Hello friends and welcome to the Midlife. Sorry for the vague episode title today but I had to be kind of cagey today to get you to stop by and listen because I was afraid if I laid it all out there, your initial response would have been “fuck that!”. And I get it. Life right now doesn’t always feel like a bowl of cherries. So the suggestion that I’m about to make may initially really rub you the wrong way. For your sake and the sake of future, wildly happy, thoroughly fulfilled you, listen with an open mind, but more importantly with an open heart.
Here’s the what if. What if you loved unconditionally? Everyone. Your spouse, your parents, your friends, the people that have wronged you. Did I just hear you tell me “fuck that”? That’s ok. Hear me out.
The experience that women have in midlife is profoundly universal. I often hear from my community that women feel lost and lonely and totally unsure of what their future should look like. We are fighting many fronts. Children we love leaving, but spouses we’re fed up with still sticking around. Aging parents. Stifled or non-existent careers. Dreams delayed or denied. Changing bodies. Changing looks. Total boredom and a complete loss of direction and purpose. And the subtext of all that is anger. A simmering rage that infects every interaction. Have you noticed? You are out of patience. Your tolerance has been exhausted. You are tired. Physically. Emotionally. Your goose is cooked.
What I offer you today is a shift that will re-energize you. I’m dancing around calling this what it is because you know how much I hate when words enter the woo and become overused to the point they are meaningless. But this is a mindset shift and it is magical.
How did we get here in the first place? For one thing, we have been caring for others at a non-stop pace for more than half our lives. And I suspect that we thought there was going to be some sort of prize for that. It’s our programming. I don’t think it’s our fault. I think it’s a product of how our generation was raised. Before participation trophies, we had to earn accolades. I think maybe a lot of us were trained to believe that we had to earn love too. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that you may be a rule follower and you were often recognized for being “good”. As children we draw a direct connection between our parents’ pleasure with our behavior to the unnatural conclusion that that means they love us. And when they are displeased with our behaviour? Uh oh, are we are losing love points?
My suspicion is that you have subconsciously been playing with this demented rule book. So it’s understandable that you feel very fed up right now with key players in your life if they are not measuring up. They are slowly eating away at your store of love points.
I’m going to ask you to rewrite the scoring portion of your rule book. What if your baseline tolerance for everyone is neutral and we are functioning in an environment where there are no negative numbers. Remember absolute numbers from school? I still don’t understand the theoretical support for why you can just put two vertical lines on either side of a number and even if it’s a negative number, it’s value is the positive number. Dumb. But that’s how I want you to start viewing the people in your life. Their absolute value is positive. Even when you’re angry with them . Even when they disappoint you. Even when they don’t live up to your expectations.
I know you’d prefer my advice be that you can march everyone in your life who’s being an asshole into a small room and I’ll set them straight. But I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. You cannot change people with your words. You can however change people with your actions. You can model behavior. You can certainly speak up when you are displeased. But that only serves the function of putting a stake in the ground for explaining acceptable behavior. Then you have to go back to work. You. Alone. And make the changes in yourself and how you treat people because only a change in you will bring about a change in them.
Remember in The Princess Bride that no matter how horrible Buttercup was to Wesley, he just kept saying “as you wish”. And what he really meant was “ I love you”. That’s the attitude I want you to adopt towards everyone and everything for that matter. People and situations are completely neutral. Only you are allowing your feelings on the subject to turn negative. What if when something doesn’t go exactly as you would have liked or if someone responds in a way that is less than ideal, you could just sit with it? You may want to adjust what you do next. But why not control how you respond? And maybe not even respond at all. What if you could just detach your feelings about the person or the people involved from the situation at hand?
I’m not suggesting you won’t have negative feelings reflexively arise. I’m just saying why not be more powerful than the feelings. Acknowledge that they are there. Acknowledge where they’re coming from and then let them go. But most importantly, let them go without assigning penalty to those important people in your life.
A few weeks ago I talked to you about expectations. My thesis is really that having expectations of people is a guaranteed recipe for disappointment. Part of releasing people from your expectations is to just love them unconditionally. To give of your love freely regardless of whether or not they are checking the boxes of your to do list.
Now you may be wondering who’s getting the better end of the deal here? What’s in it for you? I would argue that you are going to be the big winner here. You are the one to walk away with both showcase showdowns, the grand prize. You are going to diffuse all that anger and disappointment that you harbor and melt it into a puddle of peace and tranquility.
And you know the best part of operating at a baseline of absolute zero? There is only upside. Nobody can lose love points. They only earn more and more of your gushy soft feelings in the form of gratitude. Suddenly I am overcome with a wave of nausea as I have now used two phrases off my list of overused woo terms.
You now have only to be pleasantly surprised and grateful when the people closest to you do nice things. Interestingly, human beings, especially children and spouses, are remarkably similar to golden retrievers in that the more you praise them, the more likely they are to repeat the types of behaviors that got them that praise in the first place. You have all the power here to move the chess pieces exactly as you see fit. Only there’s no longer an opponent really. Losing expectations and adopting a policy of loving unconditionally neutralizes the battlefield.
I think one of the biggest realizations that lands us in this uncomfortable spot in Midlife is that other people not only don’t, but can’t create our happiness. It is a big shift to take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. It’s why I believe it is so critical that you take this lull in Midlife to carefully reassess everything and set yourself up for a truly spectacular second half. All on your terms. When you step into your full power and start creating a life you love, all the other players become extras. Hopefully they are adding to your enjoyment. Hopefully you are teaching them how to do that.
And just so there’s no misunderstanding, I am not suggesting that the key to your happy second half is to light a match to everything that got you here. In fact, it is my experience personally and for the women in my community that the happier you get with yourself and your own life, the more rewarding your relationships become. Here’s this week’s dose of tough love; it is actually you, not them.
Can you take a moment and reflect back on your last annoyance. You may be in the middle of a situation right now. Can you see that you frame a negative event as a contest. That you set yourself up as the wronged party and that you isolate yourself in an attempt to defend against further attacks. Or that you plot your revenge and retaliation. Have you ever said things to yourself like “we’ll see how they like it when I don’t xyz anymore” or “I’m going to start doing ABC just like they are”.
What’s interesting about this is that it shows you actually believe what I’ve been saying all along which is that you acknowledge that your behaviour should change the behavior of others. It just doesn’t work from the negative. You just start playing war games. Like Joshua, the computer tells Matthew Broderick, “A strange game. Your only winning move is not to play.”
What if the people in your life are consistently blowing it even after you’ve made these changes? I have two thoughts. The first is ignore them, love them unconditionally and keep on the path you’ve set for yourself. The second, unconditional love does not mean that someone gets to hold space in your life permanently. Mostly I say this in respect to friends or really frenemies. The people that contribute more negative energy than positive and aren’t truly on your side.
And by this point in our lives, it would be impossible to have not fallen out with people along the way. When that happens, I would challenge you to spend more time examining what you did to contribute to the demise of the relationship and less to the transgressions you suffered at their hands. And even people that have hurt you, let them go with love. You do it for you, not for them. When you release them with love, you release the pain you feel too. It takes time but it happens.
One huge mistake I see over and over again is women thinking that their spouse is the source of all their unhappiness. By telling you that unconditional loves does not mean that someone gets to hold space in your life permanently, I am not sending you a subliminal permission slip to torch the place. If you are going to make large scale, permanent changes in your life that affect more than just you, I beg you to do it from a place of happiness and strength, not sadness and desperation believing that the change is the answer.
Now. There is one relationship where unconditional love is non-negotiable. With your children. You are a faucet. The water that comes out of the faucet is your love. Your child is the drain. Not even in the southern hemisphere does the water flow back to the faucet. Deal with it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have constraints on how they treat you or speak to you. For sure that’s good modeling and parenting. But loving unconditionally means you do for them without the expectation that they will do for you. If they throw you a bone once in a while, be thrilled. Move above neutral. But just for the moment.
If you were not the beneficiary of that type of love with your parents, I am truly sorry. That’s shitty. No two ways about it.
There was a really weird phenomenon where I grew up in Los Angeles and I don’t know if it was as pervasive elsewhere but these fucking boomers. I know so many people who had parents that sort of ditched them and the family, many going on to remarry and have other kids. From the parent’s perspective, you hear a lot about parental alienation. Now that I’m a parent. I call bullshit. It’s nothing but selfishness and abandonment.
Can you start to see where your unconditional love and openness to gratitude can snowball into a more peaceful and productive relationship with the people around you? Give it a try and let me know how it’s going. In fact, if you have a specific situation you’d like me to weigh in on, hop into the private facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife and let’s talk about it.
I can tell you that this approach radically changed my relationships within my household and also allowed me to be open to building new friendships and partnerships for my business. A few years ago, my baseline was pissed off. Like always. Nobody was happy. Most importantly, me. I don’t say that selfishly. I say that accurately.
I will share with you a little visualization I have of myself. I live on an island. It’s very beautiful and warm. But I am not shipwrecked nor out of the main shipping lines. In fact, I have lots of visitors. Some make deliveries, some need things from my island. I’m grateful for the deliveries and I’m proud of my exports. There are some days where my guests are not perfectly behaved. That’s ok, the tide will go out soon and take them with. They are welcome to revisit and try again. And I will remain, happy on my island, waiting for the next visitor.
So thanks very much to you for visiting me here today. I hope I’m helping you clarify what your slice of paradise is going to look like so that you can live the life you want and deserve.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.