I doubt everyone has a midlife ‘crisis’, but I know a lot of people who are having one or have torn their lives apart as a result of one. I actually think of it more as a ‘waking up’ than a crisis. I was talking with a girlfriend this morning who said she thought she was having a midlife crisis, and I assured her she probably was. She is right on time, and she’s very busy working on figuring out who she is and how to solve the current issues in her life. She feels really energized by the whole pursuit right now but also very scared and a bit panicked about what may come next. When I mentioned my ‘waking up’ theory, she said she felt exactly the same way. “Where the hell have I been the last 10 years??!!” she said. I felt I had a 20-year-long sleeping period when I went through my midlife ‘awakening’.
All I have is personal conjecture on this, but I’ve talked with a lot of people about the ‘stuff’ in their lives, and big changes do seem to happen during midlife. Everyone seems to be rolling along in their 20s, 30s and maybe even 40s, and then something happens that causes people to wake up. Unfortunately, if people are married, it usually doesn’t happen to both of them in the same way and at the same time. The crisis seems to be caused by some combination of an empty nest, career stall, addictions or health issues that bubble up. In most cases, something causes them to re-evaluate where they are and where they want to be. If it’s done subconsciously, things seem to blow up because there’s a knee-jerk reaction to do something – ANYTHING – differently. If something exciting presents itself … a new tattoo … a person of the opposite sex … a new job … a reason to quit a job … a new casino is in town … or any one of a thousand things comes along that seems exciting and different, then that becomes the ticket to happiness.
One of the most catastrophic indicators of a midlife crisis is the midlife affair. This is different from the serial cheater who probably has an addiction and needs help. I have one friend whose husband began to have affairs as his career stalled out, and the industry he had been working in all of his life started to crumble. Another friend began an affair with a woman he was attracted to as soon as his kids left home, and he realized his wife wasn’t really all that interested in him anymore. Many of my friends have had emotional affairs while their workaholic or addicted spouses ignored them. These life situations are really painful, and, as we see those lines start to populate our faces, and our bodies start to fall apart, it’s easy to get panicked and think we have to ‘fix’ it NOW. We don’t have time to prepare ourselves for a new career or do the work to repair a 20-something year marriage that is in serious disrepair. And, heaven forbid, what do we do if we don’t know what is wrong? It seems so much easier to just chuck it all and start over. I wish that we could normalize things like affairs and the other chaos that comes from midlife struggles so that we would talk about it with some understanding instead of making people hide it under the rug – or the sheets – and solve the real issues instead of cause new ones.
Men – as well as women – have a real need to have deep discussions and talk about real feelings. Unfortunately, men often get that confused with the needs of their penis. That’s why my parent’s generation saw the midlife crisis as a man’s dilemna. We offered no help to navigate the powerful feelings at midlife because men were supposed to ‘buck up’ and take care of things. The ‘something different’ showed up as an urge to buy a new sports car and have an affair with the office secretary. Women have all kinds of feelings and fears at midlife, too. Women have more options today, and we’re seeing more women navigating big change during midlife. I cringe every time I hear someone disgusted at a man or woman who handled their ‘midlife crisis’ badly. Perhaps if we had more compassion and awareness that it’s not unusual to question where we’ve ended up in life, the decisions people make would be less costly to all involved. Not everyone has the ability to handle it gracefully. It’s not necessary to blow up your life to create change, but people do because they don’t know what else to do.
I’m not married, and I feel like I’m in a midlife crisis. I have for a couple of years. I wonder if I’m in the right job field. I’m worried about how I’m going to financially support myself into retirement although I’m quite sure I have enough. I worry if there’s a cancer or some ticking time bomb in my body that will rock my world in the next few years. I have sleepless nights where I lay awake and worry about whether or not I need to make a career change or go into business on my own. I worry about who will take care of me when I’m old. I feel lonely. I feel misunderstood on a regular basis. I see the lines on my face, and I feel an extreme sense of urgency to ‘solve’ all of this. Ironically enough, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe I should find somebody to marry to ‘solve’ these issues. It’s not too far of a stretch to see that a married person might think that having an affair or getting a divorce would solve their midlife fears. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side, right?
There are things about midlife that I love. I love the fact that I feel freer to make decisions to change my life than ever before. I have this great knowledge based on experience that things work out no matter what choices I make. That’s really comforting. I have a strong faith that provides me with a foundation that I am not ever truly alone. I have ways to process feelings, and I feel much more comfortable with myself than I ever have. I have less chaos in my life because I’ve finally eliminated a bunch of my own garbage. My hormones are no longer driving my every move. More than anything, I have a spiritual path that helps me address everything. It’s not perfect, and the fears and problems don’t go away, but I can look back and say it’s brought me through some pretty rough stuff. It will bring me through the rest, too. And I do feel finally awake to my life … both the good and the bad.
If you feel like you are having a midlife crisis, here are some resources: