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Our Etch-A-Sketch Moment

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In NextTribe, an online and real-life community for women co-founded by Jeannie Ralston, life starts after 45.

Photo by Fajar Hassan

Here’s an ironic twist to getting older: Just after you get your kids through their adolescence—Surprise!—you end up in a second adolescence of your own. At least that’s how the menopausal, post-kids phase feels to a lot of us. The two life stages have a lot in common: raging hormones, self-doubt, recklessness, tumultuous relationships and the looming question of what we will do with the rest of our lives.

The thing that got us through our teen years, if you remember back,was a gang of die-hard friends. And research and good sense tell us that’s what will get us through the years when the weight of birthday candles could sink a cake.

This is one reason I launched a new web magazine, nexttribe.com, in February, with my business partner, Lori Seekatz. We provide an online community for women 45 and older who want to age boldly—our tag line—and to help them feel heard, understood and relevant. We publish essays and articles from top writers from throughout the country (and also first-time authors with great stories and insights) about the condition that’s been called “aging while female.” We offer inspiration, consolation, information and advice—all with a healthy dose of irreverence—on subjects as varied as the consequences of climate change to the consequences of not doing your kegels. We like to think we talk to our readers the way they talk to each other.
 But we want to take this a step forward. We don’t want our community to exist only in a digital world. We know it can be hard to make new friends at this stage in our lives. We don’t have young kids to hook us up with other mothers. Friends move. We move. Life changes. In a survey of our readers, we found they overwhelmingly want a vehicle to meet new friends and make new connections.
So, we are responding by creating an in-the-flesh community for women. The tech world calls this phenomenon “URL to IRL,” as all websites have a URL and IRL is text speak for “in real life.” But we don’t need a fancy term or the tech world’s blessing. We think of it as an essential, logical and even retro step to get women in one room, talking and laughing and comparing notes. There’s nothing quite like the magic that happens there.

We truly believe new bonds like this can change lives. Study after study has found having a strong social network keeps people healthier, reducing the risk of devastating diseases such as dementia and heart ailments, and boosting recovery rates for those who do become sick. Even if we have men in our lives, we think it’s important to go through this stage with those who have the same swinging moods and sagging body parts. 

Our test market for this concept is Austin because Lori and I have lived in Central Texas for 20-plus years. If all goes well here, we’ll take the idea to other cities. Members of our real-life social network will be able to take part in classes, excursions and a host of social and cultural events, sometimes related to articles published on the site. Often, our members will get discounted tickets and goodies because companies and restaurants recognize women our age have deep pockets and discerning taste.

Members can create their own events as well. Online profiles help women find others with similar interests and blocks of free time. NextTribe members will also save on NextTribe trips to remarkable destinations. These trips will be open to readers nationwide, but Austin members will get first dibs and a discount. Our inaugural trip is to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during the Day of the Dead festival. Other adventures planned for 2018 include a ski trip, a yoga retreat and an outdoor adventure in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Our Austin tribe has started to coalesce at weekly happy hours and weekly lunch gatherings. The first event at the end of July saw more than 130 bright, accomplished women gather together in a restaurant in East Austin. Many women came alone, and several were talked into coming by a husband or daughter. One woman’s sister dropped her off at the restaurant to make sure she didn’t chicken out. By the end of the raucous two-hour happy hour, women were sitting or standing in lively clusters, exchanging contact information not for business

purposes, but as the first step toward friendship.

Some pessimistic people see this age—the outside edge of midlife—as the beginning of the end. We couldn’t disagree more. We see this time as our Etch-a-Sketch moment, when we can shake the screen and start a new phase with a clean slate. We’ve got the wisdom, experience and time to shoot off in different directions and to reinvent ourselves. Holding on to others just like us, we think we can skip through the turbulence of this “second adolescence” and look at the future with fresh, albeit slightly far-sighted, eyes.
To learn more about becoming a NextTribe member, visit http://nexttribe.com/membership
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