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Ep 69 “Why We Can’t Sleep” Author Ada Calhoun

Ep 69 “Why We Can’t Sleep” Author Ada Calhoun

Nancy Davis Kho: Gen X humor writer and '80s song lyrics over-quoter

“Not just you”: Ada Calhoun, author of “Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis”, unpacks reasons for GenX’s specific midlife challenges and offers ways to cope, from joining clubs to embracing the magic power of low expectations.

I dare you to look me in the eye when I’m experiencing perimeno-rage

Thanks as always to M. The Heir Apparent, who provides the music behind the podcast – check him out here!
***This is a rough transcription of Episode 84 of the Midlife Mixtape Podcast. It originally aired on January 14, 2020. Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and there may be errors in this transcription, but we hope that it provides helpful insight into the conversation. If you have any questions or need clarification, please email ***
Ada Calhoun 00:00

Culture tends to dismiss middle aged women and it tends to dismiss Gen X and I think the combination can make you feel really like you don’t exist in the public sphere.


Welcome to Midlife Mixtape, The Podcast. I’m Nancy Davis Kho and we’re here to talk about the years between being hip and breaking one.

[THEME MUSIC – “Be Free” by M. The Heir Apparent]


This episode of The Midlife Mixtape Podcast is brought to you by Audible.

Get a free audiobook download and 30 day free trial at Over 180,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android Kindle or mp3 player. And hey, one of those hundred 80,000 titles is my book, THE THANK-YOU PROJECT: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time. It’s about a year I spent writing thank you letters to the people who had helped, shaped, or inspired me up to that point in my life. It gives the reader a blueprint for doing it themselves, and the science behind why gratitude and happiness are so tightly coupled… and playlists, because I don’t know if you notice, but this podcast is called Midlife Mixtape. I obviously am a fan of the mixtape, and it comes out this month on audio on! So go to for your free audiobook.

Nancy Davis Kho 01:36

Surprise! I’m back! Hi, it’s Nancy. Remember in the last episode in December when I said I was going to be on an indefinite podcast hiatus while I’m out doing book promotion stuff? Well, I lied because that was before I saw a press release for the book that we’ll be talking about today. And it was so on the nose for Midlife Mixtape Podcast listeners that I took myself out of cold storage. Besides, I missed you guys and I missed the thrill of clipping out the ummms and ahhs and the noise of my next-door neighbor’s leaf blowers from the audiotape. I think I’m a podcast nerd all the way down. So, surprise, I’m back.

Theoretically I’ll be going into hibernation again after this episode and I really mean it this time, because I’ve got a whole bunch of book tour stuff coming up which I’ll talk about in a little bit. But who knows who I’ll meet and want to introduce you to along the way, or what press releases will grab me by the throat again. So, if you’re not already subscribed to the Midlife Mixtape Podcast, make sure you hit that button wherever you listen, so you don’t miss another unplanned episode. And you know what, if you haven’t left a review yet for the Midlife Mixtape Podcast wherever you listen, please do that too. It makes it so much easier for people like us, in the years between being hip and breaking one, to know whether this show is for them.

I hope you guys had a wonderful holiday and a happy new year and you’ve picked all the tinsel out of your hair and you’re ready to rock 2020. This first month of promoting the book has been really cool. And in fact, today I’m over on WBUR. The Boston NPR affiliate has a Kind World Podcast and I’m their guests there today talking about The Thank-You Project. So, after you’ve listened to this podcast, check out the Kind World Podcast today.

One of my favorite things that has come from the readings is that people have started writing letters, and they’re telling me about how that made them feel and what the impact has been. There was one I heard about, a family that gifted The Thank-You Project to their grandma and enclosed with it a thank you letter written to her by each family member. Shut up. I’m not crying, you’re crying. I mean, how nice is that? That’s the coolest thing about my book, is that it’s really just a starting point for other people to take this idea of expressing gratitude to the people who have made your life better and they’re making that idea better. So, I love hearing those stories.

If you’ve read The Thank-You Project and you liked it, I hope you’ll help spread the word. You could review it on Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes and Noble. You could share your recommendations on social media or in real life. You could snap a picture of yourself reading it and post it on Instagram Make sure to tag me @midlifemixtape so I can see it. All of that stuff helps make this little blue book ripple further and wider which hopefully means more thank you letters being sent, which hopefully means more people feeling better. And it means so much to me to have that kind of support from you guys. I really do appreciate it.

I will be hitting the road for readings in the last part of January and early February; I’ll be in Marin County, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Rochester, New York hometown party whoop whoop! And then back up in Northern California where I live and there’s more dates being added. So head over to and look for the Events and Appearances tab to see if I’ll be near you sometime in January and February. I would love to meet Midlife Mixtape Podcast listeners in person, that would be so cool!

I’m so excited about this. Today’s guest is Ada Calhoun, who is the author of Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, an expansion of her viral story for about the new midlife crisis facing Gen X women and the unique circumstances that have brought them to this point. Why We Can’t Sleep came out in early January from Grove Atlantic and is an audiobook from Audible. Do you hear that pre roll ad?

Calhoun’s last two books were St. Mark’s is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street and the memoir Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give. In addition to writing her own books, Ada has worked as a ghost writer since 2009, collaborating on 14 nonfiction books for major publishers. And you know what, I didn’t realize until I was getting ready to record this that Ada contributed the excellent essay called “Lab Report” to the Beastie Boys Book. Now, if you’re a Beastie Boys fan at all, you’ve got to check this book out. It came out a couple of years ago. And there is one essay that really made an impression. I mean, I didn’t realize until this week that it was Ada who’d written it.

So, it’s laid out in the style of a high school lab report and the problem that it’s trying to solve is “We hate sexism. We love the Beastie Boys.” And THIS female fan of the Beastie Boys felt vastly reassured reading this, because I always felt so terrible when I was singing along happily to the lyrics of the song “Girls”, you know which one it is. Ada’s new book is getting a ton of buzz so I doubt you’re sleeping but if you are, wake up, let’s hear about Why We Can’t Sleep from Ada Calhoun.


Ada Calhoun, welcome to the Midlife Mixtape Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here today!

Ada Calhoun 06:28

Glad to be here today.

Nancy 06:30

You wrote a book that inspired me to bring the podcast back from hiatus. That’s how good it is. I couldn’t wait. Well, I’m so excited to talk with you about Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. And I let you know that when I reached out to you to invite you on the show, I was typing the email at you know, 5:45am while wearing undereye patches. And you know, I’d been up for an hour and a half solving the mysteries and worries of the world already. So, the title really resonated for me, and I’m guessing it will for some of you listening. But the most important level set we have here is: Ada Calhoun, what was your first concert and what were the circumstances?

Ada 07:09

My first concert was Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour when I was eight years old.

Nancy 07:13

Shut the front door. How old were you?

Ada 07:16


Nancy 07:19

What a way to start!

Ada 07:20

It was at Madison Square Garden. I think it was my friend Alexis Martinez who brought me there. And I remember it being really magical. I still have a very visceral memory of the program. Okay, so the cover of the Michael Jackson, actually was The Jacksons Victory Tour – had all of them wearing Safari gear.


Oh, sure.


…Pith helmets, and they’re on a Jeep. And there’s jungle behind them. So that was the concert where he had to take his siblings along, right? His father was like, “No, you’re famous. You’re bringing them all along with you.” And so, it was all of them together.

Nancy 07:57

I can’t even remember the days when concerts had programs. I’m trying to think of the last time I went to anything where they had a handout.

Ada 08:04

Oh, yeah, good point. It was a big handout too. It was extra, extra big. And it was Pepsi sponsored. And there were like 1000 pictures inside.

Nancy 08:13

Oh my gosh, that is so fun. And I loved when I was flipping through your book…You have a mixtape with your book. And I’m wondering, do you think Gen X writers from now on, will we always include a mixtape? Because I had seven in mine.

Ada 08:25

That’s so funny. Well, you know the last… This is my third book to have a mixtape. So, I wrote a history of St. Mark’s Place a few years ago, in the East Village, and I included a mixtape of songs that mentioned St. Mark’s place. And then I had a book that came out a couple years ago about marriage and I had a mixtape of songs about marriage in the back.

Nancy 08:44

And let’s, just to be clear, the first book is St. Mark’s is Dead. And then the essay collection is Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give which is based on a really great Modern Love essay, which I loved because if you’ve been married a while and you go to a wedding, you have a different, a different perspective from some of the toasts. Well, I loved that your mixtape for women’s new midlife crisis included “Unsatisfied” by The Replacements. I’ve been singing that nonstop, and “Losing My Edge” LCD Soundsystem, THAT resonated. So, do you put the mixtape together before you’re writing, as you’re writing, after? How do you do that?

Ada 09:22

Just, as I’m writing the book. Because I tend to listen to music at the library or at coffee shops whenever I’m working. And anytime I hear a song that seems relevant to what I’m working on, I just put it in a little file and then at the end I use all those songs.

Nancy 09:36

Loved it. But let’s get right into it because honestly, I think this…so the book is called Why We Can’t Sleep and if you are sleeping like a baby at midlife, good for you. God bless. You’re not anybody I know. Most people I know struggle with this and so honestly, when I first picked it up, I thought oh, it’s gonna be like, “here’s some techniques about falling asleep at night” and it’s not really that. Although I think you will sleep better after you read it. It really is a close look at why GenX midlife is different and I loved, right from the first page, “Dedicated to middle aged women in America” and the quote is, “You’re not imagining it. And it’s not just you.”

And I think that’s the gift that writers can give the world, representation and normalization. So you are, with this book…I think whoever you are, you will feel seen. And yes, the book is targeted towards women. But I think there was a lot, you know, that would resonate for male readers as well. So why did you decide to write this book? And can you talk a little bit, just give the Reader’s Digest version of what you’re trying to do with Why We Can’t Sleep?

Ada 10:42

It actually started a couple years ago. I was having the world’s worst summer. I was really miserable, and broke and had ton of credit card debt. And I was the breadwinner. So, I was really worried. And I was just up every night at three, four in the morning, just, “what’s happened, I’ve done everything, right. I’ve been working since I was 14 years old.” And I just I felt like everything was at a dead end. And I just felt I felt old. And I felt tired.

And that was the moment when this editor from Oprah Magazine called me and said, “My friends and I are having a hard time, do you think there’s something going on with this generation? And I dismissed it initially. I was like, “Oh, no, you can’t just say based on three people that this is a generational problem. This is just us.” But she said, “Just look into it.” So, I spent a few months researching and I ended up writing a 6000 word story for That was just like, “if you’re having a rough time, here are all the reasons why that might be.” And some of them were cultural. And some of them were related to our childhood. And some were economic, the way that prices have gone up and wages have not and just on and on all these different reasons.

And I got so many hundreds of messages from women my age, saying that they were grateful because it gave some context to what we’re experiencing. And then I was asked to expand it into a book. So, then I went deeper.

Nancy 12:03

And it’s interesting, because I initially had that same sense, you know that it’s the Gen X thing. We’re not special, right? We take pride in the fact that we’re not … I don’t want to offend my millennial listeners. But nobody ever told us we were special. Let’s put it that way.

So when I started reading this, I was thinking, I’m not sure this is gonna sell me because, you know, our mothers went through midlife, their mothers went through midlife, you know, everybody goes through it. But you laid out a really clear argument about why ours is different. And in what ways it’s harder. And we’re not saying that our foremothers sailed through it either. But there are some very specific things.

So, talk a little bit about your process, because that I found really interesting. You have both a combination of anecdotes and interviews, but also quantitative research. So, can you talk a little bit about how you approached it and where you found your sources?

Ada 12:56

My basic approach was, “what would be interesting or helpful to a woman who’s having a hard time right now, what would be good to know?” And it was guided a lot by what I wanted to know, or what I thought would be interesting, and also just the best stories I could find that really to me epitomize what it means to be a Gen X woman in middle age.

So, I started out, when I was doing the article, casting a really wide net through Oprah’s social media networks. I just got hundreds of women that way, to give me stories and to offer themselves up. And then I basically tried to make the interviews for the book kind of reflect the demographics of America. So, I tried to get every state, I tried to make sure it was racially diverse. I tried to make sure that it was it was, you know, women who go to church, women who are atheists, women who live in cities, women who live in the country, women who stay at home with her kids, women who have high-powered jobs, and just to really make sure that it wasn’t just for people in Brooklyn, right? So, I talked to probably 200 women around the country. And then I just tried to find as many experts as I could who talk about different aspects of midlife, and I just read hundreds of books. And I tried to just distill all that into what seemed most relevant and seemed most interesting. And I tried to find things that were funny also.

Nancy 14:13

Which you did!

And so, some of the writers you spoke to have been past guests on the show, like Jonathan Rauch, and Barbara Bradley Haggerty, who was great, I think it’s really important. And I wanted to just say the way that you build in the anecdotes, I think it’s kind of similar to what I tried to do in my book, The Thank-You Project…where when you’re sharing stories of how you approach something, or how someone is going through a particular situation, rather than making that specific to the person’s situation, the hope is that it gets you thinking about how that manifests in your world. And I think you did a really good job of that because there are such a wide range of experiences and viewpoints that, maybe I’m not feeling exactly the same way but it’s reassuring to know there’s other people kind of thinking about these issues are facing the same challenges. So, I really like the way you weave that together. I bet the interviews themselves were therapeutic for you and the interviewee. I wondered how those actually felt?

Ada 15:07

I think they were they definitely worked for me. It definitely was the case that I wound up feeling really close to a lot of the women that I interviewed, because everyone was so lovely about really sharing super personal stories.

Nancy 15:23

And they were probably so grateful to be asked, Ada. Most of us are like, Oh, I guess I’m just suffering on my own. I’m not gonna say anything.

Ada 15:30

Funny you say that. Because this one woman that I approached, I asked her if I could interview her, I found her on a message board. And I think she was in Alaska. I didn’t have anybody in Alaska. And I was reading these GenX things.

And anyway, I thought she was really smart and really funny. And I wrote to her, and I said, “Can I interview you for this book I’m working on?” and she told me she cried, it made her cry to get asked. And I said, you know, “what did I do? Because I implied she was middle aged?” And she said, “No, just no one ever asks about me.”

And I thought that was so good, so moving. Just this idea that yeah, the culture tends to dismiss middle aged women, and it tends to dismiss Gen X. And I think the combination can make you feel really like you, you don’t exist in the public sphere.

Nancy 16:16

Well, not after this book comes out. So, let’s dive down into some of those factors that make GenX midlife different. And I’m particularly interested to know if there were any that surprised you.

Ada 16:27

The number, I guess, that surprised me the most was, I really was fascinated by the Equality of Opportunity project at Harvard, and just how the American Dream doesn’t really exist anymore. And we still keep saying that it does and acting like it does. And we grew up being taught that if we worked hard enough, that’s what was going to happen. And it hasn’t. And so especially for women, so the number that I thought was fascinating was only one in four Gen X women will out earn her father, right?

Even the researcher that I talked to, he said, No, that’s not what they expected to see, either. Because you think, oh, women are so much more educated, they’re out in the workforce so much more. And the idea that we still wouldn’t hit those same heights that our Boomer fathers did, it’s surprising.

Nancy 17:11

One of the things that I never had thought about, but of course it makes logical sense, is that the age that Gen X women who do become mothers have their first kid is higher than our moms. So, we’re older when we become parents, which has two implications: We’re more likely to have young kids when our parents are at an age where they need help. And we’re more likely to be going through perimenopause when it’s all going down.

There was a line in the book where you said, you know, our moms, our grandmothers were completely done with child rearing by the time they were in their mid-40s, which my mom was. And I never thought about that. I mean, my, my youngest kid moved out this year to start college and I’m 53. So, I have an 86 year old mother, an 86 year old mother in law, whose care, you know, I’m concerned with. So, there’s things that my mom didn’t have to deal with when she had teenagers in the house that I did. And I had never thought about that before. And the parenting expectations are different now.

Ada 18:15

Well, another number that was interesting was that we spend more quality time with our children now as working mothers than our mothers did a stay at home mothers in the ‘70s. We are much more hands on at the same time that we’re working a lot more, and older, and going through perimenopause. So, it’s the perfect storm, right?

Nancy 18:32

And then there’s the whole factor of Gen X women who haven’t had children, either by choice or circumstance, who, you know, in the olden days, there came a date where you are not going to be able to have kids anymore. And you, you know, made your peace with it, however you did and went on to the next thing. But now because of reproductive technology, that decision gets delayed and drawn out. I had Melanie Notkin from SavvyAuntie on the show once where we talked a lot about that it kind of extends this period where if you wanted to have kids, and you didn’t, you can’t just say “well, okay, you know, it’s past. And now I know I can move on.” It makes it much harder to move on.


Yes, that’s true.

Nancy 19:16

I think so. And that’s a piece of it, too.

Ada 19:18

Yeah, so many women that I interviewed…so a lot of my closest friends don’t have children. They don’t want children. They’re perfectly happy with that. But then another group of friends of mine and women that I talked to, they weren’t sure. They kind of think they would like to have kids at some point. But they either haven’t met the right person, or they don’t have enough money to feel ready to do it, or they don’t feel established in their career. They’re all these different factors.

And like you say, it just drags on and on for decades. I mean, they were in their late 20s thinking maybe at some point, now they’re in their mid-40s. And they’re still in that state of thinking well, maybe someday.

Nancy 19:54

Right. Now one of the other…I think this has two chapters, but I’ll combine it – you talk about job instability and money panic. And also, you know, a little bit different than what our parents went through. So, do you want to talk a little bit about why that’s different for Gen X and also I want to say, all of this stuff is going to pertain to millennial women too. So, I always say, I wish younger women would listen to this show, because I think you would be encouraged. And in this arena…. You know, we’re gonna figure this out for you, little sisters, we’re going to try to figure this out, or at least tell you, you’ll get through it.

Ada 20:32

Yeah, no, I think and I have actually heard from some millennial women who have read the book and, and thought as a cautionary tale and also as a kind of encouragement to change things up or to think now so that they don’t get into some of these situations that a lot of GenX women are facing.

So yeah, so money panic, and job instability. So, because of the way that the gig economy has been increasing, and the way that there is no real loyalty from employers now… Everyone that I talked to basically is either afraid of being fired or was fired and now is freelance or is just in some kind of very precarious position where either they’re being replaced by millennials, or the jobs that they thought they were going to have are still held by Boomers. And so, they’re not rising up, or they have gone freelance and every job could be their last at any moment. There’s a real fear there. And couple that with the fact that we have more debt than any other generation, we’ve saved very little, especially women have saved very little, and you get a recipe for real fear, real legitimate fear at this age.

Nancy 21:39

And don’t worry, listeners, we are going to get to solutions! I just want to make sure … I’m gonna paint the darkest picture I can before we get to that.

Yeah, I mean, you talk about Gen X women who out earn their fathers. I think this for me was one of the most interesting differences between my dad and me. He never could understand …I job hopped a lot in my younger years. I’ve been freelance and consulting for the past decade plus, but prior to that, he couldn’t understand how every three years I would quit and go do something different. He spent, you know, his entire career at Eastman Kodak. And it would panic him when I did it. And I said, “Dad, everybody’s doing it.” And by the way, had I found a job that was as cushy… My dad worked hard. But you know, he had a lot of nice benefits working at Kodak. That just doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody has that job.

Ada 22:31

Yeah. Not one person with that job now.

Nancy 22:33

No. But the last thing I want to mention is this, because I was so glad you wrote about it, is the breathtaking and heartbreaking lack of information around perimenopause. And I have to set this up with… if you guys seen the Baroness Von Sketch skit, I’ll link it into the show notes. But it’s basically just this woman talking to her friends, her mother, her doctor, going, “I don’t know. Is it perimenopause? Is it? Is it? I’m hot? I don’t know, is it? It can’t be. Is it?” And nobody knows the answer. And that’s what Ada writes about. Nobody knows. And why is that?  Because the medical community has done very, very little research on this issue that affects 50% of the population. And that makes me furious. That part of it just made me so mad to think about, of course they didn’t study it. Because most of the researchers never had a hot flash. Because they were men.

Ada 23:22

Yeah, no, it’s pretty infuriating. And I talked to a lot of medical experts. And they said, frankly, the menopause field doesn’t pay very well. And so, people go into delivering babies and other fun things and they don’t spend the time really studying how menopause works in women’s bodies.

Nancy 23:42

I’m going to leave a link, you included this in the book and I’m going to leave a link in the show notes to Find a menopause practitioner, because there are people who specialize in the field. I didn’t even know that.

Ada 23:54

I didn’t know that either. I will say that, you know, I am pretty well educated. I live in a major city, I have health insurance, I have means. And I have had a lot of trouble finding a doctor who takes my insurance who is also certified by the North American Menopause Society who is taking new patients. It’s a challenge for all of us. Right?

Nancy 24:15

Well, I think the thing that saves me is my doctor is a woman who’s 10 years older than me, so everything I go through, she’s experienced personally, and I can talk really frankly with her about it. So that’s been good, but I will include the Baroness Von Sketch thing because it killed me. I laughed so hard.

All right, so now we’re going to pivot to the part where we talk about solutions where Ada does not solve the entire set of problems in the world, but I think she shines a lot of light on them. And the first thing I want to say is, it’s not our problem to solve alone, all these issues that that are keeping GenX women from sleeping at night, right? You know, it’s this idea of women holding up half the sky people we’re doing all these things that nobody even sees us doing, to try to make things okay for everyone else around us and that’s what’s keeping us up at night. That’s a major part of the problem.

Ada 25:03

Yeah, I think that’s very well said. And I think that, to me, that was the main goal of the book was just to say, you know, we don’t talk about women and we don’t talk about what women do in the world, because I think it’s not very glamorous. Often it’s not the midlife crisis that men have in novels, and in Michael Douglas movies, where, you know, it’s very dramatic and exciting to watch, or, you know, the American Beauty where all of that is what we think of, when we think about midlife crises. But I think for women, often it’s much quieter. And we are just working through it. We’re working hard, as you know, in all these different areas.

Nancy 25:44

Did you ever read the book Maxed Out by Katrina Alcorn?

Ada 25:47

No, I heard about it, I haven’t read it.

Nancy 25:49

So, she’s been a past guest, I’ll link to her episode as well. But you know, it’s, it’s this idea that, “lean in” is great if you have five nannies and tons of support. But for the rest of us, there’s some really specific things we need: free, great childcare or flexible work schedules. And it’s not necessarily in our power to fix those things. It’s got to be a much bigger conversation. And so, anything like that book Maxed Out or your book that elevates the conversation and raises the profile, I think, is really helpful.

Ada 26:25

I also hope that it counteracts the expectations we were raised with. I think Generation X was told you can do anything, you can have it all you can, you can do…


Yeah, Ada. We’re all the Enjoli women. Okay, we all can do that.


And we can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan.

Nancy 26:44

Yeah, and buy our perfume at the drugstore. We can do all those things.

Ada 26:49

I bought some of that on eBay. I found some actually. It’s pretty awful.

Nancy 26:54

I was just going to say, is it as bad as I remember? Because it was not good.

Ada 26:58

It’s not a good perfume. Yeah, no, it’s not good.

Nancy 27:00

I mean, you’re right. It’s the messaging that we grew up with. And it’s, it’s the idea of looking at it and saying that didn’t work that and it’s sure not gonna work now.

Ada 27:09

Yes. And I think that it’s hard to deprogram ourselves, I still have it, where I’m like, No, I’ve done this and this and this, but it’s not enough. Nothing’s ever enough. And that was a refrain I kept hearing from women, where they would say, Oh, you know, I have this family. But I never had a career, what did I do wrong, that I didn’t do that too? Or vice versa? And I think we really were sold a bill of goods. I think that we were told that all this was possible. And it’s not. It’s not all possible, right?


One of the other things you talk about is reframing. Do you want to describe what that is?


Yeah. So, I teach memoir classes sometimes. And one thing that I find really cathartic about the process of writing memoirs, and helping people do it is looking at your life as a story and trying to say, “Who are the good guys in the story? Who are the bad guys in the story? You know, what is the beginning, middle and end? And what were the turning points?” And I think if you’re able to really do that, and to try to come up with a turning point where it gets better, maybe learn things, and you can put yourself on an upslope narratively… I think it can, it can really help you see your life in a new way.

Nancy 28:17

This is the point where I think your book and my book, kind of have a little Venn diagram overlap, because in the process of writing the 50 thank you letters that I wrote, you know, that I write about in The Thank-You Project, sitting down once a week to think about my relationship with 50 different people was a really good way to reframe. In looking at, digging into why I was grateful to someone and how they had helped me, it was very useful in letting go some past resentments and also getting some perspective and looking back over time and say, “No, I didn’t even realize at the time that I got this good thing out of this seemingly bad situation.” Because some of the letters I wrote but didn’t send to, you know, ex boyfriends or terrible bosses, because I could tell with the gift of experience that that I’d actually benefited from it. So, I do think the reframing is a really powerful coping mechanism, as you’re passing through the years between being hip and breaking one.

I had also noted that you talked about patience and just waiting it out a little bit. I told you, I’m 10 years down the road from you. And I really do think it gets better. I do think it gets easier.

Ada 29:31

I do keep hearing that. And I’m holding on to it. Like, that this is a rough time of life, especially the years leading up to menopause, emotionally and physically are really rough. And then this is the time when, yeah, your kids are theoretically in really needy stages and your parents are probably sick and there are just a lot of forces at work against you. So, I think just knowing that it’s going to come to an end has helped me and then the other thing I’ll say is that getting support from other women has been huge for me.

So, starting clubs, joining clubs… this is something that our mothers and grandmothers did, between consciousness raising, and you know, the stitch and bitch and the coffee clubs and all that stuff. They did that. And I think we threw it out because we were too busy. And I think we need it. I need it.

Nancy 30:21

Yeah. And it’s and it’s hard too because, and this is it goes across generations, I think the fact that we’re all digitally connected has given a blow to some of our real-life relationships, right? You know, you’re not as likely to get in your car and go meet somebody for coffee if you can just text them and there’s a different quality to the relationship when it’s in person versus digital. And I think we, just as much as we encourage our kids to develop skills and be able to move around in the world in real life… I think we sometimes need to remind ourselves to do that too.

Ada 30:54

I mean, I definitely have benefited from in person meetings and coffee dates and all that SO much more than from hours and hours and hours spent online. I don’t feel good after I go on social media and even if people are saying nice things or whatever, it just it doesn’t feel the same because I’m just still in my house staring at a screen.

Nancy 31:15

And my thumbs start to hurt after a while. I’m gonna be honest, my thumbs get swollen. I can’t do it. Just meet me outside. Yeah. And the other thing of course is the under-eye masks. Those, I recommend. You may not need them now. I can’t remember the brand I use but I got them online and that has made me feel better about being unable to sleep. I can mask it better than I did.

Ada 31:44

I’m here for all serums and anything else. I was out last night with some girlfriends and we were comparing notes on all of our different bottles.

Nancy 31:47

Oh, my 21-year-old daughter who’s home from college told me told me that she’s now “obsessed with skincare”. I said, “Welcome to the Club of Womanhood. Do you want to talk about hyaluronic acid? I can talk about it for hours.”

So for somebody who’s listening, Ada, is there a quick hit that you recommend, something they can do right now to feel better, sleep better, feel less alone when it comes to all of these pressures that we have at midlife as GenXers?

Ada 32:12

I think start a club. I know it seems counterintuitive because it’s doing something else. But you know, figure out something that’s once a month, where you get together with two to 20 of your closest women friends around something. ANYTHING that’s fun or pleasurable. I just think we have we need more pleasure and joy and connection


That’s such a great idea. What’s yours that you do?

Ada 32:34

Mine is called Sob Sisters. That’s my club that I started with two journalist friends of mine, because they used to call women journalists “sob sisters” in the ‘30s in a sort of dismissive way. “Oh, they’re just getting the sappy tearjerker stories in the courtroom. They’re not real journalists.” And so, we reclaimed that name. And we have a bunch of really cool women who meet up once a month and have lots of drinks. And we do readings, it’s great.

Nancy 32:59

Awesome. I have my Giving Circle. I do that quarterly with my friends here in Oakland, where we get together at somebody’s house and pool our funds and donate it to an organization that one of the members has presented. So, we’re going to be doing that the night after this airs. We’re doing our first one on 2020. Yeah, spend the first hour drinking wine and gossiping about our husbands. It’s fantastic.

All right. I have one last question for you. What one piece of advice do you have for people younger than you, or do you wish you could go back and tell yourself?

Ada 33:30

Oh, boy. I think that I just would tell myself to have less expectation for myself. I know it sounds bad, because it is good to aim high and to reach for the stars and all that. But I think I put so much pressure on myself to do everything and do everything perfectly. And so many women I know also did that, where they just they felt like they had to nail it and absolutely aspect of their lives and they judge themselves not just on one thing, not just on, “Do I have a nice home or do I have a good job?” but on those things plus, you know,  How do I look?” Plus, “Am I giving back?”


Plus, “Am I earning enough money? Am I doing enough for my parents?”


All of it. And I just think you can only pick a couple things to really care about. That’s my advice. Pick some. Don’t pick them all.

Nancy 34:18

That is great advice. Give yourself a little bit of a break. I don’t know why. I find myself coming back to the thing over and over again: What would you say if it was happening to a friend and not to you?  Would you yell at your friend for not being perfect in every arena? No, of course not.


That’s good. I like that.


Treat yourself as well as you would treat a complete stranger. All right, Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. It’s out this month. You guys, definitely check it out. And thank you so much for being on the show. I really enjoyed talking with you.

Ada 34:51

So did I! Thank you very much.


Nancy 34:57

See, it’s not just you. And you’re not imagining it.

Let me know what you thought of this episode! You can email me at, you can tell me via Facebook or Instagram or Twitter @midlifemixtape. I’d love to hear whether you have plans to, or maybe you’re already doing what Ada suggested at the end of the episode, starting or joining a club, or doing some other regular social activity with your friends to help get through some of the harder parts of this phase of life. Let me know!

Okay, that’s it for me. I swear. I mean this time, no more podcasting for a bit. Unless I change my mind do another podcast episode. So, here’s to 2020 you guys. Let’s get out there make it matter.

[THEME MUSIC – “Be Free” by M. The Heir Apparent]

Transcribed by


The post Ep 69 “Why We Can’t Sleep” Author Ada Calhoun appeared first on Midlife Mixtape .

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