literary Mama, Nightingale & Sparrow, and on a variety of parenting websites. Megill is an English Literature graduate of Fordham University, former bookseller, homeschooling parent, and literary agent intern. She lives in Brooklyn with her family and vast collection of dessert cookbooks.