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Gut Check: Why Women Our Age Are the Best at Following Our Instincts

Who hasn't made stupid choices against their better judgment? But there's a payoff now. Here's how intuition works and why it gets better as we age.

When my literary agent made the brilliant suggestion that I collaborate with one of her other clients, a former supermodel, it sounded like an awesome project. The glamour girl would tell stories from her life; I’d fictionalize them into a Young Adult book series. “I’ll get you six figures!” my agent squealed. With dollar signs swirling through my head, I was all in, eager to meet the ravishing creature I remembered from the covers of my favorite magazines.

What was I thinking?! The trouble was with the thinking, actually.

Then I did—and every fiber in my being froze while my brain flashed bright as neon: Run! There was no question that this woman was a whack job. Not in a flaky-but-fun Absolutely Fabulous way, but in a mean, narcissistic, borderline personality disorder way. Only guess what: I dove headlong into the project, telling myself that first impressions can be misleading and even if they weren’t, a six-figure deal is worth a little borderline personality disorder. Right?

Wrong. The model’s memories were worthless, and I felt sick during every interview with her, wondering how I’d come up with material to fill one novel, much less a series. The deal we got was barely five figures, and after three complete rewrites neither the model nor the editor were satisfied, demanding that I start from scratch, losing both the novel’s antagonist and love interest. I hit the wall and hired a lawyer to negotiate my exit. Oh, my agent? She’s my ex-agent now.

What was I thinking?! The trouble was thinking, actually. If I’d followed my feelings, I never would have gotten into that awful mess!

We’ve All Done It

Female Intuition: Middle Aged Women Are Best At Following Their Gut

Obey your intuition. Listen to your inner voice. Trust your gut. Who wasn’t raised on these words? Yet I doubt you can approach the mid-century mark and not have at least one major experience where you kicked that primal inner urging to the curb.

For Jill Hrubecky, ignoring her instincts meant a brush with death. She and a pal were having a terrific time at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. After each day of music at the fairgrounds, they enjoyed the city’s famed dining and nightlife in the French Quarter, a short walk from their hotel.

‘I felt an immediate, distinct click inside of  ‘Turn around!’ but I blew it off.

“The concierge was very specific telling us what streets to take to and from the Quarter,” Jill recalls. The ladies followed those directions to the letter—except on their last night. “It was around midnight, and we were chatting away, when I noticed a street sign and realized we were going a different way,” Jill says. “I felt an immediate, distinct click inside of ‘Bad idea!’ and ‘Turn around!’ but I blew it off and without even mentioning it to my friend kept on going.”

That’s when three young hoods jumped out from behind a parked car. One of them had a gun. Nobody said a word. Jill’s cross-body bag was yanked off; she saw her friend hand over her purse. Then came a loud sound and a burning sensation; Jill fell back against a wall. There was another crazy popping noise before the thieves ran off to cries from somewhere of “Call 911!!” It wasn’t till she saw the blood that Jill knew she’d been shot. The bullet entered her shoulder and exited cleanly through her arm; she later she learned that the second bullet had grazed the top of her companion’s head. Obviously, an extremely dangerous way to learn that one should heed one’s intuition.

Female Intuition: Heart Versus Gut

“I knew he was trouble!”: That pretty much sums up the sentiment women shared with me in describing instances where they denied their gut over some guy. “My inner voice whispered, then hollered, ‘manipulative asshole!’ but my heart cooed, ‘how romantic!’” Della Sweet says of the on-paper perfect dude who’d been pursuing her big time.

‘My inner voice whispered, then hollered, ‘manipulative asshole!’ but my heart cooed, ‘how romantic!’

Of course, she got deeply involved with him. Of course, he treated her horribly. “First he cheated with a pretty blonde. Then he slept with a friend, and when I confronted him he told me to get over it,” she says. He also did “little things,” like promising to come to her parents’ home for Christmas with a present of a puppy for her dad—and not showing up. To break free of his hold on her, Della wound up moving across the country “like Marcie in the Joni Mitchell song,” she says.

Read More: The Secret of Aging Well Is All About Your Attitude

The Science of Intuition

What exactly is going on in these situations? “Intuition is nonlinear knowledge that comes to us through different levels of perception—as flashes, feelings, transmissions, even dreams,” says psychiatrist and intuitive empath Judith Orloff, M.D., author of The Guide to Intuitive Healing. “Unfortunately, in our hyper-intellectualized society, we tend to talk ourselves out of what our intuition tells us.”

While Orloff explains that intuition is associated with the “open, creative” right side of the brain, it’s also literally lodged in the gut: the enteric nervous system, a primary aspect of the autonomic nervous system, which is located in the gastrointestinal tract. “The enteric nervous system conveys information just like the brain, and it is even referred to as our second brain,” she says.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to consult your inner north star on everything and relying on it will become easier

But it’s not that intellect and intuition operate independently. In their book The Good Gut, Stanford University’s Justin and Erica Sonnenburg write about how brain and belly are linked through an extensive network of neurons, chemicals, and hormones that function together to provide us with constant feedback.

What’s more, a 2016 study at the University of New South Wales in Australia found that intuition can be measured and even developed to make faster, more accurate, and more confident decisions. “Ideally we should balance our analytical side with our intuitive side,” says Orloff, who suggests strengthening intuition by asking yourself the right questions: Does this opportunity feel right, or am I trying to make it something that it’s not? Does this person drive my energy up or down?

“The more you work on your intuition and practice listening to it, the more you’ll trust it,” Orloff says. Ultimately, you’ll be able to consult your inner north star on everything and relying on it will become easier—you’ll be less likely to pooh-pooh it in professional and personal situations and especially those potentially dangerous ones where “something” just feels wrong.

The Midlife Female Advantage

Biologically, we may have an edge when it comes to tuning in to our so-called “women’s intuition.” Our female ancestors needed to evaluate situations quickly for species survival (i.e.: Does that saber-toothed tiger want my baby as a snack?). So perhaps we evolved an ability to organize chunks of environmental information better than men.

Another reason to be grateful for our years: We’ve had lots of practice in this realm.

Age also seems to apply. All the women I reached out to on the subject said their intuitive lapses occurred during their 20s and 30s. Another reason to be grateful for our years: We’ve had lots of practice in this realm.

If you ignore intuition once with majorly lousy results, it can be a pivotal lesson learned. Della, for instance, didn’t establish a pattern of falling for jerks. Jill, who still loves to travel and often adventures solo, says, “Whenever I get that inkling of, ‘Maybe I should take a cab instead of walk’ or ‘Maybe I should avoid this neighborhood’ I immediately pay attention to it.”  

As for me, no one has offered six figures to tangle with a psycho supermodel lately. I can only hope that if they do, I’ll heed my gut instead of my greed!

Read More: 3 Words to Tell Yourself When Faced With the (Inevitable) Midlife Indignities


A native Brooklynite, Nina Malkin has written for everyone from hoity-toity fashion magazines to trashy tabloids to The New York Times. She’s the author of six books, including the paranormal romance novel Swoon and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.

A version of this story was originally published in April 2018. 

By Nina Malkin


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