Tangled webs of midlife

I recently spent some time with a friend who caused me to think a little differently about my life, and my path.

It’s strange when that happens – one moment four decades into life you are fairly certainone way or two you have a good handle on where you are and where you are likely to end up. Then after that long conversation or a series of challenges or realizations, you are considering where you might truly want to go and if you should be doing things much differently to get there.

Over the last couple of years, Mr. Bailey and I have witnessed several friends and acquaintances hit a similar, more significant stage, mostly commonly referred to as the mid-life crisis.

It has manifested itself in a variety of ways – affairs, divorces, new sports cars, new homes, 20-something girlfriends and boyfriends, new careers, custody battles, co-parenting scheduling logistics from hell and fresh starts and second marriages.

It’s strange to stand alongside someone who is making radical changes to their life, and it can also be unnerving. The temptation to internalize – or to distance oneself too far – is strong. This could never happen to me, you think one minute, could it? I know exactly how neglected she feels, and don’t I also feel neglected?

But these are not monkey-see sort of situations.

When an individual has the impetus to blow up every part of a well-established life thatbattling oneself generally meets the Maslow needs and involves the innocent lives of their children, it doesn’t happen on a whim. Years of buried anger, resentment, regret, lack of appreciation or half-expressed emotion all play a role. And for some reason there is an internal clock that goes off sometime mid-life, forcing you to wonder – with the time I have left (and who knows how much that is) is this what I want?

When speaking about this to someone they brashly stated they did not believe in mid-life crises. I try not to act like the belief police – and so I absorbed that notion, rolling it around my brain like a good red wine that’s had some time to breathe and tried to place its terroir. I weighed it, I mused on it, and looked up the term “crisis” in the dictionary, as a word wonk like me loves to do. Crisis, defined by my faithful, trustworthy friend Merriam-Webster is “the defining moment.”

It’s fine not to believe in mid-life crisis. But in my experience, they exist. And so do early-life crisis and so do post-college crisis, and post-partum crisis and pre-partum crisis and empty-nest crisis.

As thinking and feeling human beings in relationships with others, we attract crisis. We are complicated creatures. It’s very easy, particularly in an increasingly noisy, distracting and cluttered world, to be so diverted by the banalities of everyday life that we numb out the overarching emotional energies that give us the horsepower to charge our lives, particularly when that energy wanes or does not feel well-placed. Once that begins, it’s much easier to generate numbness than it is to address the broken parts of our hearts, souls and relationships.

And though I’ve had a ringside seat and watched dear friends painfully sort through the
wreckage of a spouse’s mid-life crisis, these reality checks can be positive. They invariably cause growth. They are the way we legitimize our human need to tussle with our reality and rediscover our meaningful place in it.

And here’s another angle: the midlife crises that do blow up families and cause divorces are very visible, but that doesn’t mean there are not hundreds of others that do not inspire such radical results. What aboutkindess not judgment those that create newfound careers, a pursuit of one’s passion, a return to school, a renewal of vows, a new shared hobby, the trip of a lifetime, a fresh start with a beloved spouse, or the reconnection to a soul’s purpose?

They may not make the neighborhood gossip circuit, but my bet is that they are just as likely to occur as those that have tongues wagging from yoga studio to local organic microbrew bar.

In any case, wrestling your way through either crisis is much better than the alternative – a deep denial of feelings or yearnings or reflection, resulting in soul-numbing bitterness you get to cuddle to your grave.

Sounds like a “defining moment” that slipped insidiously by – unnoticed.