My midlife crisis

According to some experts, you can’t have a midlife crisis until you are 40. Supposedly you have it because you suddenly realize that life as you know it is at least half over. Presumably you deal with that realization by doing something that makes you feel younger-such as buying a sports car, having an affair with a college student, or going to a Hannah Montana concert.

I don’t buy it, especially that part about Hannah Montana. That, in particular, would make me feel only one thing: ancient.

More important, I’ve already have two so-called midlife crises-both before the age of 38. Neither one of them had to do with my biological age or the realization that I was going to kick the bucket at some point in the next 40 years. These crises did not cause me to buy a sports car, try skydiving, get a face lift or do anything else to make myself feel younger.

Rather they triggered me to reassess my life and my happiness. Based on my own experiences and those of other women who have contacted me through Project Happily Ever After, I think women potentially can go through three life crises or transitions. They are:

The quarter life crisis: This usually strikes in your 20s. I had mine around age 24. This is when I no longer wanted any of the life goals I’d worked so hard to achieve. I’d majored in journalism, but found little joy as a newspaper reporter. I’d dated my college boyfriend for 4 years, but did not want to marry him. What to do? What to do?

The early midlife crisis: This hits around the mid to late 30s either a few years after having children or a few years after not having them. The triggering factors behind this crisis differ slightly from woman to woman. Some working mothers find that they crave more time with their children, but can’t find a way to balance that craving with their careers and the need to earn enough money to pay the bills. Stay at home mothers generally have it as the youngest child enters first grade. Non-moms have it as their fertility drains away.

No matter the triggering factor, however, the basic sensation is the same. It’s goes like this: I worked so hard to get this job title, marry this man, have these 2.5 kids, and buy this house-but is it really what I want? Where is the meaning in my life? I have everything I thought I ever wanted, but I am not happy!

For me, this particular crisis started around age 36. I found myself eyeing up every single remotely attractive man. I considered getting out of my marriage. I started going to bars alone-just to see what would happen. I began writing essays, a novel, a memoir-all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the writing career I’d built for myself.

The late midlife crisis: I’ve been hearing from a number of women who experience this life shift in their 50s. The kids are grown. They may have been forced to retire early from their careers. Some have survived a health crisis, such as breast cancer. They find themselves trying to find the woman they once knew. They wonder, “Who was she and where did she go? Who am I now?”

After 20 or more years of marriage, these women are also finding the idea of singlehood very attractive and the idea of having an affair even more so.

MIDLIFE POINTERS

Now that I’ve survived two of these life transitions, I can tell you this: the midlife crisis is nothing to fear. It’s a good thing. It’s that kick in the pants you need to get yourself to reassess your marriage, your career, your friendships and your identity. Here’s what to do:

Stop fearing it. Use the malaise, disappointment and disillusionment as a wake up call. Ask yourself, “What specifically am I unhappy about and why?” Ask that question about your:

  • Marriage
  • Friendships
  • Career
  • Parenthood
  • Hobbies and other interests
  • Family relationships

Trust the answers that rise to the surface.

Make a decision. When faced with midlife malaise about any area of your life, you have three choices:

Choice #1: Improve the current situation. For instance, if we’re talking about your marriage, then go to counseling.

Choice #2: Get out of the current situation. Ask for a divorce. Change jobs. Find new friends. Tell your family of origin that they are toxic, and then get an unlisted number.

Choice #3: Do nothing and accept misery.

The vast majority of people opt for choice #3. This choice is so self-destructive though. When you accept misery, you increase the likelihood of making other people miserable, too. You slack off at work, forcing your co-workers to work harder. You are checked out at home, so your kids lose out on having a close connection with their mother.

DO NOT GO FOR #3. JUST DON’T DO IT. Get out of the indecisive spot. Go for #1 or #2-and stick with it. Once you’ve made your choice, do not look back.

Make a plan. Start a Project. Let’s say you’ve decided to stay in your marriage, but you no longer find your husband exciting. Work on teaching him how to excite you. Go to marital counseling. Read martial improvement books. Take a vacation together, without the kids.

Let’s say you are miserable at work and you’ve opted for Choice #2. What will you do next? Think about those career dreams that you’ve always wanted, but have been too scared to try. Allow yourself to envision that future. Once you see your future, figure out what you need to put in place to get there. Do you need any training? How can you find out more about it? Start networking with people in that field.

Tackle one project at a time, focusing on the area that gives you the most grief first. Break each life improvement project down into small steps. For instance, if you are working on your marriage, work on your sex life, then on romance, then on communication, and so on.

Embrace failure. No one ever achieved success without first skinning a knee or two. You will fail. When you do, embrace it. What can this hardship teach you? Use it to reassess your goals, your methods, and your plan. Then pick yourself back up, strap on a Band-Aid or two, and move forward.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Have you gone through a midlife crisis? What helped you get through it?

15 comments… add one

  • Rob Erbeau November 6, 2008, 9:20 pm

    My midlife crisis cost me my marriage. It came at a time in life when I thought I was invincible and too wise to ever make a major mistake. By the time it was over, I had lost everything: my wife, my house, and my dignity. It took a decade to recover. Not recognizing the crisis while it was occurring was my undoing. So if you find yourself suddenly seeing the world differently, if your friends start acting like you’re acting weird, if you start thinking another spouse would answer all your problems… and you are around the magic age of 45… get some help: you’re having a midlife crisis.

    Reply
  • Dr Carolyn Clansy Miller November 11, 2008, 3:40 pm

    Great post!!! You’re tips are right on target…we need to include you in the textbooks!

    Reply
  • Liz November 30, 2008, 3:17 pm

    Life Passages are transitions; sometimes we need time to get ready for what is next in life; career changes and not retirement is becoming more the norm; we are living so long that multiple careers and multiple marriages are becoming commonplace. Thank you for your insights. I was just trying to figure out, just what is a malaise?

    Reply
  • midlife slices December 28, 2008, 1:37 pm

    Good advice but I don’t think you’ve had the “real” midlife crises yet and I’m afraid when you do have it, you will be shocked. I thought the same way as you until I hit 50 and then it was like a train ran over me and life as I’d known it was a thing of the past and I was totally unprepared for what lie ahead.

    I hope I’m wrong about you……but I’m just sayin…

    Reply
  • David Acai March 29, 2009, 6:33 pm

    This is a great to the point post. Thank you. I am 43 and my mid life crisis started when I sold my company, then decided to go back for my MBA, and had a lot of time on my hands and thats when it started seetin in. But I have heard of others going through thier crisis as young as 34.

    Reply
  • Trish August 18, 2009, 10:04 pm

    I’m so grateful to have found this blog. Thank you for reminding me I’m not and will most never be the only person in the world going through a period of grand reassessment and internal turmoil.

    Reply
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  • preciousmoment January 5, 2011, 12:22 pm

    I am 36 and going thru the early midlife crisis now. It is horrible. The new year just made it worse. I can see nothing good coming out of the next year. No matter what I do to make things better nothing works, I fail at everything. But I still can’t accept just doing nothing, but what is the point if I just fail. What you said spoke to me, and I will try. I know I need to use this as an inspirational time of my life and use the adversity to get my second wind. But I am just so tired of it.
    Thank you for what you do it shows me a glimmer of that mythilogical “hope” I so desperately want to believe in.

    Reply
  • KAPPY September 19, 2011, 3:13 pm

    Where to start!! I’ve been married for almost 17 yrs. We are both 39 yrs old. I thought happily. Like any other marriage we have ups and downs but nothing major. About 3 1/2 yrs ago my husband had an emotional affair. I had suspicions and confronted him. He cried and swore to me it was nothing. He met her a a job related event once and it was only phone conversations. He never saw her again. He never had physical contact with her. He begged me to forgive him that he would prove himself to me. I chose to work through it. We have an 11 yr old daughter and she deserved that much. It was a tough year or so where I was constant worried what if he does it again. I never turned him away or rejected him. Even on days I felt like leaving him for breaking my heart. I cried a lot the first 6 months. I just worked out my inner demons and i got through it without therapy. These past 2 years were, I thought, great. We had a great summer. We went out on the boat almost every weekend. We went on a few family trips with my nieces and nephews to universal studios and Disney and busch gardens. Our sex life was in full swing. Everything seemed wonderful. Last august 31, we had a small argument over a dream I had. He went all off and told me that he loves me but is not sure he is in love with me. Time is passing and he wants to live his life. He wants to party and have fun with his friends without having to worry about coming home at a reasonable time or not coming at all. He needs time to sort out his feelings. Wow was my response. What happened?? He says he’s been unhappy for at least a year now but he was waiting. When I asked about the wonderful summer we just had he had no answer.
    We agreed we would “separate” while living in the same house. I wouldn’t question where he goes or comes. I wouldn’t call him unless it was related to our daughter. I moved to the spare room. This lasted about a week before he started calling and texting me. In about two weeks he invites me over to his room and we slept together. Things looked like they were going on the right track. About 4 weeks later I get another speech on how he is just not feeling it. He feels trapped and wants to run away. Again I leave to the spare room. We would set up dinner dates just us without my daughter. It seemed like slowly we were getting somewhere. It didn’t seem hopeless. Then the first week of January he again tells me that it’s just not working and he feels his life is paused. He needs to live cause he’s not getting any younger. He starts again going out with his friends but instead of once or twice a week, almost every night til 4-5 am. I say nothing to him. I don’t argue or fight what he wants to do. About a week after valentines day he comes to me again and he tells me that he read a book online that made him realize that had to try to make this work for the sake of our daughter. That she deserves that much. I agree and tell him we can work through this. He even tells me he’s willing to maybe try counseling. He says no more distractions or parties. He’s going to concentrate on us. Since then he has been home more. He has still gone out with his friends ( did I mention they are are in their 20′s and single) once every two weeks. Since then i found out he ha a physical affair with a friend of the family for about two months and then hooked up with her again about 2 months ago for supposively just one or two times. He still tells me he doesn’t feel it. He doesn’t know what’s happening to him. He moved out to his moms house exactly one month ago today. We have had
    Very little discussions about us. He tells me he needs to live his life to see what he wants but as of now it’s not me or being married.

    He moved out to his moms house to sort things out in his head and to see what it is that he wants. No signs so far of me being in those plans!!

    Is he having a mid life crisis??? What can I do to help him?? I’m willing to work through it and patiently wait until his feelings come back. But how can I get him to wait too. He keeps talking about leaving. I’m scared if he leaves it’s over. He won’t come back.

    Reply
    • Alisa September 19, 2011, 3:32 pm

      Kappy–It sounds like he’s stringing you along. I would suggest getting as much on with your own life as you can. Be a good mother to your daughter. Find something that fills out outside of your family (and I’m not talking about another man… I just mean good friends, hobbies, interests etc). Really this sounds like more than a midlife crisis to me. This guy just wants to have it all and he’s hurting you and his own daughter in the process.

      Reply
  • Seth Laurent February 28, 2012, 6:33 pm

    Awesome weblog article.Many thanks. Really Cool.

    Reply
  • Sheri September 23, 2012, 9:30 pm

    Well, my crises started about one year ago… I’m 46 now.. I been married 25 years, three children and met husband when I was about 13. Of course it was puppy love until my teens.. He was my first.
    In one year I have lost 50 pounds started working out and finally taking care of myself since my children can take care of themselves now.
    I love my job and my friends just bored to death of my marriage and I guess just want to see what it feels like to be with other men and have the attention I don’t get at home… and even if I got it I am tired of getting it from my long time high school mate.. lol
    Not his fault.. he is a great guy. It’s me! I love him deeply and would never leave him.. never.. kids and I are all very close.
    This is so out of my character that I can’t believe I have been doing the things I am doing! I have had affairs with several men… also married with same situations and I almost call them hook ups! Affair seems to serious and I don’t have feelings for any of them… it’s just mind blowing sex and fun!!! Best I have ever had as a matter of fact. I should be ashamed because this is out of my charachter but I can’t help myself! I hope I will get tired of hooking up and go back to sitting in the recliner online while hubby snores in his! I’m sure I will! But until then I keep doing this thing I’m doing and loving it… I would be devistated if my husband found out because I don’t want to ever hurt him like that..
    However he cheated on the marriage in our 20′s when I was faithfull and I know what pain it caused me…
    I’m not proud of my actions but there is no guilt either!

    Reply
  • Cara February 8, 2013, 1:25 pm

    I’ve found one major factor in how someone deals with a midlife crisis is how traumatic their childhood was when they were young. The more troubled their childhood home life, the more intense their pain and the longer lasting their midlife crisis is.

    I’ve had friends who came from horrible childhoods and left nothing but a path of chaos behind them as they searched for and prioritized their personal happiness above all else.

    But when they don’t recognize what they’re doing, like Rob’s comment above, they finally ‘wake up’, only to be devastated when they find their actions to find happiness or relief from their pain – often confused with happiness – (going out to bars, dating other people, drinking,etc) brought them and everyone they love nothing but heartache.

    Reply
  • sharana hanes May 30, 2013, 3:45 am

    dear alisha
    i m a 46 yr old women in an hollow marraige where i have always been deprived of my emotional and physical needs as my husband always had work and his folks as his interest and also has no sexual drive as well….which had made me lonely n depressed.

    then a young man 15 years younger to me got attracted crazily to me and did any thing to please me climb hill to get a glimpse of me come near my place n lite up crackers which my husband had never ever done for me,go barefoot to the temple to pray for our settled future,as he was keen that i leave my husband and marry him….which i was not willing as i have a son who means the world to me…so he left me as our meeting became a problem as i didnt wanna go all out…he didnt quite like it….so he parted….about 2 months back and i jus cant get him out of my mind as all THE ATTENTION HE GAVE ME MADE ME VERY INVOLVED ,I SPENT THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE WITH HIM EMOTIONALLY, ROMANTICALLY & PHYSICALLY..SO CANT JUST FORGET HIM, BUT HE HAS MOVED ON…
    Sometimes i feel god gave me a chance which i didnt avail &so im responsible for my misery

    i just want him back but am unsure about our future as we have a jarring age gap!

    just wanna know what i did was right or should i have taken the plunge and enjoyed the present or few years of glory and then be prepared for loneliness coz feel he woul have surely left me later on……pl advice how i can stop thinking about him SOME TIPS IF THERE ARE ANY,COZ I M BUSY LIKE A DOG THE WHOLE DAY BUT HE KEEPS HAUNTING ME BEING BUSY DOESNT HELP I NEED SOMETHING ELSE….

    THANKS AND GOD BLESS YOU

    REGARDS

    Reply
  • sharana hanes May 30, 2013, 3:52 am

    I HAVE POSTED MY QUESTION WHEN DO I EXPECT A RESPONSE FROM YOUR SIDE

    THANKS

    Reply

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