Midlife crisis. I’m screwing my face up involuntarily just writing the phrase. There are so many damn jokes about it. I’ve been dreading my own for decades now, for far longer than made sense to. Afraid catching myself behaving like the characters on a deck of “Congratulations, You’re Over the Hill!” novelty playing cards.
I suppose my gender has spared me the brunt of it. The classic cartoon embodiment of midlife crisis is a man buying a really expensive sports car and having an affair with a scandalously young woman.
What does that mean for the woman married to him? She gets cheated on, I guess, and maybe left. Discarded like meat that’s gone by its sell-by date.
Ugh. Well, that’s lovely. That’s a lovely role waiting for me.
Well, that was the picture in my childhood anyway. That image has since been updated. There are cougars now, don’t you know, women who are basically doing the same thing. Running off and taking on a much younger lover. Whether that’s before or after the woman in question is summarily discarded for doing something unforgivable like aging remains unclear. Whether said cougar is a jilted lover or an adulteress or whatever.
When Does Midlife Crisis Start?
Setting aside for the moment the strange complication of being polyamorous with all these infidelity scripts flying about willy-nilly (which makes some of it sting less and other aspects of it sting more), there are some other important questions to be asking.
For starters, there’s disagreement on precisely when a midlife crisis starts. Some put it as young as 35 and some say it can start as late as 65 (who is 65 “midlife” for, the Ents?)
As a person in their mid 30s who has a mix of friends both older and younger, I’m starting to see the beginnings of it unfold all around me. And to be quite frank, within me. Well, something I suspect is the dreaded midlife crisis anyway.
Is Midlife Crisis Real? Does It Actually Exist? Or Have We Just Convinced Ourselves That It Does?
Like all cultural ideas, it’s hard to confirm or deny that midlife crisis actually exists outside of our bias, or if we’ve made the whole thing up and convinced ourselves of something that isn’t true. Empirical scrutiny of models of universal discrete life changes hasn’t been encouraging.
However, the fact that people believe that midlife crisis does exist means that it sort of happens anyway. Humans beings are very monkey-see, monkey-do regarding social roles, even when what the monkey saw and did was mostly a fairy tale. (Or a remnant of a former age when the rules were a little different.)
There Seem to Be Many Ways that Midlife Crisis Can Be Set Off and Challenge a Person
It seems that not only are there many ways to have a midlife crisis, there are also many ways that it can be set off and challenge a person.
For some people, it’s about facing the inevitability of death and the loss of an illusion of immortality when you’re confronted by signs of aging that aren’t easy to ignore.
For others, it’s about an obsession with generativity — the idea that you must make an impact on the world before you’re gone, leave something to show that you existed and your life mattered. This can be in the form of offspring, achievements, or a large project that will outlive you.
For still others, the midlife crisis is a matter of the pure ennui that comes because you’ve learned to subsist fairly well. Essentially, the main quest of struggling to survive is over (because you’ve managed to work out the business of supporting yourself financially and practically, through whatever means you’ve devised), and now you’re not sure what to do with yourself. You’ve reached some former conception of success and are still alive but without a mission or purpose.
Anyway, it seems that there’s a lot more to it than the limited scope of the jokes — which seem to revolve around vanity and sex, mostly.
That is, if it actually exists, outside of our collective belief that it does.
Books by Page Turner: