Mid-life crisis — real or imagined? Many men are facing the middle years with fear and apprehension. Here's help to understand the autumn of your life.
THERE comes that moment of truth in everyone's life. You realize one day that your life is stretching out behind you — not in front of you. That your major accomplishments are in the past. Perhaps that you are never going to be president of the company. Or that you will not make it among the wealthy. Crisis. Your life seems at a major crossroads. One part of you responds — keep plodding into the future. Remain calm and stable. The other side of you yearns to try something new, something different. Leave the comfort and security of your job and start your own company. Prove to the world you are not ready to be put out to pasture — that you have it all over those young up-and-comers in the corporate structure. If you are a man, maybe even leave your wife and start all over again with someone half your age. Prove you still have sex appeal, life and virility. Buy a Porsche 944 to fulfill your fantasized racy sports car image. Start wearing blue jeans. Learn to speak the latest teen jargon. Allow your hair to sprout into a short pony tail in the back. Then one day you look in the mirror and staring back at you is a slightly gray, slightly bald, slightly overweight individual that you barely recognize as the imagined you. Crisis. The next thing you know you hear about an old high school buddy who just died of a heart attack while shoveling snow off his driveway. He was only 43. Exactly your age. And you realize you haven't been exercising as you should. Crisis. What can you do to cope with it?
How This Article Came to Be
A few months ago in our Plain Truth planning meeting our executive editor brought in a number of letters containing article ideas for future issues. He began, "I have a number of letters from readers mentioning mid-life crises. Many are asking for help and advice. It's time we tackle this subject." "Good article idea," responded the editor. "It's an important issue in today's world. Who would like to handle this?" Eyes around the room darted from one writer to another. Slowly eyes began to focus on one senior writer. One voice said, "Ron Kelly is the right man for this assignment." "Yes," the editor observed. "Mr. Kelly is the man for the job. His style, his experience with counseling are what we are looking for." After further discussion he turned to the staff secretary and said, "Put down Mr. Kelly for an article on mid-life crisis — perhaps a title will be 'Don't Let Life Pass You By!' Now on to our next subject...." "But, but...," I stammered, mostly under my breath, "I haven't had a mid-life crisis. When I write about husbands and wives I write from the basis of my marital experience. When I write about child rearing I write from knowledge gained by rearing five children. But mid-life crisis? How can I write about that? I'm only 46 years...." Next stop, the library. The card file revealed a wide variety of books on the subject. The vertical file was packed with magazine articles from the past 10 years. "Hmm," I mused, "maybe there is more to this than meets the eye." Oh, we have all heard about it — the mid-life crisis. Most of us (especially those in that age bracket) joke about it. Even a whole new vocabulary has come into vogue. At parties, at the office, in the car pool we talk about having our "mid-life crisis." Someone mentions psychologists are writing more about male menopause. Another says he read one author who said it really wasn't menopause and came up with a new term — "metapause." Then someone asks how many have read author Gail Sheehy's definitive book Passages. It certainly is a subject of great discussion. Especially among those who have entered or are about to enter mid-life.
Defining the Problem
The first order of business is to define just what do we mean, midlife crisis? Some authors write with an assumption everyone is supposed to have one. When you round the corner into the decade of your 40s or on into your 50s you are just going to have a crisis, they theorize. Other researchers, I found, didn't believe there even is such a thing as a mid-life crisis. "It's all in your head, the power of suggestion," they write. Still others brought forth "evidence" that such a crisis is largely biological. That even men have chemical or hormonal changes just as women who go through menopause. All of a sudden there are new terms to understand. Menopause is certainly a familiar one. Most everyone realizes there is a hormonal change, designed by God, in which women reach an age where it is no longer possible to bear children. This change in life occurs normally between the ages of 40 and 50. When it does happen there can be a variety of symptoms. Depression, hot and cold flashes, weight gain or loss, are some of the common problems often associated with female menopause. But other terminologies have come along. Some writers describe what men may go through as male menopause. Better is the phrase "metapause" to apply to this time in a man's life. (The term is derived from the Greek meta, which means a change in form.) Some writers call this period of time "the male climacteric" — a time when sexual responses slow down. Another common phrase for these years is the "gray itch." The bottom line is — whether real or imagined — many men in their late 30s to early 50s will enter a period of doubt, discouragement, bewilderment and sometimes depression. Some will be prompted to precipitous actions that may include quitting a job, unwise and extravagant monetary expenditures, thinking about or even having a sexual affair, and a host of other less consequential actions.
Symptoms vs. the Problem
Sometimes with knowledge comes the possibility for greater pain. It's like an • illness. When you can attach a long, hard-to-pronounce name to it, it sounds much more severe. So "Type A Asian influenza" sounds more ominous than simply saying, "I have the flu." And then there is the power of suggestion. The more a man reads about mid-life and what others are going through, the more he feels he is supposed to have the symptoms. He starts to look for them. Not only does a man see his graying hair and receding hairline, that his size 34 waist now requires size 36 trousers, and that he was passed over in the latest promotions at the office, but he also feels he has been slowing down in his sexual desires. If you hear other men have coped with this by making a pass at a younger girl or that old George is sporting around town in a red two-seater, it's easy to feel that must be the way to do it. What you need to be most careful about is not making tragic mistakes that could destroy your family, cut you off from your friends and make you end up alone and dejected. in what should be the most productive years of your life.
Some of the Causes
Of course some very real situations do occur during these middle years. Some of the fears and realities many face have indeed brought on a "crisis" of mid-life. Let's take a look at some of these changes. One of the first events that may trigger the knowledge you are not as young as you used to be is when the children grow up and leave home. We even have a name for this very normal event in life — "the empty-nest syndrome." A typical couple are married by their mid-20s, have two children and by the time they are in their late 40s they well may be alone in their home. The nest is empty. But is it? Empty? We'll come back to that thought in a moment. Not long after the children leave home, many couples are faced with the reality they have aging parents who are going to need more care. The parents may be now into their 70s. The social security check doesn't cover their needs. Grandpa has really been sick recently and when he dies, Grandma will have to move in. Then there are those grandiose ambitions of success and money that you realize just are not going to be achieved. You actually put out a few resumes to see about changing jobs, but find companies are not looking for someone nearly half a century old. There is always the temptation to compare your accomplishments and successes against others in your neighborhood or the fellows you went to school with 25 years ago. When you find out they became doctors and lawyers and such, you finally realize you are never going to earn as much as they do. Then there is that nagging problem every book and magazine article on the subject of mid-life crisis homes in on-the loss of sexual desire and response. Almost by the power of the suggestion, all of a sudden as the fellows at the office talk more and more about it, you realize you are slowing down. And you wonder if you could attract the attention of a younger woman. The most disconcerting thing I found while researching material for this article was the absolute obsession with sex that dominates most articles and books on the alleged mid-life crisis. And the advice varied from "Don't worry — it's normal to slow down," to, "The best way to alleviate your doubts about your sexual prowess is to have an affair." So you have entered middle age — or you are going to get there in the next few years. What can you do to make it through?
Combating the Problem
First of all, don't overreact to the suggestion everyone has to have a mid-life crisis. We all pass through life. We survive teenage. Enter our 20s. Most marry and have children. We enter professions. The years roll quickly by. One way to combat crisis is to know in advance what to expect. It shouldn't come as a shock that your own children will grow up, go to college or plan a career and desire to marry. They leave home — just as you did. Many couples I know have planned properly for that time in their lives and have made it a most enjoyable time. You do your best to rear the children, set them on the right course. But they have their lives to live — and you have yours. Then there really is not an empty nest. Instead there is a home where a husband and wife can reflect on the joys of years past — and look forward to the joys of the coming years they will spend together. So the first step in coping with these years is to be mentally as well as physically prepared for them. They are going to come. You might as well enjoy them. Each stage of life should be better than the previous one. For example, a happily married couple should now be able to enjoy extra time they will have for one another after the children are gone. And what if you do slow down a little sexually? That's not the end of the world. Life, marriage and love are much more than frequency of sexual relationships. In actuality a considerable number of couples find the years after the wife passes through menopause even more sexually satisfying than the earlier years. Without concern for pregnancy a wife may be much more responsive. And even if frequency may diminish somewhat in the 50s, 60s or 70s, the quality of emotion, feeling and love should continue to grow. And that brings me to a second and perhaps the most important point of all in not letting these midlife concerns get you down. That is, maintain a value and moral system based on God's law. If you know and know that you know you should not, cannot and will not compromise God's law, you will be able to cope with any crisis that may arise. You won't cheat on your wife. You won't wonder if you can still attract the girls. You won't look twice at your neighbor's wife. That part of the problem simply boils down to one's value system and character. Today we are bombarded by the permissive and godless philosophy that there are no absolutes — that morals and values are based on situations and that promiscuity is a way of life. But God says combat this problem: "... rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love" (Prov. 5:18-19, RAV). Be faithful to and grow older with the wife of your youth. Another step is to realize your abilities, your strong points and your weaknesses. Nearly everyone wants to have money and the material things money can buy. But not everyone is going to rise to the level of vice-president or president of a company. There will always be middle management careers. There will be foremen on the job sites and there will be office personnel and laborers. The crisis is far more likely to arise if you demand a higher responsibility than the one in which you can make the greatest contribution. Maybe you have read. or heard of the humorous but oh-so-true management principle observed by Dr. Lawrence Peter. He calls his "law" the Peter Principle, which, simply stated, is, "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Wise is the man who achieves his maximum and has the good sense to know if he rises one step further he will not succeed. Thus he can spend his latter years of productivity drawing on the wealth of his experience. There is no need to suffer the crisis of not achieving the presidency he never should have had anyway. That leads us to the next way to combat mid-life crisis. Realize that at age 40 or 50, you still have a quarter century or more of extremely productive years ahead. You are not ready to be put out to pasture just because you have reached some predetermined age that is more than halfway through life. There is no need to worry about the brilliant young executive who is rapidly rising past you. Maybe he is truly brilliant. Maybe his contribution to the job or company may be greater than yours. So what? You have your wife, your grown children, your elderly parents who all love you. You have many years of productive service remaining. It's time to be a "young" grandfather. Bounce those grandkids on your knee. Take them fishing, hiking, skiing. Then you can join in the discussions about mid-life crisis with: "Crisis? What crisis? Who has a mid-life crisis?"
Always Looking Ahead
Another common element to the mid-life crisis I found was that so many people always look back on where they have been — on what they accomplished, or more, what they did not accomplish. The crisis results from realizing that one will not achieve some goal that may have included reaching a position, having status, earning a large salary. Realizing these unrealistic goals will likely not be met can cause sorrow and despair. Life is too short to look back. Don't always dwell on what you wished you would have done. Instead, why not take a realistic look at tomorrow. Set some goals you can reach — short-term goals AND long-term goals. The best example I can cite in this regard is Plain Truth editor in chief, Herbert W. Armstrong. Fifty years ago last month Mr. Armstrong handcranked the first issue of The Plain Truth off an old mimeograph machine. He was then 41 years old. Anyone who has seen that issue might chuckle a little at even calling it a magazine. Today The Plain Truth is one of the highest quality and largest mass-circulation magazines in the world. Mr. Armstrong constantly looks ahead. "The only reason to look back," he states, "is to learn from the mistakes one makes. The first law of success is to establish the right goal"' (By the way, you might like to read his free booklet The Seven Laws Of Success if you haven't already read it.) Not long ago, Mr. Armstrong with a group of department heads in Pasadena was reviewing the past 50 years. He said, "You know, men, I think I have more work yet to accomplish than all that has been done the past 50 years." Of itself, that may not surprise you. But Mr. Armstrong is 91 years old. And he looks forward to what yet must be done even more than to what has been done in the past. Is there not a message in that? Mr. Armstrong has worked hard, hasn't worried about what others accomplished, learned to build his life on the standards of God's laws, and looks for what must be done tomorrow. Face it. You will reach middle age. You will have ups and downs. You may even have a crisis or two. But middle age is not a disease. You don't die from it. You simply live through it. Like you lived through teenage. Or your 30s. When you reach those years — enjoy them, don't endure them. Don't let life pass you by!