STRESS. CRISIS. TRAUMA. As a man, you’ve had your fair share – right? You stagger through adolescence, a no-man’s-land of throbbing acne, screaming hormones, and body parts that grow too fast or too slow. You shake that off – only to fall in love/like/lust. And before you can say “I do!” you inherit a STRESS-FACTORY: marriage, plus mortgage, plus squabbling kids, bigger mortgage, parental ulcers, and even bigger mortgage to send them to schools they hate going to.
At long last (phew!) things begin to settle down. Your ulcers are now healing. Your offspring are now taking out their frustrations on boyfriends, girlfriends, first-time jobs and second-hand cars. You can probably afford to pay someone to mow your lawns. And you and your wife may still even like each other.
But then, one day, out of the blue … WHAM! You get flattened!
It’s (gasp!) your MALE MIDLIFE CRISIS! And you didn’t even know there was such a thing …
Mark: “It’s like I’m trapped down this dark tunnel … realising I can’t go back. The tunnel winds around a bit, so I can’t see the end. And I can’t turn left or right – I’ve just got to keep going forward! Every now and then, I think I can see just a faint glimmer in the blackness. But is it the light at the end of the tunnel – or a train coming the other way?”
Mark is talking about something that afflicts guys in their middle years. So many guys, in fact, that it’s even got its own psycho-babble name – ‘male menopause’.
And YOU are a prime candidate
- if you’re a male, somewhere between 40 and 60 …
- if you’re fearful, frustrated, and furious …
- if your life seems pointless …
- if your wife doesn’t understand (and YOU don’t either) …
- if you wonder why your kids play that music, where they got those clothes, and how they learned a whole new vocab while you were out of the room …
- if your get-up-and-go has, well, you know …
- if you’ve finally realised that you’ll never be boss, foreman, Prime Minister or CEO …
- if you’ve stopped bragging that you never get depressed, because, lately (secretly) you have been, just a bit …
- and if the thing you’d most like to do right now is chuck it all in, blow your credit cards on a brand new Harley, and roar off into the sunset with a blonde bimbo on the back!
Want the GOOD NEWS? You haven’t gone kinky or crazy. You’re normal enough. You’re having a second attack of adolescence: the Male Midlife Crazies. And you’ll probably survive!
Want the BAD NEWS? This could be a bumpy ride! Your career, your love-life, your marriage, your friendships, your self-image, even your ability to think straight – they could all get bounced around.
WHOOPS! MY MORTALITY IS SHOWING …
You suddenly realise you’re not bullet-proof. You’re going a little grey, perhaps. Or getting a little pot-bellied. Or striking new health problems. Or (shock-horror) losing your sexual stamina.
Midlife often strikes just when everything seems to be coming right. Your job’s a breeze. You’re working-out at the gym. You’ve only eight years left on your mortgage. You looking forward to taking life easy!
Oh sure, you’re not as young as you used to be – but hey, you’re still on top of things.
But then, without warning, Mother Nature sends a great weariness into your bones. Things you’ve always loved doing suddenly bore you to tears. Tasks that you couldn’t wait to get your teeth into now look suspiciously like slavery. And the job that’s always been a breeze now seems grindingly difficult.
Almost overnight, you’ve had a gutsful of being Mr Nice Guy – the loving, alert, relaxed, good-humoured, creative, organised, dedicated, patient, faithful jack-of-all-trades.
In fact, your self-image is beginning to fray at the edges. And that depresses you even more …
“I’ve always enjoyed what I do – I’m good at it. But, all of a sudden, the whole thing seems pointless. Our mortgage looms like a life sentence. And I’m knackered, really knackered. I’ve been working forever with just a couple of weeks off at Christmas. I’d give anything for one of those ‘sabbaticals’ you hear that people take. But no way. Not me! I’m trapped …” (Mark, age 48)
“Slowly it dawned on me that I was constantly angry with my family. The messes they made, the chores they forgot, the money they wasted. It was as if I was spending all my life running around after them, sorting out their fights, paying their bills. And I was the idiot who had to work my butt off. They were using me! They seemed to have become my enemies – and that made me mad …” (Sonny, age 44)
You honestly didn’t plan any of this. It just snuck up on you. And right now, although it’s out of the question (isn’t it?), you have moments when you want to say, “To hell with everything!” …
SHOCK THE NATIVES!
You’re tempted to do something crazy – like running away with a masseuse from Matamata … starting a cat farm in Fiordland … or riding a motorbike into the Kaimanawas and going bush!
“I started fantasising about this woman at work. What would it be like to go to bed with her? Not that I don’t love my wife –
I do. But it just kept happening. Then, one day in the cafeteria she said something that made it clear she felt the same. It was all on if I wanted it, just like that! Suddenly the bottom fell out of my comfortable, routine life …” (Cliff, age 51)
“It had been quite a while since I’d had a game of footie with the kids. And I knew I was thicker round the middle than I used to be. But when I tried running I got an awful shock! I was gasping for breath. I felt horribly sick, and I had to sit down to recover.” (Rick, age 43)
The Male Midlife Crazies: when hard questions circle like vultures, and you can no longer escape them …
HARD QUESTIONS #1
About your job
Your mind starts playing dirty tricks. For years now you’ve sweated and slaved and sacrificed (maybe even your wife and kids!) to get ahead … and what happens?
You end up with a job you could do with your eyes closed – same-old-same-old. And you find yourself asking, “Is this IT – for the next 20 years?”
Or perhaps the job you’ve done well for decades suddenly looms larger-than-life. Your confidence crumbles and fear sneaks in through the cracks: “Can I still hack it?”
Maybe you’ve got where you wanted to get, scored all the promotion you need. But then, with a cruel twist, midlife gets you wondering, “For WHAT? And who gives a rip?”
Even top achievers aren’t immune – as James knows. He’s one of them, a corporate high-flyer. He’s managed large companies, consulted multi-nationals, has a CV crammed with achievements. And yet …
“One day I was out driving – I remember the exact moment – I heard on the four o’clock news that a power company had restructured and there were going to be 145 redundancies, mainly middle management. And it suddenly hit me: ‘Middle management – 45-plus – redundancy – that could happen to ME!’
“I’ve always seen myself as young. Not ‘middle-aged’. But I started to realise that it soon might be me that nobody wants in the workforce!
“That got me questioning my ability to perform. I became paranoid. Yes, I had this project to finish and that contract to quote on – but what then? So, I’d take another job on, and another, and another. I was taking anything!
“This last year’s seen me working like crazy – still haunted by demons that make me ask, what happens in a year’s time?” (James, age 47)
This midlife pressure at work easily spills over onto a marriage – because ‘job-questions’ can come simultaneously for both partners – a point made by relationship counsellor, Clayton Barbeau, when we spoke with him:
“She’s in the middle of menopause – which is physically and emotionally upsetting – and is re-examining her values and goals. She wants new horizons, maybe even a new career … just when he’s worrying that his is coming to an END!
“Now, if they haven’t got a strong foundation holding them together, it can put their marriage under terrible strain. Which is why we see so many midlife divorces.”
HARD QUESTIONS #2
About your health
In the past, it’s been easy to overlook the odd warning your body’s sent you. But now, when you try running with the dog, YOU pant more than he does. The clothes in your wardrobe start shrinking. Your hair begins to recede. And age-spots appear on the backs of your hands …
CHEERFUL NEWS, HUH?
Medical people reckon that the first quarter of your life is spent growing – which takes till you’re about 20. After that, it’s downhill all the way, and you spend the next three-quarters getting old!
Male Midlife is when the body you’ve been so proud of (or have taken for granted) starts to sag and go to pot …
“One weekend while sanding my boat, I discovered I simply couldn’t hold the sander up for more than a few seconds. Something was wrong. To cut a long story short, a specialist informed me I have an auto-immune disease and am never going to get better.
“It could’ve been worse – it might’ve been cancer or I could’ve dropped dead from a heart attack. But even so, I was shattered – totally shattered. It’s taken me a couple of years to get some ‘quality of life’ again. But it’s different. I’ve had to give up a lot of things – and I grieve for them. Just when I believe I’m on top, I think, ‘Nice day for a sail!’ – and, blow me, I start grieving all over again …” (Phil, age 53)
HARD QUESTIONS #3
About your marriage
The Male Midlife Crazies: when a man fears what he didn’t fear before. But who do you tell? How can Mr Macho admit that he’s confused and scared … depressed and disappointed?
“What makes it even harder is that you’re so alone? Most guys I meet in business give the impression they’ve got it all together – they’re successful! And I don’t know too many who let their humanness really show through – their weakness, their doubt, their worry. Either they’re truly on top of it, or they’re putting up a very good smoke-screen …” (James, age 49)
Even your wife can’t help. She can’t possibly know how bad it is … that you fear you’re losing the plot … that you can’t stand the silly things she does, the way she talks? She’s got enough on her plate. She’ll most likely think you’re just being bloody-minded.
To make things worse, you’re slowing down … including sex. You don’t want it so often. It takes longer to get aroused when you do. And you begin to believe those stories about being ‘past it’ …
IN A HO-HUM MARRIAGE …
It’s now all too easy to fantasise about powerful motorbikes, reckless behaviour, and young women who find ‘older men’ attractive. In short, you’re a prime candidate for an affair.
Clay Barbeau shares a typical example: “The guy is married with two teenage kids, has a decent job, and is making good money. He ends up hopping into bed with a woman he knows from work. His wife probably suspects something, but he keeps lying to her.
“Eventually they come to me. She’s sure he’s having an affair, but he says no. He just wants some ‘time out to sort things through’ … wants to move into an apartment ‘on my own’.
“At some point he says, ‘I really love you, dear. But I don’t think I was ever IN-LOVE with you.’
“The moment he makes that statement, I say, ‘And what’s her name?’ He’ll say, ‘What?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, you’re comparing love with in-love. So who are you in-love with?
“He’s making comparisons. There has to be another woman …”
Trouble is, an affair rarely solves problems – it just creates new ones. The fresh woman brings fresh demands, and the younger she is the more complicated they’re likely to be.
Clay Barbeau again: “Once the truth is out, I’ll often tell the guilty party three things:
Up until this moment, you’ve enjoyed a marvellous ingredient in your affair called the ‘fear of discovery’ – and you’ve confused it with love. Well, that’s going to evaporate as of now.
You and your mistress are getting prime-time. Your focus, when you’re together, is totally on one another. There’s no such thing as who’s scrubbing the toilet or taking the rubbish out or running the kid to soccer practice. There’s no drudgery, no daily-ness of life.
Meanwhile, because you’re cheating on your wife, you don’t feel good around her. You feel guilty. So when you’re home, you’ve lost your sexual interest in her and tend to start arguments. Which gives you an excuse to escape from the house and go see the other lady.
“Then I lay out the whole scenario:
If you make a wife out of your mistress and a divorcee out of your wife, you’ll discover, within 18 months, that it’s a terrible mistake. The daily-ness of life will be back. Living with that woman 24 hours a day won’t be any better than living with your wife.
The prime-time aspect will be gone. The fear-of-discovery ‘thrill’ will be over. PLUS your new woman now has to worry about you, because you’re a man who cheated on his wife!
Plus, you’ve now got another woman in your life – your first wife, the mother of your children, with whom you have to talk once a week about visiting the kids, their health, their education, and so on.
“So, immediately, that wonderful, romantic excitement is going to deteriorate.”
YOU’RE NOBODY’S FAVOURITE:
When you were young, ‘playing around’ might have been a bit of a game. But now, ironically, you’re looked on as an embarrassment or a dirty old man …
We asked: is this marital meltdown unavoidable – or can our midlife hero navigate the crisis and maintain his happy home?
Clay Barbeau: “Oh, the situation’s definitely save-able. What’s been missing in this marriage is honesty. And the affair is very often the ‘dynamite’ that blows these people into action. This moment of crisis can also be the time of greatest growth.
“They can begin to talk about what led up to it. She thought they had the ideal marriage – he says no, he wasn’t happy for years because she didn’t pay any attention to this, that or the other thing. And she says, well, she never knew it was important to him – and so on.
“It’s often all based on misunderstanding. I had one couple, been married for 10 years – he says, ‘Well, you don’t want to have kids!’ She says, ‘I do SO – I thought YOU were opposed to the idea?’
“Another couple – he says, ‘You’re more interested in your career than you are in me!’ She says, ‘I thought you LOVED my career. Hey, I’ll quit my job tomorrow if it means we’ll stay married!’
“It always comes back to communication – honest talk.”
CAUGHT AT THE CROSSROADS
If you’ve never heard of Male Menopause, don’t be surprised. It’s a very modern complaint – for one simple reason. Until the 1900s, what we now call middle-age was for most people end-of-life.
You don’t believe us? Well, try this …
During the Bronze Age (3000 to 4000 years ago) people lived, on average, for only 18 years. Even in Ancient Greece, life expectancy was just 20. In the Middle Ages, the average crept up to 31, and by the 1700s it was 37.
In New Zealand, early 1800s, few Maori could expect to live beyond 20. And by 1901, most Pakeha were turning up their toes at around 40-41.
However, during this century, our lifespan has stretched dramatically – we’re now averaging 75 to 85, with women outlasting men!
UNTIL WELL INTO THE 20TH CENTURY …
… adolescence simply didn’t exist … most women died before they reached menopause … and men who reached what we now call middle-age were said to have ‘made old bones’.
So what exactly is this modern complaint?
Well, the experts say it’s a doorway. A crossroads. A time of transition from one stage of life to another.
Remember that other great time of transition – adolescence? Remember the uncertainty, the restlessness, the moods and the downers? Well, midlife’s another dose of the same medicine … and, sometimes, just as terrifying.
Most men hit it sooner or later. Some just feel mildly pooped for a year or two. Others get seriously stuck down that long, black tunnel. But in the long run, midlife should be – and can be – uniquely rewarding …
“If a man handles it right,” says Clay Barbeau, “it can be a time of enormous spiritual growth. A time for sorting out priorities. A time to really examine the purpose of life … how we’ve been spending it … and whether that’s really worthwhile.
“A time for asking, ‘Would I be caught DEAD doing what I’m doing?’”
But there’s the crunch, of course. Because what man likes to accept that he’s getting old? What man enjoys looking ahead and seeing himself as a snowy-haired grandpa in fireside slippers? Little wonder he tries to hide. Little wonder he dresses ‘young’ … or becomes a fitness freak … or hurls himself frantically into a new career.
RUN AWAY! That’s what some men do – abandoning wife, family, commitments, jobs as they charge off in search of the fountain of youth.
Religious men may ditch their faith. Non-believers may find God. It’s like someone takes a pitchfork and turns their whole world upside down.
BURY YOURSELF! That’s what other men do – shaking off that sense of adriftness by becoming workaholics, alcoholics, burnt-out-aholics, or all three.
Wives complain: “I’ve never seen him like this before!” Workmates mutter: “He’s the last one in the world I thought would do that!” Family and friends observe: “It’s so out-of-character!”
But before you conclude you’re going MAD … listen to this: You’re standing at one of life’s great milestones – and a whole new promised land stretches before you.
Adolescence, you’ll recall, is a search for identity. And in middlescence, you’re repeating the same exercise. But instead of struggling to discover what is means to be a grown-up, you now have the chance to become, fully, the PERSON that’s been maturing inside you.
COMING OF AGE
‘The full flowering of you’ may sound a bit soppy. But that’s the reward of middlescence. The chance, at last, to BE the person you’ve been BECOMING all these years …
And while no one can predict exactly what you’re going to feel, or how you’ll turn out at the other end, there are some broad directions you can journey in … if you give yourself permission:
Who you are is more important than what you do
Lots of things you once struggled for may lose their big attraction – success at work, the drive to beat others, the compulsion to earn more money, the need to hurry-hurry-hurry. Life is more than rushing panic-stricken from one responsibility to another. And, freed from the urge to climb higher and faster, you may find real fulfilment in your job.
That can even mean changing it! The second man to walk on the moon later found himself battling a midlife crisis. As a result, Buzz Aldrin left the US Air Force and took up farming.
“My depression,” he told friends, “forced me, at the age of 41, to stop and for the first time examine my life. The circumstances that brought this about were extreme, but I now look upon this experience as one of the most valuable things I have done.
“It taught me to live again!”
Midlife is when you realise that what you DO – driving buses or building houses or balancing books – is not as important as who you ARE.
They matter more than things
Part of the price you’ve paid for the posh home, the new car, the bach at the beach is that you’ve
probably missed out on what you can give others – and what they can give you.
Sure, you may keep working hard for the things you want – but that no longer needs to be your driving force.
IN DAYS TO COME …
You can catch up. Rebuild warmth and openness and friendship. With your family, your colleagues, your kids, your grandkids. And with the beautiful world you live in.
Midlife is when you can rediscover people … recognise their qualities more and their faults less … and ENJOY them like you never have before!
Live longer – look after yourself
No doubt about it – your health is now a priority. And while this is not the time for getting obsessive about it, you do need to take better care of your main-frame.
Fitness, diet and your general appearance (especially on the beach – ask your kids!) can no longer be taken for granted.
But don’t panic – there are many pluses. You know your weaknesses better. You know what you can achieve and what you can’t. And grey hairs really can bring wisdom. You may not move at quite the same speed, but you can enjoy a surer touch as you walk through life.
Fall in love all over again
A great new romance is a prize that’s there for the taking. Work at it together, and your relationship will deepen and grow.
With the lessons you’re learning from life in general – and midlife in particular – you can bring to your partner a greater responsiveness, and to your love-making a greater tenderness.
Is your sex-drive becoming less urgent, less demanding? Don’t worry – it won’t stop. Just ask a South African named Henry Potts and a Pole named Kaspar Raynold: they both became fathers at the age of 105!
And here’s an unexpected perk. For many WOMEN, their own midlife may bring a stronger sex-drive than they’ve known before – and you may yet enjoy greater delights in bed than lots of younger lovers can boast of!
Will I or won’t I?
Midlife, bottom line, involves choices. Lots of choices. And, sadly, many men refuse to face them, running and ducking for cover. They can’t forever escape the future, of course, but they hope, somehow, to postpone it.
Instead of grabbing this opportunity for personal growth and fullness, they strive to get back what’s slipping away. And you can recognise them by their resentment at work – and their bitterness at home.
NOT NICE TO KNOW:
Life, they’ll tell you, has dealt them a cruel blow. There’s always someone else they can blame. They don’t trust anybody. They don’t love anybody. They become mean old men …
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
This isn’t the end-of-the-world – just a new beginning. We’re all busy ‘becoming’ … and we’re all still ‘under construction’.
Midlife doesn’t last forever. You DO come out the other end.
The question isn’t “Will I survive?” but “Will I accept the challenge?”
And that’s something no-one can decide, but you!
Keepers of the Vine