Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Myths and Men

A recent Livescience article, titled “The Midlife Crisis is a Total Myth,” argues precisely that, “particularly in its application to men.” Damn, I wish I’d known. I’d have done without mine.

The article quotes several experts, such as life span researcher Alexandra Freund in Zurich: "There is no specific time in life that predisposes you to crisis." I think this expert perspective comes from being too close to the subject matter. We see similar blinders on practitioners in other fields. For decades, mainstream geologists, for example, insisted continental drift (first proposed by a meteorologist) was a total myth even though anyone who looks at a map of Africa and South America can see it. When asked to explain the jigsaw puzzle-like coastlines, the geologists said “coincidence,” because they were educated enough in their field to know there was no mechanism by which continents could drift. (The mechanism turned out to be heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements in the earth.) Well, anyone who looks at the middle aged can see their crises are no myth. I know the next objection already: “That’s just anecdotal evidence.” Well yes, but enough anecdotes become statistical, don’t they?

Perhaps the problem is the word “crisis.” I suspect the professionals are giving the term greater weight than the rest of us do in common parlance. I’m sure the good doctors are correct when they claim that 40-somethings are no more likely to be “in crisis” than teens, 20-somethings or 60-somethings. Yet, while admitting that not all Mean Girls are teenagers and that some problems can affect anyone at any age, does anyone doubt that teens face a peculiar set of anxieties and challenges characteristic of their age group? Are there not difficulties common to 20-somethings and 30-somethings that are less common for teens and seniors? So too for 40-somethings and 50-somethings. Even if the absolute level of stress – measured on some hypothetical objective stress-o-meter – is no greater (perhaps less) at 46 than at 16, it is quite likely to be stress characteristic of that age.

We really do reflect on our lives after 40 and we do it with an awareness that “time is running out” for some major changes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard folks in their 40s make some plaintive remark such as, “I can’t believe my life has turned out this way.” Some do something about it and some don’t, but the remark alone justifies the term “mid-life crisis,” at least in my book. Marrieds consider divorce. Lifelong singles consider marriage – usually (as I did) to someone young and inappropriate. The childless consider children: “If I don’t now, I never will.” Company drones consider starting their own businesses or becoming artists. And yes, Corvettes look more appealing than they have for 20 years.

The middle-age crazy stock characters in books and movies need not be retired yet. He and she have some life left in them, and for good reason.


  1. Oh, it's no myth. When I was working at a video store in a prevalent neighborhood we had a whole set of sports car driving 40 and 50 somethings (men and women) who had young arm candy and were asking us to not let their spouse know that they were renting adult films to enjoy with their arm candy.
    I've warned my wife she has that to look forward too. She warned me back. :)

  2. Maybe you should start saving for the 'vette now.