As a therapist focusing mainly on divorce, Virginia Gilbert sees herself less as a confidante to her clients than a publisher.
“My job is to help people tell a story, and to flesh out their story,” she says. “And to tell them, ‘Hey, you can do that. Let’s take some steps to make that happen.’ ” Her approach is directive and solution-focused, informed by her experience working with clients whose high-conflict divorces don't respond to traditional therapeutic interventions and co-parenting paradigms.
Now she finds herself drawing on experience again. This time as a 54-year-old who has no concept of what ‘aging’ is supposed to feel like. “I feel like there’s something about now that what 50-plus looks like, feels like, or thinks is very different from my parents’ era, where 50 felt like the beginning of a long slide down,” she says. “And I’m a big believer in what you tell yourself informs how you feel. If you have all these thoughts about how you’re old and you don’t look as good – well how are you going to feel? That’s just not very inspiring.”
It’s why she has such a hard time with associations like AARP, struggling with both their messaging and imagery. Her mid-life doesn’t feel like a crisis, it feels like a new vitality, an exciting narrative for her going forward.
“You’ve acquired all this wisdom and all of this experience, so why are you going to stare off into the sunset? Why don’t you do something with it?” she says. “People are feeling better, so they’re still having sex, they’re mountain climbing and surfing. These are things you wouldn’t have seen in the old AARP days.”
Sex nowadays is less about trying to relive the glory years of your 20s, she says, and more about redefining what a healthy sex life looks like, or feels like. The same approach applies to changing careers, or taking up new activities, or hobbies, as many of our tribe have done. Comparing anything to your parents’ generation, or a younger generation, is the wrong way forward because in may ways, we’re treading through new territory here.
“Make a list of things that you like doing and do them,” she says. “Set intentions for the week. Be mindful of that and take steps to make them happen.”