While I was researching for this, I looked up “midlife crisis,” and what I found was pretty astounding.
It’s not a real thing.
We hear about it a lot in popular culture. Often, we joke about it, when referring to those of us who have reached middle age. But, it’s a far from guaranteed psychological phenomenon.
“One study found that 23% of participants had what they called a “midlife crisis,” but in digging deeper, only one-third of those—8% of the total—said the crisis was associated with realizations about aging.
The balance (15% of those surveyed) had experienced major life experiences or transitions such as divorce or loss of a job in middle age and described them as “midlife crisis.” While there is no doubt these events can be traumatic—the associated grief reactions can be indistinguishable from depression.”
The footnotes are from this study, published in 2009. It goes on to say that while midlife is often seen as a period of re-evaluation in adulthood, it only becomes emotionally problematic in a small percentage of adults – many of whom also experienced a traumatic event in midlife.
So, I guess that means I can’t joke about my post-divorce, midlife crisis vehicle, anymore.
According to two additional cited studies, “the condition may occur from the ages of 45–64. Mid-life crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A mid-life crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:
- work or career (or lack thereof) (check)
- spousal relationships (or lack thereof) (also check)
- maturation of children (or lack of children) (yep, this too)
- aging or death of parents (not death, thank God)
- physical changes associated with aging (not reall…okay, check)
Individuals experiencing a mid-life crisis may feel:
- a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished (check)
- a fear of humiliation among more successful colleagues (raises hand in agreement)
- longing to achieve a feeling of youthfulness (more than I may want to admit)
- need to spend more time alone or with certain peers (check)
- a heightened sense of their sexuality or lack thereof (Sure. Why not?)
- ennui, confusion, resentment or anger due to their discontent with their marital, work, health, economic, or social status (Absolutely, every bit of this)
- ambitious to right the missteps they feel they have taken early in life
And, yes, the last one would logically follow…until one realizes the colossal waste of time and energy, and the emotional toll that failure brings to such ambitions.
So, what do we do when certain dreams die?
Example: it had long been a dream of mine to have a family of my own. I put it off, when I was in my 20s for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t about to pass along all of my attendant neuroses to my kids. I wanted to make sure I had a modicum of my sh*t together; and 2) I remain the most ill-equipped person I know to navigate the dating/relationship world. And, I certainly wasn’t relationship material during most – if not all – of that time.
Looking back, it seems as though I settled when I married my ex. I’m not sure I would have described it that way, at the time. We were set to make a life together, and quickly realized how ill equipped either one of us was to do such a thing – financially, emotionally, relationally…all of it. And, while I’m glad we didn’t have kids, given the demise of our marriage, the biggest regret is the waste of time. She needed a better partner than I was capable of being. And, so did I.
That window is all but closed. Having kids at 47 isn’t impossible for a guy. But, raising them at 57…67…different story. I’m not sure that’s even fair to the potential kid involved. Also, that would involve marrying someone 15-20 years younger than me. And, as much as it might be nice to take the stereotypical divorced-guy route: 1) I’m not all that; and 2) much more importantly, that would require dealing with a level of immaturity…the likes of which might drive me to total insanity. I don’t want kids that badly, thank you very much.
So, given all of that, the next best thing would be to land a partner in crime closer to my age, with kids of her own. And, well, being a grandparent is a pretty sweet gig. All the fun and nowhere near the effort. So, there’s that.
One problem: I’m still one of the most ill-equipped people I know to handle the whole scene. I attach too quickly, and – in the past – have overlooked unacceptable behaviors, because: 1) No relationship is perfect; and 2) Being alone sucks. And, just when I think I’ve moved past some of my struggles in this area, I get reminded that, well, no. Not really. They just involve a different set of details.
I’ve spent most of my life as a dreamer – always with some grandiose vision of how my life will eventually turn out. Sometimes, I’ve managed to put those dreams into some sort of action. Such was the case when I pursued a journalism degree and ended up interning at the local alternative weekly – even though I had been denied admission to the School of Journalism, only months before. Such was the case when I became a commercial production director for a group of radio stations – fulfilling a childhood dream of being on the radio, and nurturing both a gift and passion for creating interesting things with audio…something borne out of my very first “escape” from reality, which was music. And, such was the case when I went to work for the City of St. Louis – fulfilling a more recent dream of using my passion for community engagement and neighborhood improvement to address problems in our most challenged parts of the city.
And, in each of those cases, it was self-sabotage that destroyed each of those dreams. I drank my way out of admission to the Journalism school, and allowed the clumsiness and distractions of early sobriety to keep me from focusing on the goal at hand. I allowed myself to plateau, as a radio production professional, during a time when it was becoming increasingly harder to break into the larger markets, and do some of the “bigger” stuff that was part of the dream. And, I allowed addiction and obsession, alcoholism and workaholism, to drive me to the point of complete emptiness, when I lost my job with the City – in addition to losing my marriage, house, financial stability, and what little credibility I had among friends and family.
And, yet, at times, I still envision a life, in which, I’m able to write, produce, create – and that, perhaps, I might be lucky enough that my work reaches a wide audience. These days, I dream of having a home/recording studio/writing and performance space on the family farm. And, I envision having a partner who gets me – who would be 100 percent supportive of even the most outlandish of these endeavors…as I would hope to be of hers.
But, time is short. And, while failure is a part of life, I have very little time to waste in shooting for something that may never happen. I have retirement to consider. And, if I accomplish nothing else, I’d like to be able to walk away from the work world, and do a few of the things that haven’t been possible, right now. That’s gonna take a focused career effort on making as much money as possible within a short period of time. That calls for a slim margin of error.
And, so, once again, I find myself at a place where it seems best to just let certain other dreams die. I’ve long given up on being a rock star. Or, being the kind of journalist who gets to hang with rock stars. Or, even being the kind of producer who gets to work with rock stars. I’ve given up on writing the great investigative story. Or, the great American novel. This, here, is the closest I get to writing every day. And, who really wants to read about me, all the damn time?
And, as far as wanting to share what’s left of my life with someone else? Probably a good idea to let that one go, too. At least, the professional world follows a sense of rules and logic that are easy to navigate – and, therefore, succeed. There is absolutely no logic in matters of the heart. Not a single shred. I don’t have the emotional makeup to withstand it.
And, so it goes.
Yet, if this is as good as it gets, I’ll still take it, because even a life of lonely mediocrity is better than where I came from, eleven months ago. I still get the chance to help others who are trying to get sober learn how to not drink over every. Single. Thing. That happens in their lives. I still get a chance to contribute to the health and well being of that particular fellowship – one that has saved my life, however unremarkable that life may be. I still have the love of my family, and that’s more important than any achievement I could ever amass, or any material good I could ever possess…or any outside relationship I could ever attain. Family is forever.
I’m rebuilding a sense of integrity, which is something that was never 100 percent solid, in the first place. And, I get to serve in an area of my church that allows me to develop certain creative gifts and talents in the service of something much, much greater than me.
So, sure, it feels defeatist of me to say I’m going to let the rest of these ambitions die. And, I haven’t exactly been thrilled with that prospect. I’ve wound my way through the Five Stages of Grief multiple times, and fast enough to make a hummingbird’s head spin.
But, the alternative is to sit in despair, resentment, bitterness and anxiety, over what could have been, or what should be. Not worth it. Ever.
And, I’m not totally alone. I have my dog. Who never judges me. And, that’s more than I can say for 98 percent of the people I encounter on this planet.
So, even in the midst of this, I remain grateful. And, that means I won’t drink. And, that makes all the difference.