These are strange times that we are living in; if one were to follow the narratives carried out in popular media it would be easy to assume that by the time one reaches their 40’s they have figured out the meaning of life and they are flying high and filled with confidence. Rarely do I see in depth narratives about the very real angst that some of us face in our 40’s and for the longest time, I wondered perhaps I was all alone in the jungle of my head wondering who the hell am I?
Recently I have found myself having conversations with other forty something year olds and realized that many of us are grappling with the same issues. To follow passion and bliss, to stick with what is safe and soul draining, to shed our coats that no longer fit comfortably or to suck it all up.
In today’s world the “midlife” crisis is mainly a relic of times long past since for many, the 40’s are no longer seen as “middle aged” but yet an extension of our 30’s. While we may be able to change the definitions and today’s forty something year old most certainly looks better than the forty something year old of long ago, it doesn’t change the reality that in our 40’s, life does start to shift and when it does, damn it…it can spin out of control like a loop to loop sky-ride shaking and rattling our very beings.
For starters, once you hit your 40’s, the reality of our time on this dusty rock being finite starts to become real. It seems to be the age when people start checking out and no matter how much we hate it, death becomes real. It’s also the age when you start noticing in the obituaries that there are other people in their 40’s…except they are no more, they are dead and when you read the obituary of someone who is a peer, it strikes a tiny note of fear in your heart. It’s also the place in life where we often start to see changes in our own parental units if they are still alive and we become aware of their mortality which makes us aware of our own mortality. I come from a family of high achievers in this regard since my mother punched out in her 50’s when I barely into my 30’s thus leaving me with only one parental unit. You best believe, I keep tabs on my Pops, if a day goes by and he hasn’t sent me his daily text, I am calling him. I am not ready to be parent-less yet despite the fact that I am a grown up with a grown up kid. As a fifty something year old friend told me when my mom passed away, when your parents die, it’s a game changer. That’s real.
A forty something year old body still looks good and functions well, don’t put us out to pasture just yet but damn it, my body now requires intentional care and TLC. I am almost at the point of giving up my beloved wine because wine just doesn’t love me like it once did. I asked a few pals about this and they all told me “welcome to the club”…I don’t like this club. Stay up late, drink too much wine and feel like shit. Speaking of feeling like shit, how come the very foods that you once could shovel down, no longer feel as good. Too much grease, meat, sugar and carbs now make me feel like a human blob. Eating healthy in your 40’s seems to be less about notions of maintaining a certain body image and more about avoiding discomfort and heartburn. How come no one told me about this?
Never mind the other bodily changes that start happening, ladies of a certain age you know what I am talking about. I am sorry but Flo’s punctuality at this stage in life is not welcomed. In fact Flo, you really are a pain in the ass at this stage of life and you know why. But I have it on authority from friends in their 50’s and 60’s that I shouldn’t wish you completely gone just yet…not sure why. You are an annoyance!
There are the other shifts that start to take place, the ones that leave us wondering are we happy? By our 40’s, many of us have been in our careers for a number of years, careers we most likely prepped for in our 20’s. Careers that sometimes are no longer the joy that we once envisioned them to be, maybe we have reached the apex of our professional lives which doesn’t sound bad until you realize that change in your 40’s isn’t quite what it was in your 20’s. You have the house, the kids, the partner, the student loan debt, an assortment of other responsibilities and to be frank, none of those things will sit patiently while you figure out which parachute will work best.
This of course leads me to our personal relationships, there is a reason your pals start splitting up in their 40’s and it’s not nearly as tragic as society would have us to believe. Our 40’s seem to be the place where we start assessing and reassessing our lives and sometimes we have to face the fact that the partners and people we have allowed in our lives no longer fit us. The thing about the 40’s that I am learning as I wing my way through this is that for the first time in my life I am starting to feel unencumbered to make decisions about my life that are not influenced by anyone else, decisions born out of a few decades of being an adult and living with the highs and lows of adulthood.
I am starting to think the 40’s are the place where we shed our skin and start to claim the life that we want and that the real crisis comes from the fact that we have to balance our wants, needs and desires with the slew of responsibilities and people we have accumulated in the previous decades. It’s the place where we look mortality in the eye and realize that our time is finite and that now is good time to start seeking what we need and that is what creates the conflict. Because as much as we want what we want, we can’t always make that happen or we can’t do so without going nuclear in our lives. Some of us do hit the nuclear option like Sandra Tsinh Loh in ‘The Madwoman in the Volvo’ where she shares her very real midlife crisis which involved an affair that led to the demise of her stable and good marriage of almost two decades. The affair partner turned out to be the partner she truly needed yet to get to that place it involved a lot of ugliness. I suspect most of us aren’t quite ready to go that route yet sometimes our insistence in wearing a coat that no longer fits comfortably is problematic.
The stakes feel higher at this stage of life which I suspect is part of the crisis, we may not be old but we are also not young. Unsure about this, go spend some time hanging out with a few folks in their early 20’s…having a kid who is 22 reminds me regularly that while I may look youthful. I am not young.
I am at the beginning of this ride and while I suspect I will emerge as a better and stronger person, I know the ride will be rocky. I also suspect that having a few good souls in my life who I can talk openly with about this stuff also makes a difference. So if you are in your 40’s and feeling some cosmic shifts, it’s not you, it’s life and ultimately we will arrive at the next act in our lives wiser and brighter but not without a few battle scars.