Feature

How I survived my midlife crisis

In a way, Ryan Gosling helped

I'm pleased to announce that my midlife crisis has come to an uneventful conclusion.

I have emerged untouched by an obscure tattoo, a tennis pro, or the leather seats of a new sports car. I didn't even start wearing cut-off shorts with boots (you're welcome). There should be a parade or a ceremony to mark the ending of this stage of life, a Hallmark card at a minimum.

I'd outline for you the progression of my midlife crisis if it wasn't equal parts boring and personal. Let's just say it started the day I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love and realized that I was supposed to relate to the middle-aged Julianne Moore character, not the twenty-something Emma Stone character. And it ended with the realization that the Julianne Moore stage of life is actually pretty great. What it lacks in excitement and angst, it makes up for in joy and appreciation. Ryan Gosling would have started to get on my nerves anyway. Maybe.

I've been surprised to learn that people engaged in a midlife crisis seek each other out. At first I didn't know if it was the law of attraction or the fact that I'm starting to look a little like Dr. Phil, but people came out of the woodwork to tell me about their crises. Three times in the past year I've asked someone, "How's it going?" only to get the reply "I'm having a midlife crisis." Recently, a colleague began a work-related call with, "Before we start, you should know I'm having a midlife crisis." The shock value ran out pretty quickly. I started telling everyone to take a number and hunker down.

Women dealing with their mid-life crisis tell me about the careers they left behind and that feeling of financial powerlessness that comes with having spent a decade or two as a stay-at-home mom. They tell me about their marriages, that disconnected feeling that begs questions like "What happened to us?" and "What are we going to talk about when the kids leave?" From both men and women I hear the question "What now?" more than anything.

By the time you hit midlife, there's a good chance that you've been doing what you're currently doing for a while. I'd be unloading my dishwasher for the third time on a Saturday and think, "I should really be in France." I mean, I've explored the whole dishwasher thing. I load it, I unload it. I get it. What now?

The midlife crisis is preceded by decades of running at full speed, chasing stuff like promotions and fertility and real estate. When we finally have some subset of what we set out to achieve, we are shocked to find that what we've really been doing is amassing a big pile of responsibilities. We can't just pick up and move to France anymore. We've got too much stuff.

But there is a way through it. I've seen people look at the next 50 years and decide that there are things from their youth that they actually can get back without abandoning the life they've made. Those things are a really satisfying answer to "What's next?" and are often what we loved doing when we were young. A friend of mine is a very talented drummer turned Wall Streeter who, at midlife, has gotten his band back together. He recently invited us to his home to listen to them play, and we were all transported to a younger, freer time. I was inspired. And, because it was mid-life, the beer was imported and the hors d'oeuvres were passed. As my husband noted, everyone there was on drugs, but this time it was Lipitor and Viagra. It was still cool.

The common theme here is the desire to reach back to the excitement of the possibilities of youth. We want to feel like we still have it all ahead of us. Behind us is falling in love for the first time, naturally blond hair, and getting out of bed in the morning without noticing how your back feels. But ahead of us is knowing who we are and maybe having a little more free time to explore that.

So I guess I'm not 24 anymore and Ryan Gosling's probably not going to fix me a complicated cocktail and fall in love with me. I bet Julianne Moore's doing something a little more my speed tonight anyway.

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