I really hate the term “mid-life crisis.” A guy starts asserting his independence (“I’m sick of working 60 hours a week to buy stuff I hate; I’m changing jobs”), questioning a narrative that never made him happy, gets in much better shape, buys a car he has always wanted but couldn’t have afforded earlier, starts hanging out with fun friends instead of boring ones, and expresses interest in dating someone younger, and suddenly he’s “in crisis.”
What if I told you that going through a mid-life crisis is a good thing, or at least could be?
I say this, because look at the state most guys in their thirties and forties are in: hating their jobs, stuck in romantic relationships where they are little more than walking wallets, out of shape, living vicariously through their children, making their wives and children miserable, relying on pills and/or alcohol to get by, and the time spent hanging with friends (if they have friends) consists of complaining about their current lives while glorifying the “good old days.”
And, research agrees. For the first time, mortality for white, middle-aged men with a high school education is rising. And, it’s not from diabetes or cancer, but from suicides and addiction. So, yes, middle-aged men are in crisis, but it’s not the crisis of enjoying their lives too much.
Yes, the real crisis is that a guy can let himself deteriorate emotionally, physically, and socially to such a degree that attempting to change his life from that deterioration is considered a crisis to those around him.
Sadly, most middle age guys can relate to a lot of what I have just said, even if it is only when secretly reading this article when nobody is watching, for fear everyone will figure out the happy, perfect life they pretend to live is really a sham.
Many guys “went with the flow” and did things they thought would make them happy because everyone told them that’s what happens. They went into debt for a degree they barely use, took out a mortgage they couldn’t afford, and reluctantly worked a job they really didn’t like because they convinced themselves it would just be “temporary.” They knew these things wouldn’t make them happy, but they did them anyway.
So, it is no surprise that some guys wake up one day in their thirties and forties and can’t keep up the dissonance. They start to look for ways to be happy and free again. They get in better shape, improve their personalities, and start becoming more attractive (since it’s never too late for older guys to make these changes). So, maybe it isn’t a mid-life crisis, so much as a mid-life awakening, and it just seems like a crisis to those who still get up each day and know they’ll hate every minute of it, but pretend to those around them that they don’t.
A mid life crisis isn’t just a human thing either: great apes go through them as well. The hypothesis of the researchers who figured out that apes go through mid-life crises is that going through them is actually a good thing, consistent with what I am saying here.
A mid-life crisis is the brain’s way of motivating a person (and great ape) to utilize resources and opportunities while they are still available. Without sounding too morbid, it may be a kind of “this is your life’s peak, so use it or lose it” type of thing.
While this article is geared toward men, trust me that I know that women go through the exact same things I mentioned above: settling, living fake and unhappy lives, staying with unappreciative kids and spouses, etc.
Of course, I am not advocating abandoning your family, or acting like an immature teen again; however, I am saying that questioning a narrative that hasn’t worked, no matter how late in life, is not a crisis so much as an opportunity.