Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Karen Gail Lewis

Laughing about a hot flash—that’s how I met Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, a psychotherapist in private practice in both Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, OH. (See photo at right.) We were standing near each other in a security line at the Cincinnati Airport when I started chuckling to myself about the perfect timing of my sudden rise in temperature. (The guard didn’t have to tell me twice to take off my sweater!) I made some glib remark to Karen about menopause, and we immediately hit it off. A few months later, she came to New York City and we met at the Public Library and had lunch at the Hyatt. We’ve been in contact ever since.

What I love most about Karen is that she's refreshingly honest. I also love that she made a courageous choice in her twenties to never have children. No, she’s not gay. Yes, she’s had a rich love life. But it’s only now, in her 60’s, that she’s started living with a man. In other words, she has shamelessly and joyfully defied societal norms. In addition to her private practice, she runs workshops and retreats and is the author of several books, my favorite of which is With or Without a Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives

In my ongoing quest to find inspiring guest writers for this blog, I invited Dr. Lewis to post an abridged version of her essay Are You an Empty Nexter?

Are You An Empty Nexter?
(No, that's not a typo.)

Empty Nexters are baby boomer women who struggle to figure out what comes next. They may be empty nesters or newly "orphaned" (meaning both parents have died). They may be approaching retirement, wanting a job change, reconsidering a relationship, or preparing for a major birthday.

As little girls, Empty Nexters grew up knowing what society expected of them: To get married, raise children, take care of their husbands and homes, not hurt anyone's feelings, not be aggressive, not be selfish, and always put others’ needs ahead of their own.

Now they have reached the age where there are no more societal expectations of what they should do and be. Now they can create their own expectations. Unfortunately, some women find this rule-less period difficult. They become depressed, blaming it on boredom or their husbands, or they become immobilized, unable to feel good about themselves.

If you're an Empty Nexter, obviously your issues are unique to you. But here are some general ideas that might help you think about filling your Empty Next:

1. Think back to childhood, young adulthood. What were some of your dreams back then that you lost along the way?

2. 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.

3. Silence the inner voice that says, “I couldn’t,” or “I’d love to, but….”

4. Finish this sentence, “I would love to….” Don’t think about it, just write it out and see what words come.

5. Whose voice is inside your head saying, “You can’t!”?

6. What would your husband and children say if you were to say whatever came at the end of that sentence above?

7. What would your mother, father, siblings say if you were to do something entirely new and exciting with your life now?

8. Give yourself space to flush out old tears – for lost lovers, lost opportunities.

9. Attend a weekend retreat, just for women like you, Empty Nexters, figuring out what comes next.

Note:Dr. Lewis's next retreat, "Women Ready for Change," will be held in French Lick, Indiana from November 9-11, 2007. For more information, visit

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