Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Middle Aged Look Up

Got an email from a guy I know. He's about twenty years younger than I, and his message reflected what I know as the classic Mid-Life Crisis.

There is some contention about this term, which came from the sixties. Once thought to be common, it now seems to be less of a crisis than a reflective realization. Too, it is much more likely to happen in America than it is in, say, India or Japan. Mostly this seems to be because in the U.S. we exist to serve a youth-culture. (As a baby-boomer, there are more people my age than older or younger, but this is changing as we get older and die off. "He spoke frog," they say. Spoke frog? Yeah. He croaked ...)

And I'm not going quietly, I'm going kicking and screaming, by God ...

What is a mid-life crisis? Well, it is centered around the realization that you ain't getting any younger. You look up, realize you are on the downhill side of life, and you wonder: Is this it? Is this all there is?

Manifestations are varied, and range from physical to emotional. Precipitating factors can be anything, but big ones hit the hardest: Your father dies. A guy you went to high school with keels over from a heart attack. Your kids leave the nest. You get to be a grandpa. You lose your job.

You pass a mirror and notice you've put on a few pounds, there are wrinkles where you didn't used to have any, your hair has gone gray. 

It happens to men and women about equally, though the physical side seems to matter more for women in our country, I think, than it does for men. Scratch ten women on the street and ask them how they think they look, nine will be unhappy with some aspect of their appearance. With men, that ratio seems to be reversed. 

It happens insidiously, too, not just with major life-altering events:

You are at the mall and a group of cute young women passes you. You smile at them and they don't smile back. Or they do, but the smile is one you give to your granny. Or worse, you've suddenly taken a potion more potent than the one Claude Rains created: You have become the Invisible Man. Weighed, measured, and dismissed as naught but an old guy.

The good-looking twenty-s0mething boy checking you out at at the market looks at you and he isn't checking you out. He says, "Have a nice day, ma'am," and quickly turns to smile at the teenaged girl behind you. 

Ma'am? When did that happen?

On your way to work, you wonder why you bother. Nothing about your job but your paycheck drives you to do it. You have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. You read the paper about something you remember as having happened maybe last month, and notice that it actually took place four years ago. The rock group you loved is having its 45th anniversary reunion. 

Whoa! Hold up! Slow down!

What people do to try and get past this varies, too. Traditionally, the attempts are to recapture lost youth. A sporty car. An affair with somebody half your age. Appointments with the plastic surgeon to get this augmented, that lifted, the eyelid tuck or the belly fat sucker. New haircut, plenty of dye. The bucket list comes out. Travel, experiences, that new French restaurant and what the hell, carpe diem. Hurry! Time's a'wasting!

People will try to run with a younger crowd. How sad is it to see a sixty-year-old guy with his hair dyed trying to look as if he belongs with a group of twenty-year-olds? 

Folks throw themselves into learning a new thing, keeping busy, but in the end, those are only temporary fixes. The coming to terms with the notion that you are, in fact, going to get old and die (or maybe die before you get old) is part of what being an adult means. It sucks. But you don't really have a choice, because the reality nudges the fantasy out of the way.

My friend didn't really want to hear all this. I understand. There's a line in Desiderata:

"Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth ..."

That's a hard one. Good luck with it.


Joe said...

At the ripe old age of 53 I have a problem with that line: "Gracefully surrendering the things of youth". My wife of 23 years has hated my lifelong obsession with the martial arts, for, coincidentally. 23 years. I have been a MA student since I was 15, many years before she and I even met. If I've been enjoying something for almost 40 years, how can continuing be a sign of a mid-life crisis?

To my beloved, "surrendering the things of youth" means taking up the same things others in our family age group are doing: golf, golf, more golf, an occasional evening at a casino, and golf.

I can live with my hair turning grey, I don't need a girlfriend, and I accept that every year I'll be running a mile a little slower. But to me going her way would be the real crisis.

Steve Perry said...

never have considered health or fitness things exclusive to youth. Wild partying, drinking til dawn, driving drunk, sowing one's wild oats, those are part of youth's folly which, if we are lucky, we survive.

Working out? Nope, not surrendering that.

steve-vh said...

Considering some of the "older" guys I train with, maybe I should wait until they can't outperform me anymore, then maybe I should consider myself old.

Anonymous said...


You have given me a great laugh while reading the manifestations of "midlife crisis". You really have a knack for comedy. That material is hilarious!

I agree, don't give up what you love as you age. Don't let others define what the appropriate hobbies and sports should be at a given age. Not all of us want to sit in rocking chairs and knit. Not everybody likes golf. Blah!

What do you get when you age?

Discounts at the movie theatre. Discounts on clothing.
Discount menus at restaurants.
People cut you some slack.
You can claim a "senior moment" when you forget something. They sure wouldn't do that for me when I was young. said...

I must append:

Anonymous said...

I must add:

Anonymous said...

But there is this: