Are You An Empty Nexter? (No That’s Not a Typo)
No, my fingers didn’t miss a letter. Empty Nexters are women who struggle with what comes next. They may be empty nesters, or approaching retirement, or wanting a job change. They may be reconsidering a relationship, or preparing for a major birthday, or newly “orphaned” (as both parents have died).
An Empty Nexter is a woman who has met (or not met) all the expectations society has for women — gotten married, raised children, taken care of their husband and the home. She was expected to be polite, not hurt anyone’s feelings, put herself second to others’ needs.
Now, with no societal expectations, she can create her own. Unfortunately, for some women, this throws them into a depression (without understanding why).
“I’m tired of complaining about Bob,” says Marlene. When Suz left for college last August, the house was so quiet. Bob works late; nothing I say will bring him home for dinner. The house feels so empty. We hardly see each other any more. That keeps down the arguments,” she laughs, “but I’m really depressed. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Bertie has a different story. “My mom and dad both died within the past two years. They were old, so it wasn’t a surprise, but I was totally unprepared for my reactions. It’s not that I long for them. It’s more about me; who am I now? My younger sister is all I have left of my family. I don’t know what it means, but it feels weird.”
Alicia looks like she’s the one to have lost her parents. She mopes, “My boss just offered me early retirement – with good benefits. So, why am I so miserable?”
As baby boomers reach a certain period in their lives, they are confronted with the result of life long expectations and social change. As a little girl, you grew up knowing what the expectations were for you: get married, work if you want to but have children, take care of your husband and home, be nice to others, don’t be aggressive, don’t be selfish. By now, you either have met these expectations or you haven’t, but you knew what they were.
Now, with the social changes for women, there are no more expectations for this next phase of your life. The white haired, aproned grandmother isn’t you. On one hand, you’d think that would be great; you can now decide for yourself what you want. However, many women reach this phase without understanding how it is affects them.
They may be like Maureen, adrift in her life without her children to tend and now noticing how empty her marriage is. Or, they are like Bertie, aware time is marching on and they are reaching a new life stage – being an adult orphan or turning 50 or 60. Or, they may be like Alicia, terrified about leaving a career? Terrified of the opportunities of starting a new one.
Many women feel depressed or immobilized. They complain about lack of energy or boredom. They don’t have the words to put to these feelings: they are empty nexters. Breaking old social rules for women, they now can be, indeed, must be selfish and think about themselves. What do they want for themselves now that their duties as a young woman are complete? And even if they understand they have the whole world ahead of them, the fear of all those choices can become immobilizing.
Obviously, your issues are unique to you, but here are some general ideas that might help you think about filling your Empty Next:
- Think back to childhood, young adulthood. What were some of your dreams back then that you lost along the way?
- Read magazines and even want ads. See what topics catch your interest. Don’t apply for anything; just be open to see what draws you.
- Silence the inner voice that says, “I couldn’t,” or “I’d love to, but….”
- Finish this sentence, “I would love to….” Don’t think about it, just write it out and see what words come.
- Whose voice is inside your head saying, “You can’t!”?
- What would your husband and children say if you were to say whatever came at the end of that sentence above?
- What would your mother, father, siblings say if you were to do something entirely new and exciting with your life now?
- Give yourself space to flush out old tears – for lost lovers, lost opportunities.
- Attend a weekend retreat, just for women like you, Empty Nexters, figuring out what comes next.
If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
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