The 40s are also a time when many women find that they are at the peak of their career and this comes with added expectations and pressure. While the 20s were spent trying to climb the ladder of success, the 30s were about consolidating your presence in the workplace. But it’s in your 40s, when you have the experience to back your ideas and with the financial strength that you command, that it all comes together for you.

For homemakers too, this is the time when they assert their independence. By this age, a woman realizes that time has passed her by and that she now has to make some changes in her life—to do things her way. Many women show a lot more independence now than they ever did in their lives. When they were younger, they were dependant on their husband or parents. There’s also the feeling that they couldn’t do much to change their situation because the kids were too young. So if women are not happy in their relationships, this is the time that they assert themselves.

But that assertiveness can have a dark side too. I’ve noticed that for certain women, this phase brings out a side of their personality that was dormant for several years. Let me give you an example. My husband and I have been friends with a married couple for many years now. They had a love marriage and now have two children who are in their teens. Ever since we’ve known them, this couple has been very happy. But about three to four years ago, things started to change. I noticed a change in the attitude of the wife. A woman who for so long was happy to just be known as someone’s wife, suddenly was coming into her own. She was a lot more confident and extremely focused on her looks. Whenever the two of us would meet for lunch, she’d only talk about how it was important to be your own person and that now she was keen to do things her own way. She had always been slightly plump, but now she was an active member at her gym and exercised regularly. She had become a completely different person from the one I had known for so many years. I was glad that she was happy with the changes she had made in her life, but was also taken aback by the aggression behind those changes. Soon after, her husband told me that she had been having an affair with a man she met at the gym, and that they had started living separately.

What I realized then was that lakhs of women, after years and years of making adjustments to live according to how their husbands and in-laws want them to, realize that there’s more to life as they get older. The realization that the person they have moulded themselves to be is not what they started out as can be very crushing. And that’s when they start to rebel because they don’t want to be that person anymore. One of the main reasons for this is that women in their 40s often have a lot of free time at hand and don’t know what to do with it. If you aren’t a working woman, you don’t have many positives in your life at this stage. I call that a ‘vacuum’. So the woman either goes on a downward spiral and becomes depressed, or she becomes like my friend—rebels and starts to live life on her own terms.

The woman has to deal with herself for the first time in her adult life. That’s probably why, as I have observed, a lot of couples experience trouble in their marriage in their 40s. Whether you divorce or not depends on what your social environment allows you to do. I always encourage women to work. At 25, if you aren’t a working woman, you don’t realize that you may feel empty when you are older. Starting work at 40, when you have no skills or experience, is not easy! This is also the time when women try to reclaim old friends. Indian women tend to lose touch with their school friends after they get married. But suddenly, in the mid-40s, the friends start reconnecting because all of them have time on their hands. So now, a woman has a social circle of her own that’s not dependant on her husband. A lot of times, the parents of her children’s friends, or neighbours her age, become her friends. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, ‘There is no greater power in the world than the zest of a menopausal woman.’

The symptoms you feel through perimenopause will ultimately influence your actions and reactions. Don’t let these symptoms define you during this stage of your life. The power to help yourself during this time lies with the best person—you.


This is an excerpt taken from Fit At 40 by Dr. Rishma Pai Dhillon: 


About the author: 

Dr. Rishma Dhillon Pai is an Indian gynaecologist. She works as an honorary consultant at Jaslok and Lilavati Hospitals, Mumbai and is a former senior Vice President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.

A distinguished gynaecologist, Dr. Pai has trained in the fields of IVF at Japan and Belgium. Her research interests include infertility, menopause, minimal access surgery (keyhole or endoscopic surgery) and adolescence related issues. Presently the Joint Clinical Secretary of the Mumbai Obstetric and Gynaecological Society and holds the chair of treasurer at the Indian Association of Gynaecological Endoscopists.

The Penguin India Blog

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