A Constant Drizzle of Disappointment
January 5, 2015 1:54 PM   Subscribe

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis In The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch writes about why the forties are such a hard age for so many people.
Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie told me: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.
(Previously on Metafilter: another thoughtful essay by Rauch.)
posted by yankeefog (165 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
 
Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.

YMMV. A lot.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


This isn't complicated. We were promised flying cars and Moon bases, instead we're still arguing over whether God should be taught in public school and The War of Northern Aggression.

No wonder people get cranky about life as their bodies start to fail.

I want my goddamn Moon base, you fuckers
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2015 [55 favorites]


I think I had this when I was about 37. Go me? I was getting panic attacks about my life and about being "stuck" and "trapped" and fantasizing about disappearing and all of that. It eased up on its own, and seemed to be helped by getting involved in local stuff that I cared about. And sometimes booze. Right now, I'm at "eh, could be worse."

Some days my sense of humor is so dark I'm like a walking Cards Against Humanity game, though. I have learned not to voice my jokes with average people on those days, it upsets them.
posted by emjaybee at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


For example, in a 2008 study, Blanchflower and Oswald found the U-curve—with the nadir, on average, at age 46—in 55 of 80 countries where people were asked, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”

I'm 42 and in the thick of this - guess I'd better gird my loins.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:18 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


/looks at watch.

Welp.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


depends largely on what age your child(ren) is/are at a given point.
posted by mmiddle at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


If I look back on my life, I have felt trapped and fantasized about escape since I was about 9 years old. I am 33. I cannot imagine that turning 50 will yield any spontaneous psychic unclenching.
posted by penduluum at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2015 [35 favorites]


I kind of wonder if the people reporting "Actually, this is pretty good." in their 50s haven't simply come to terms with their disappointing situation, and are just accepting the inevitable decline. I'm in my mid-50s and I'm much more nervous/anxious/depressed than I was when I hit 40.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:30 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


When my 60-ish friend was dating a man in his late 60s, they went out together all over the county where they had both grown up. Wherever they went, he was stopped by people who knew him, or would pause to chat with people he recognized. She told me that he was not only naturally gregarious, but also happily served as a reunion organizer/alumni relations-type for his various former schools. And he was so genuinely pleased to introduce her to all of his friends! He was just an outgoing, joyful man. I remember what she said about him, after having dated less social guys: "Even though I spend a lot of time waiting for him to finish chatting, it is such a relief to be with a connected, emotionally competent man!" It was a real lesson for me about the long-term payoff of keeping up good friendships even in this winter our our midlife discontent.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [25 favorites]


I've had an ongoing, deepening midlife crisis since about 25, because I was supposed to do Great Things. Sometimes, I wonder if the moral of that story is that you should belittle your children and tell them they'll never amount to anything, so that they are proud of themselves for whatever they achieve in life. But then, I don't have children, for good reasons.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2015 [50 favorites]


Almost 48... still looking for the midlife crisis to begin. Actually, my life has been one ongoing crisis, so I'm pretty used to the "Is this all?" feeling so maybe I'm spreading the midlife crisis out over my entire life. I'll just have to see.

PS: I too was hoping for that Moon base. And everything Donald Fagen is singing about in I.G.Y.
posted by hz37 at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


depends largely on what age your child(ren) is/are at a given point.

Not if you don't have children. :P

"Midlife crisis" is a meme I just don't accept. Life is full of emotional crisis. Some of them you come to terms with, at least for a while. Some of them you triumph over, and some just go away unceremoniously. Some of them will kick your ass again and again and again. Some of them will hurt people around you too. Age is irrelevant to it. I have worries and struggles at 43 for sure, but I have also overcome things that were killing me when I was 12, and 17, and 22, and 28, and 33, and 37. I don't expect the future to be easier, and if I look back honestly at the emotional mess I was as a kid, I don't expect it to be harder either.
posted by Foosnark at 2:43 PM on January 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


because I was supposed to do Great Things

OMFG yeah this.

I am actually pretty much over it thanks to that great closer of the male midlife, the First Coronary Crisis. Did you know it's a bad thing when your blood pressure is always 190/120? Yeah it took me about a month to realize it wasn't just going to go away, and it was almost dying on the treadmill followed by my first night in a hospital since my tonsillectomy at 5 and 85% blocked LDA and a spiffy new stent and the first time I ever spent out my health insurance deductible and I just did iit AGAIN TODAY for one test and I've taken more pills in the last 10 months than I did in my entire previous life and you know what? I AM STILL ALIVE. Which would probably not be the case if I hadn't gone to the doctor when my blood pressure meter got stuck 13 months ago.

Anyway get off my lawn and I don't need any of that newfangled crap.
posted by localroger at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your whole life, your identity is as a young person. First a child, then an older child, then a teenager or youth, then a young adult. Middle-aged people seem like another species. They are parents, teachers, authority figures, who seem, often, ridiculous, disgusting, or irrelevant. You hit 30 and it's not so bad - you're still you. You're still pretty young. But eventually this comes to an end. You are not really young any more. But you have no idea who this old person is, or how to be a person at all, if you aren't young. You don't feel like what you thought middle-aged people were like. That's, to me, the core of it. Garnish with declining looks, declining health, and despair over whatever circle of mediocrity you have landed in, compared to the brilliant future that you once thought was your birthright, but which failed to appear.
posted by thelonius at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2015 [224 favorites]


Actually, this is pretty good.
posted by twidget at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm just about to turn 39, and I've probably had an existential crisis at least once a day for the last 30 years. I don't see this getting better by the time I turn 50. In fact, since I'm seeing more and more people in my field (pharma research) laid off, replaced by automation/software or foreign PhD's with H-1Bs, I'm kind of expecting to be homeless by then or a casualty in one of the upcoming resource wars. The world that the current, privileged Boomers get to grow old in isn't the same as what will come.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:50 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


While I don't love the physical degradation that has hit, my forties have been happier than my thirties and my thirties were happier than my twenties. I have a better social network, I like where I live better, I enjoy and am more stable in my employment. While I would love to combine my hard-won social eptness with the vigor of my teens, I'll take what I've got.
posted by tavella at 2:51 PM on January 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


For those of us who were told we should do Great Things, here's something it helps to remember:
Buzz Aldrin's dad was always upset that he was the second man on the moon.
Some standards can never be met. I hope to have relaxed and accepted this before I, too, am destroyed in some insurrection or starve from lack of work.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


Yeah, repeatedly I find myself (41) interacting with people much younger and just repeatedly coming back to age. They'll be talking about some insane (to them) problem that they can't handle and I just say "Yup, did that 20 years ago too. Don't worry, you won't care by my age." It's a tiresome habit I'm trying to curb.

I'm not in anything resembling a "corvettes and blondes" midlife crisis, but I have a great job, an ok place, post-divorce but happy about it, and I'm still really "meh." I have nothing crazy day-to-day to complain about, but I am in the midst of this right now.
posted by nevercalm at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was okay up to about age 48; at that point all the "feeling my age" stuff started to happen. Less energy, less endurance, cuts and scrapes started taking longer to heal, unexplained aches and pains started coming and going (mostly coming)... I simply cannot imagine feeling any happier about it as this process continues day by day, week by week, month by month. I can imagine doing no more than simply coming to terms with the fact that I can't do anything about it other than try to stay as healthy as I can (i.e. prolong the process, at best). I imagine the rest of my life as just hanging in there until the bitter end.

That's not to say that I'm an utterly miserable sod. I have friends, my brain still works, I can still do most everything I could ever do. My sense of humor continues unabated.

But behind all that ever lurks the message "...so far..." I'm constantly aware of, and dreading, the inevitable day when that message turns to "not anymore".
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:57 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


(so great post, btw. sorry, neglected to mention)
posted by nevercalm at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


the mid-life crisis is defined by a career trajectory which has almost nothing to do with the individual efforts of the careerist and everything to do with the system of work and promotion you are employed within and the encouragement and conditioning that young people are given to put themselves on this train that they have little understanding of....

yet, you still think it's all about you. How *you* feel at age 4X, rather than the system that put you there.

Which just shows that the conditioning that put you where you are at age 40 is still in full effect.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Easterlin paradox: beyond a certain point, countries don’t get happier as they get richer."

Studies have proven this for individual people as well. It has been found over and over again that money only improves happiness when it brings someone out of poverty level and the person is able to satisfy their needs without struggle. Beyond that middle point money does not increase happiness and in some cases actually decreases it.

I think the reason is the wanting. If what Buddhism says is true- that desire is the main cause of unhappiness, then when you have a lot of extra money at your disposal it's easy for your desire level to rise because you can now buy so many extra things.

My parents grew up on a small island with barely anything and they have remained married for over 40 years. When they moved to America they couldn't believe all the excess and how people just dumped their spouses for newer models. America is a wealthy country and that's why it's all about want, want, want. In America if you're not wanting something they'll tell you you're not "ambitious" enough. With this attitude how can anyone ever be satisfied with the good things they already have?
posted by manderin at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


but the bit about the mid-life crises of chimps and orangutans living in cages at the zoo is pretty darkly funny, if you think about it.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:59 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


fifty-five right now. Started reading the article over Christmas. Put it down because it so utterly did NOT reflect my experience.

I honestly hit the closest thing to what I'd call a mid-life crisis in my mid/late 30s -- that inescapable reality that I was not a kid anymore, my youth was all in the rear view, that aging etc would be an ongoing issue for the rest of my life.

What has hit since my mid-forties are genuine physical issues that cannot be ignored, that never once have I taken a fresh look at and decided, "Actually, this is pretty good.” It ain't. My options are simply far more limited than they once were, which sucks ... but it doesn't mean I'm desperately unhappy, or even feeling the level of angst I experienced in my thirties. That, I'd have to say, was more of a pain.

How did I get out of it? A basic mantra of, "stop dwelling on stuff you cannot change -- focus on things you can change" ... and so on. The maturing process never really stops.
posted by philip-random at 3:00 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


but the bit about the mid-life crises of chimps and orangutans living in cages at the zoo is pretty darkly funny, if you think about it.

i dont know, i think that any creature in a cage for that long has to stretch pretty far to be darkly funny. and im pretty fucking dark.
posted by nevercalm at 3:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was younger, I expected to accomplish a certain modest amount, professionally, and just hoped I could maybe find some personal happiness too--I seriously wondered if I'd ever find a partner, but I knew I was bright.

Entering my 30's, I'd realized I wasn't really going to achieve that amount of professional success, but I'd found a niche in my field. I still really doubted whether I'd ever find a partner, but I could survive that, right? I'd always felt like I'd hit a number of scheduled points in my life early, so I figured I'd had my midlife crisis early and come out of it pretty well.

Surprise, I found a partner not too long after that...but then, about three years ago, I lost my job and realized that in terms of the profession I'd always wanted, I was an utter failure. In terms of health, wealth and sociability, also an utter failure. The past few years, I've realized this is probably my actual "midlife crisis" in the usual way the term is used--I've taken my measure and realized I come up pretty pathetic in pretty much every way except (according to my wife) as a husband (and maybe as a father, but that's still very much in question; I'll try to check back in another ten or twenty years). And I'm OK with that, which probably explains how I got here.
posted by Four Ds at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


You don't feel like what you thought middle-aged people were like.

Right ? That's the weirdest thing about being mid 40s. I keep wondering if I'm doing it wrong, because so far it's pretty awesome. I have actual wealth, and a wealth of knowledge and experience. I can mostly still do what I could when I was younger.

The main source of my angst lately though ? Working. I feel, deeply, that I don't have as much time as I would like and there is so much to see and do and eat and hear and .... Every day at the office is another day of my life. It's not wasted, the income and the 401k and the insurance are all very good things to have.

But, man, I gotta find another way.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


So how old before your job stops making you want to blow your head off with a shotgun in your front yard?

Asking for a friend.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:04 PM on January 5, 2015 [38 favorites]


I'm in the midst of it, too (47), and I think I'm mostly in a state of permanent shock and horror that I am, uh, one of the grown-ups now. As in, the people who used to be the grown-ups are experiencing serious health issues, and dying, and oh my god, I am being forced into having to make Decisions and assume Responsibilities I feel in no way competent or mature enough to take on, all this while I have my own shit to handle. It's frightening.
posted by skybluepink at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


manderin pretty much sums up my approach to life: "In America if you're not wanting something they'll tell you you're not "ambitious" enough. With this attitude how can anyone ever be satisfied with the good things they already have?"

"Doesn't work to her full potential" could be the story of my life if someone else was telling it.

My ambition has always been to do good things in small ways. And have time/space to enjoy the things that make me happy. I can do these things and while also recognizing that my ability to live this way is a privilege.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:09 PM on January 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


I keep wondering when I'm going to be An Adult. My (divorced) parents died within months of each other, just before I turned 30. I had a pretty big existential crisis then, so maybe that was it, and I don't have to have another. That would be nice.

I don't have a fabulous career, but...I don't care. I never cared; I just wanted work that I liked and helped me keep a roof over my head (I guess my lack of ambition does some good after all). I have an awesome partner and some close friends. I am happy - much happier than I was in my 20s.

On preview: "Doesn't work to her full potential" could be the story of my life if someone else was telling it. Ha! /fist-bump
posted by rtha at 3:13 PM on January 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm too young for all this midlife crisis wallowing, but damn it, I hate charts that don't start from 0 on the y-axis.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:14 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wait hold on. I turn 36 at the end of the week and you're telling me it gets worse?

No. No no no no no.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:14 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Birthdays with multiples of five and reflections on where I will be in that much longer resonate with me: I turned twenty in university in the absolute certainty that I would be around for forty (I was right); I turned twenty-five on the road, backpacking around the world and was certain I would live to see fifty (still a little ways off, but I like my chances); birthdays number thirty, thirty-five and forty were all decent enough milestones, although I knew at an actuarial level that my chances of hitting sixty, seventy, and eighty were described by a downward slope. At 45, though, I was taken aback by the brooding knowledge that I will probably not see ninety and thus, there is almost certainly more behind than ahead. I was mildly glum about that for a day or three, but then got past it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh man, can I be in the "doesn't work to her full potential" club too? Nobody else wants to hear me preach the gospel of the self-supporting slacker with a full brunch schedule. Yet.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:18 PM on January 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
posted by Ratio at 3:18 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


My parents are entering the stage in life where they have constant medical issues, increasingly severe. The industry in which I work is usually assessed as either "dying" or "on the way out" (sometimes "in the midst of raze-to-the-ground restructuring"); the constant minor health issues (as mentioned by Greg_Ace) are there.
And yet I'm happy enough, and have been all along. I've always tried to remember how incredibly fortunate I am to live here and now, not to have many obstacles unfairly thrown in my way, escaped major tragedies and bad luck. I try to keep my expectations realistic (Great Things are by definition not achieved by everyone), and, being naturally sanguine, so far so good.
posted by librosegretti at 3:19 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.

This makes me think of one of my favorite posts from my favored watering hole lurk haunt web community before I came to Metafilter: Everything2. I am a pot roast.
posted by duffell at 3:20 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I turn 44 this year. I find that I am happiest when I have money in the bank. That said, we're a single-income family, so I rarely have much money in the bank. That may change in a couple of years.

The happiest I have been in recent years was earlier in 2014. I was stressed about money, and experienced the harbinger of stroke. I changed my diet and started walking a lot. Those were happy times.

I think the most challenging thing is just stress over paying the bills (but I somehow manage to pay them) and working to do it means I rarely have much relaxed time with my kids. That's the most terrible thing.

So I think one reason why people in their 50's may report more satisfaction is because the major challenge of supporting their kids has perhaps been alleviated.

It is funny though - I was remarking to a friend of mine (who is turning 50) that the world seems like a crappy place, and the future isn't as bright as it used to be and he said "you just think that because you're old."

I still wish that I could be around the people who currently mock Dad Rock are themselves mocked for listening to Dad Rock. Because we all get old.
posted by Nevin at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. There's the negative version (we're doomed). That doesn't take much thinking other than wondering if I'm going to have to see it happen. There's the positive version which is better, because then I can consider how a far-future descendent would be able to enjoy her wisdom without having to feel her body slowly disintegrate, because you could grow new parts or what have you.

I don't know why this cheers me up; I'm not going to be around for it. But thinking about a future person like me who can enjoy her old age without fear of pain or suffering or dementia, that makes me happy. I hope she gets to exist. I'd certainly rather think about her than about the horrible things that might happen to me in the next 3-5 decades.
posted by emjaybee at 3:26 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I managed to get through the body-breakdown-terror in accelerated fashion (cancer at 28 will do that to you). I recommend listening to a lot of Queen, and Bohren und der Club of Gore.

I've worked hard on being comfortable with a career that might not reach dizzying heights of accolades and salary, but provides time for family, friends, intellectual pursuits, and physical activity. That last one is paramount, even if it's just walking outdoors.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm 53 and, while some of this resonates with me in that I feel much more content than I did 10 years ago, most of that is (I think) a result of letting go of hopes and dreams rather than achieving anything worthwhile, which makes me regretful at times. One of the things that getting older has done to me is that I have accepted I no longer have the time to achieve the things I had hoped for and need to set my sights lower. A lot lower. I now know that I'll almost certainly never own my own home again and will never own a home outright. I've pretty much given up on ever finding a partner (not that I'm looking in any meaningful way, but it's a big hole in my life after being with the same person for 17 years). Having shed the biggest millstone around my neck, a house and the accompanying mountainous debt, I feel a strange sense of not-loss that I don't think I could have done a few years ago. This has led to something of a re-evaluation of my life goals and I find myself placing much less emphasis on the ideal of owning a home, which was a hugely important thing to me even a year ago. At 53, that's never going to happen and that means I can stop stressing about it.

Having teen and pre-teen children helps stop me sliding completely into crotchety old man mode, I think. Their presence keeps my mind more active than I think it would be otherwise. Working to give them the best possible start in their own lives makes me less depressed about my job. I don't know what the world will be like when my youngest is more or less independent and I don't know how that will make me feel. At this stage, I can't really see a future beyond that point - one where I no longer have people depending on me directly (there is a 16 year gap between my eldest and youngest child, so I've been a parent for well over half my life). 10 or 20 years ago, this would have bothered me, but not now. I've seen enough to know that what will be, will be regardless of whether I worry about it in advance and there's bugger all I can do about it. At 40, I couldn't do that and that seems to be about the age where people start to realise that all their hopes and dreams won't come true if only thy work hard enough - so many external factors have to be right as well and, at 40 or so, people are starting to realise that but aren't yet ready to accept it. That conflict between realisation and acceptance is, I believe, the genesis of the 'middle age crisis'.
posted by dg at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I imagine the rest of my life as just hanging in there until the bitter end.

As a friend of mine liked to say, "There's a fine line between resignation and contentment."
posted by octobersurprise at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


It helps to read lots of Thomas Bernhard, too. YMMV. IANAD.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2015


I'm 42, and I really don't know if I'm in a midlife crisis or just still dealing with the reality that my career actually does suck, at least in comparison to what it used to be. Lot of downward mobility happening in my corner of the universe.

On the other hand, I talked to a friend several years ago who was mid to late forties at the time, and I thought he had the life I wanted. DPhil from Oxford. Perhaps the leading expert in the world, and certainly in America, for his academic niche. Tenured professor at a good school. Stable marriage. Accomplished kids. People pay this guy to travel all over the world, present at conferences in amazing locations, and analyze rare ancient scrolls only a handful of people can access. And he told me that he was dealing with the disappointing thought that he would never get to the level in his career that he wanted. I guess there is a hypothetical level higher than his, but where I stand, it's hard to tell the different between the highest and second-highest floor of the skyscraper when you are stuck on the 15th story.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Based on my observations, it seems like currently it generally sucks far more to be in your 20's than your 40's, at least from an economic and mental health perspective.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just turned 30. If someone had told me I would reach 30 when I was 18--I would've laughed in their face.
posted by sperose at 3:51 PM on January 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


Based on my observations, it seems like currently it generally sucks far more to be in your 20's than your 40's, at least from an economic and mental health perspective

If you are in your 40's and have to start all over in a new career, it's a lot like being in your 20's, except with more debt, more obligations, and burgeoning age-ism among the people who might hire you. More twenty year olds are in sucky positions than forty year olds, but it's double suck to be a forty year old competing with twenty year olds.

/bitter rant mode off
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


Turning 40 tomorrow. Using it as an excuse to consume a lot of wine and fancy cheese tonight. Wine and fancy cheese I wouldn't have appreciated nearly as much previously, so there's that.

Oh what a friend we have in cheeses.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:55 PM on January 5, 2015 [67 favorites]


I'm looking at 40 this year, and my dad just spent two months in the hospital after his pancreas failed out of the clear blue. He's made a complete recovery, but for a while I was sure he wasn't going to make it, or that he had a stroke.

I'm also a few months away from getting married for the first time, and I've got a job that I really like that pays well for the first time. Basically after spending close to a decade dedicating myself to mindless hedonism and time-wasting, I find myself with a meaningful day-to-day existence, just as I'm getting old enough that my body is starting to feel it's age, and people close to me are starting to get old and sick. The combination of the two has set off health anxiety and fear of my own mortality like I haven't had since I was in my late teens and struggling with my loss of faith in God.

I 'fixed' that by filling that howling void of despair with drugs, and keeping busy with creative work and trying to be friends with exciting people. Now I'm filling it with wedding planning and so on, but really the fact that I'm genuinely, head over heels in love for the first time makes the knowledge that it's going to end, and relatively soon (any time is too soon, but I can imagine it from here) far, far worse in my down time than it's ever been before.

I'm hoping keeping busy with kids will make it better. Sometimes I wonder if all we do in life is distract ourselves from the inevitability of death. Because no matter what you do with life, it amounts to nothing after you're gone, at least to you.

I've had some moments in life, though, ecstatic, spiritual experiences, where I thought that life had been worth living, just for that moment. I hope I have more of those, because it isn't true. It wasn't enough. I want more experiences, happy ones, sad ones, boring ones, painful ones, because anything is better than not existing, and the possibility of non-existence is what weighs on me more than anything else these days. Every other struggle in life is minuscule next to that. It's like the black hole in Interstellar. It's like we've already passed the event horizon and we're free falling inexorably to the singularity. At 40, I feel like I can see the moment that I crossed it.
posted by empath at 3:55 PM on January 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


I'm 38. My dad is 76. If you do the math you know that means he had me when I was this age. I have no kids, no wife. I have some great friends and roomies. I have plenty of existential crises, and I constantly have midlife-crises. I'm really hoping that the 40s don't get worse. Cuz that's gonna suck. I know if I survive beyond that, it'll get better (well in theory). You never know what life will throw at you. My sister killed herself a couple months before her 50th birthday. She had a lot of health problems, and I don't think it would have gotten "better" in that front, but I do wonder if she was also dealing with not only failing health and interpersonal problems in general, but "midlife" issues as a whole.

PS If anyone wants to get me a Bugatti Veyron, PM me, thanks.
posted by symbioid at 3:57 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


It is great, I am 46 and I live in the future of 2015.

I saw Back to the Future II in the 1980's and they had a vision of 2015 as:

3D Movies
Self lacing sneakers
Ordering food and beverages via a computer
Hoverboards
Smart clothes
Face to face video conference software
Smartphones
Thumb/Fingerprint security

I don't see the flying cars, the hydrater pizza machines, Pepsi Perfect, or the Cubs winning the World Series. But that is just fine for me.
posted by Orion Blastar at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nobody else wants to hear me preach the gospel of the self-supporting slacker with a full brunch schedule.

Listen? Nope. I want to preach alongside.

Blessed are those who don't work more than part-time, for they shall have more life to spend.
posted by weston at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


PS If anyone wants to get me a Bugatti Veyron, PM me, thanks.

As soon as I've acquired one of my own, I'll be sure to drop you a line.

Don't wait up.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:12 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think about this about once per hour in the middle of the night - which is the same frequency that I have to pee.
posted by vapidave at 4:14 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think I'm learning to see it as the transition from the "idealized self" into the "actual self." Or even the "possible self." You learn that you had impossible dreams, that the graph of how awesome things have been will start to level out, and you grow comfortable with it. It's not a bad feeling, it's just a bitch if you're not prepared for it in any way.
posted by nevercalm at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


This a cultural construct, specific to some but not all nations,people, and, since longevity has doubled in the past two hundred years, not a timeless universal
posted by Postroad at 4:18 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I turned the big five oh last year and still haven't hit any sort of mid-life crisis. I grew up pretty poor and then managed to screw up badly enough in college to cause me to spend my entire twenties working my skinny ass off in home construction. I finally managed to get a degree and start a software career in my mid-thirties and didn't really feel like I'd actually hit middle class for the first time in my life until I was almost forty.

So for me, having a house and a six year old Honda and a career that pays the bills is so far beyond what I ever thought I'd ever have that I'd feel like a total asshole to ever complain about it. Yeah unless I live to a hundred, most of my life is past me but that's even more reason not to waste the time I've got left being glum and feeling sorry for myself.
posted by octothorpe at 4:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


As always needs reminding in these sorts of threads:

Kyle Marquis (@Moochava): Yearly reminder: unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:34 PM on January 5, 2015 [42 favorites]


Metafilter: Actually, this is pretty good.
posted by Danf at 4:37 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


I just turned 38 in November and currently experiencing the howling fantods because I don't have a career (much less a job right now) and feel like an utter failure because I am pretty sure (as is my family) that I Should've Figured It Out By Now.

Turning older is awesome in a lot of ways, but feeling depressed about not being able to figure out what you're supposed to do is not one of them.
posted by Kitteh at 4:44 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I forgot
posted by clavdivs at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


... since longevity has doubled in the past two hundred years, not a timeless universal
I was thinking about this as I wrote my comment above, actually and wondering how much or if at all increased longevity has changed the concept of a 'mid-life' crisis. Or if, just maybe, it has caused it in some strange way. In an age where life will conceivably go on into the '80s or '90s for a significant proportion of people, there's a lot more cause to reflect on the future and, potentially, a lot more future to worry about. If this was 1900, I would be in the twilight of my life (assuming I made it this far) but now I can reasonable expect to live another 30 years and, due to modern medicine, be in reasonable health for most of it. A 40 year-old is no longer on the downhill slope of life, but is likely less than half-way. Is there something hard-wired in us that recognises we are living longer than we are 'supposed' to that triggers that feeling of despondency in so many? Or is it that reaching that (on average) half-way point triggers some kind of re-set that forces us to re-evaluate and think about what the hell we are going to do with the rest of the time?
posted by dg at 4:51 PM on January 5, 2015


When I was in my 20's I learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I figured one day I'd make it to the top and get that self-actualization and be at the top.

Now that I am in my 40's I studied neuroscience to discover that the ego is a delusion caused by the frontal lobe by evolution in order to help us survive and we don't need it anymore. That the ego drives us up Maslow's pyramid, and that it causes stress and pain and suffering along the way.

I became disabled in the pursuit of trying to meet my highest needs. Now on disability I am learning to live with less, as I see the 20somethings taking over the programming jobs that forced me into disability and see that 20+ years later they will end up like me eventually. The IT industry just uses the youth, makes false promises to them, works them hard, stresses them out to earn more money from them, and when they get damaged, toss them away like a used tissue they blew their nose into it.
posted by Orion Blastar at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


i don't know - it's all seemed like a crisis of one sort or another - i foolishly thought that it might be on its way out last year - but then i ended up taking in my 18 year old autistic daughter, who is going to have a hard time getting on her own two feet

her adult program lasts until she's 26 - maybe by then i won't be that responsible for her

i'm 57 - i wanted to be a professional musician/songwriter and wanted my own recording studio - the professional part has utterly evaded me, but at least i have the studio and i have been using it

i have a job i don't like but at least i'm surviving

i'm getting old, but i'm in better shape than many of the people i know of my age and younger, which isn't saying much

i'm just trying to make of it what i can and it seems to be working well enough - and it's not like i have any other ideas
posted by pyramid termite at 5:08 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


One of the tragedies of the human condition is that nobody is happy about being the age they actually are.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:09 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'll tell you what's weird - growing old on Metafilter. I started reading this site in 2000, at 30 (I remember complaining to my husband that I was "bored with the web" because I was tired of wading through the increasing amount of online noise, and he suggested this site) and not wanting to comment because I had nothing to add to the insights of older people with more experience. Now I feel like someone is going to call me out for hanging with the younger crowd with their texting and their sexting and their . . . other young people stuff that I am two kids and about about fifteen years away from being able to understand.

What I'm saying is that this site makes me feel fucking old. And I'm already at the "waiting around to die" stage. But I don't remember getting old, dammit. Wasn't I supposed to have matured somewhere along the way?
posted by bibliowench at 5:10 PM on January 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


I'm in my very early 40s and I'm way happier than I was in my 30s. My work is mostly interesting, my relationship has been improving with time, and I'm a lot more mellow now than I was when I was younger. I'll never be rich, but I've lived poor before and I can do it again if I need to, so I'm not very stressed about the money side of things.

So if I get happier yet in my 50s, that is great news.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:11 PM on January 5, 2015


I'm 44, and enough of a hypochondriac that I assume that I have another twenty years or so left in me, tops. If I get bonus time, great; but I have a grandpa who died in his 60s, a father who would've died in his early 50s without a minor medical miracle, antibiotics are failing at a steady pace, and there's always the possibility that I'll be walking down my block one day and get bit on the ankle by an unvaccinated baby with whooping cough, stumble over a board with rusty nails stuck in it, then get hit by an ambulance hauling Ebola patients and lepers and wake up in a hospital with a lethal dose of hog cholera.

So, by my thinking, I should've had a good mid-life crisis a decade ago. I missed my cue.
posted by delfin at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


there's always the possibility that I'll be walking down my block one day and get bit on the ankle by an unvaccinated baby with whooping cough, stumble over a board with rusty nails stuck in it, then get hit by an ambulance hauling Ebola patients and lepers and wake up in a hospital with a lethal dose of hog cholera.

and then they'll drop the bomb
posted by pyramid termite at 5:16 PM on January 5, 2015


I had dreams.

I wanted to found a multi-billion dollar computer company, and use the profits to make a commercial space company to take people into space and mine asteroids and visit Jupiter's moons to see if there was some sort of life there.

Everything I learned in my youth turned out to be wrong. Success only happens to the bullies and sociopaths, and not the geeks and nerds they picked on like me who studied math and science. Bullies and sociopaths make it up to management and then executive management and then found non-profits they can hide behind for a tax shelter and still use it to screw people over.
posted by Orion Blastar at 5:23 PM on January 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


One of the tragedies of the human condition is that nobody is happy about being the age they actually are.

I dunno, there are a lot of people in this thread self-reporting that they're pretty cool with being their current ages. Certainly I am, in the sense that I'd rather be this age (or rather, any of my last 2 or 3 ages?) than pretty much any other one I've been.

Blessed are those who don't work more than part-time, for they shall have more life to spend.

Well I ain't gotten to the part-time level just yet; still takes a full 40ish hour week to stay afloat. But they're fairly chill hours. It does get ever harder to engage with my hard-charging former classmates, several of whom are actually legitimately famous and many of whom are otherwise world-changingly successful. But I still wouldn't want their lives.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


This was a great article, and with the advent of some minor health problems and major relocations in my life this year (in my late 30s), it feels pretty relevant.

Sometimes, I wonder if the moral of that story is that you should belittle your children and tell them they'll never amount to anything, so that they are proud of themselves for whatever they achieve in life. But then, I don't have children, for good reasons.

My parents didn't belittle me exactly, but my father always encouraged me to take it easy and not challenge myself (and even used the phrase "rest on your laurels" approvingly when I graduated as high school valedictorian and left for college), and for my entire adult life I've kind of regretted that my parents never encouraged me to apply myself to become really good at something (playing an instrument, learning something intellectually complex or techy, building things, whatever). I'm a generalist now and my life is pretty good, but I wish I had a focused thing I was really proud of.
posted by psoas at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yearly reminder: unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.

I'm fifty-five. I was promised the flying cars, though things were going decidedly Soylent by the time I hit puberty.
posted by philip-random at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2015


Is this, like, the most depressing thread ever or is it just me?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


I had a brief bout of the "Is this all?" thing somewhere in my 40's. I looked at me. I looked at the world. I looked at me in the world. The inevitable answer was "Yep."
posted by jim in austin at 5:27 PM on January 5, 2015


Is this, like, the most depressing thread ever or is it just me?

I think it's pretty reassuring, really. The key to the article to me is:
I find that when I tell troubled middle-aged people about it, their reaction is one of relief. Just knowing that the phenomenon is common can be therapeutic. [...]
“When I give lectures, I say we’re stuck with this,” Andrew Oswald told me, “but at least you know it’s completely normal if you’re feeling low in your 40s.”
posted by psoas at 5:30 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah cheer up y'all at least we ain't millennials. They are totally fucked in a way that we can't even comprehend. They're so fucked they think they aren't fucked. We Gen Xers at least have this dark wooly blanket of cynicism to warm us through the night (not that there will ever be a dawn).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:31 PM on January 5, 2015 [35 favorites]


Success only happens to the bullies and sociopaths, and not the geeks and nerds they picked on like me who studied math and science.

Well, I don't think you've defined success very well, and at any rate, as a computer geek with a 20+ career in IT, a degree in engineering and a HAM radio license, I think you're wrong. I've enjoyed a great deal of success - certainly more than the kids who beat me up in high school.

That said, yeah, the universe is at best cold and uncaring. So, maybe stop with the negative waves already, Moriarty.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:35 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I highly recommend marrying someone ~10 years younger y'all. I keep forgetting I'm almost 40 and plan to act immature til I'm at least 75.

Whenever I start to freak out about how I never accomplished anything grandiose I remember that I wasted a hell of a lot of time fucking around and partying instead and then I feel like that's a pretty great accomplishment. I plan to have a lot of parties with my babies and to teach them how to party. YOLO babies!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:38 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is just a cool thread for middle aged people to hang out in and express their turmoils. Move along youths.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:40 PM on January 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think people who think they are feeling a bit low in their 40s probably felt a bit low in their 20s and 30s too. Its just a personality trait. Perfectly normal and a useful motivator. I've found that trying hard to maintain an irreverent personality has kept me a young 57 in an environment where its easy to get jaded. Just never grow up. Listening to new music is a big help. My toes are still tappin'.

My contemporaries who seem to have a public 'mid-life crisis' was mostly around divorce. I'm talking the starts dating the lady 20 yrs jr and buys his first motorcycle mid life crisis that everyone talks about. :-)
posted by sfts2 at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


buys his first motorcycle mid life crisis

I'm going with guitars for mine. It's a solid choice, with elements of both respectable artistic ambition and teenage testosterone poisoning. I guess I should buy a Gibson, since they are now priced for exactly this.
posted by thelonius at 5:46 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why people have midlife crises? They chased paper crowns and pity prizes, doing what they think is acceptable as they ignore what they truly want in the never-ending quest to show that girl in Grade Nine she was wrong to turn you down on a date or make your fake friends jealous of your fake life, fake job, and fake success.

It's like having a life in an infinite Candid Camera loop. Good luck with that.

Nobody ever learns from midlife crises of others because people think they have figured out how to game the system. You took the job you didn't want, married the person you didn't love, followed the norms that worked against your natural rhythms and now you realize you wasted half your life for nothing.

That is not a midlife crisis. That is called realizing you fell for a scam and you were the grifter who conned you...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:50 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yay menopause!!!!
posted by Kerasia at 5:58 PM on January 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Don't ignore the danger of actin' like a damn teenager. 41 and my beer's still cold, never grow up and I never get too old.
posted by snofoam at 6:10 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alexandra Kitty: Puritan.

Sometimes we don't get what we deserve, we get what we get.

you fell for a scam and you were the grifter who conned you

ok. say this is true. what then? suicide? therapy? motorcycle? i'm interested in hearing from someone who sees it this way, then does a course correction for the last half. how might that work?
posted by j_curiouser at 6:13 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had a midlife crisis more or less continually from age fourteen to around forty-two. Then I started meditating and the the entire thing just evaporated for good. I recommend it over waiting until you hit fifty.
posted by haricotvert at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nothin warms the cockles of my heart like thoughtful intelligent folks talking truth about despair. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by batfish at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'll be 50 this year. I don't want to make others feel bad who are in hard places in their lives, but I'm just pretty damned happy.

Thing is, I've always been pretty damned happy. I've lived a whole bunch of different lives over the decades, and the one I've settled into at this point suits me just fine. I've had crises, and I've been been sick, and been poor, and lost a lot of people, but that's just life. Although my body is aging, my health is better I think than it ever has been, at least for now, and although I'd love to have enough money to, say, pursue travel the way I used to when I was younger, or live in a nicer place than I do, or [whatever], well: at the risk of sounding like somebody's grandmother on Facebook or something, I count my blessings every damned day.

I had a few bad spasms during my 40s, weeks or even months when I felt like I needed to be living a different life, or times when my wife and I just weren't getting along very well, or when the future somehow didn't look attractive to me, but again: that's part of being alive. It wasn't all that different when I was in my 30s or 20s. It was worse in my teens, before I got my shit somewhat figured out.

My day job doesn't pay very much, but I enjoy it and it's rewarding and it doesn't strain my brain very much. Building websites for other people for money, or for myself for fun, and running MeFightClub and all my other web stuff brings me enormous pleasure. I drink beer on Fridays and ride my bike up the river on weekends while listening to lecture series about things that interest me, like history and religion. I stop, and look at the trees and water, smoke a cigarette, and feel the sun on my face, and it's more than enough to fill my heart. I have just enough friends, old good ones, to talk to when I feel like talking.

The future, well, the future will take of itself, I guess. I save money, I take care of my body as much as I'm able after many young years of knocking it to shit, I cherish and support my spouse as much as I am able, and I am very happy to say unironically that it's all good. And my brain being the kind of brain that it is (for which I am endlessly thankful also), it would be all good even if it weren't actually so good.

The thing that I think has allowed me to inhabit this life I'm in, though, I quite seriously think, is not having had kids. I know that for many people, it's nearly impossible to imagine, even these days. And I suspect if I had had children, that I'd be happy in entirely different ways, if even poorer, and probably a lot more stressed. But not reproducing -- an intentional decision that I made decades ago, and, though I've rethought it at various times, haven't really wavered all that far on -- has probably been the key that unlocked the life I currently live and love.

So: yeah. Mileage varies. But life, through some combination of luck and choices and attitude and a lot of careful thought about what's important to me, has been pretty good for me for the first half century. We'll see how the next one goes, I guess.

I hope everyone here who is or who feels less fortunate has better times ahead. It's hard to imagine when times are bad, or when our brains are telling us times are bad, but better times inevitably do come.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:33 PM on January 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


Sometimes, I wonder if the moral of that story is that you should belittle your children and tell them they'll never amount to anything, so that they are proud of themselves for whatever they achieve in life.

God no, no parent should ever do that to their child!! That's what my family did to me, and I never recovered. I've fallen prey to those old recordings countless times and consequently never really tried hard enough to accomplish anything, with the result that here I am at 54 realizing I've fucked up in a big way and much of Life's potential has permanently passed me by. Please please PLEASE, don't feed unrealistic expectations to young people, but do encourage them to TRY.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd also say, for what it's worth, that living a life that involved wandering around the planet drinking and meeting people and working menial jobs and reading books and drinking some more and just generally having as much fun as I could from my early 20s until my mid 30s, well: that deep well of memories, just as I had hoped it would when I was young and actually doing it, sustains me in my approaching dotage, and makes me far less inclined to feel regretful about opportunities missed or needing to Do Stuff before I get too old or that kind of thing.

I'd probably be a lot more financially secure if I hadn't done that, but: tradeoffs. I highly recommend it to the young, although the world has changed, and it's an awful lot harder to get lost in these days of ubiquitous internet and traveler saturation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:40 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm actually super happy with my life right now, there's just a penumbra of dread around it in dark moments, if I let myself think about the future too much. Also, I am marrying someone much younger than me, Potomac Avenue, so I got that going for me. It gives me an excuse to hang out with 20 somethings for another ten years. I guess at some point it'll get sort of pathetic if it isn't already, but c'est la vie.
posted by empath at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I managed to get through the body-breakdown-terror in accelerated fashion (cancer at 28 will do that to you)

QFT. Your body seems like such a good friend until your first health crisis. If you have a chronic disease, you've already made your peace with the bad landlord, since there's no hope of moving to a new place.
posted by benzenedream at 6:45 PM on January 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


I really appreciated this post. It reminded me how, On my thirtieth birthday, I was at lunch with some church friends when everyone started talking about their happiest age. Everyone besides me was in their fifties, sixties, or seventies, and no one said their thirties were their happiest time. In fact, there seemed to be consensus that things really picked up in your late fifties, and continued to improve from there.
posted by 4ster at 6:54 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue, I really love you sometimes. I owe you a fist bump someday.
posted by nevercalm at 6:55 PM on January 5, 2015


I know that feel, Four Ds. I know that feel. This is the wrong post for me to read tonight. (34 and angsty and trapped as .............)
posted by aydeejones at 7:00 PM on January 5, 2015


For me it's mostly about the modest professional success being a major letdown (though I had Big Dotcom Aspirations and was 20 at just the right time to let it all blow by) and being unhealthy and not impressed with my parenting ability, and being 34 and having taken such shit care of myself I feel like my dad did around his mid 40's, it would seem. With the fuckin' aches and pains already.
posted by aydeejones at 7:01 PM on January 5, 2015


I came back just to say that, come to think of it, this is the first thing I've ever read that identifies the mid-life crisis as more than a male-only thing.
posted by 4ster at 7:07 PM on January 5, 2015


I've been counting on this graph being true.
Please don't say it ain't.
posted by Kabanos at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


And the tv is in Esperanto (you know that that's a bitch).
posted by unknowncommand at 7:22 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I loved my job, I love my wife, I did all of the right things. I avoided drugs and alcohol, I never had a criminal record, I studied hard in college, I earned good grades, I worked hard and smart.

I got so sick that I couldn't work anymore and ended up on disability. I consider myself lucky because of the number of friends in my situation that did a suicide when their careers were over.

I can't wait until I am 50 and sign up for AARP to get the better health insurance with them, and that membership card and senior discounts with it.

I wasn't very popular because I was a nerd or geek, I'm still not popular, I'm still not in a social clique, I hold views and opinions that are the opposite of so many others on the Internet that are based on logic and reason while the popular base theirs on emotions and the ends justify the means.
posted by Orion Blastar at 7:30 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


A Terrible Lama wrote:
Is this, like, the most depressing thread ever or is it just me?

psoas wrote:
I think it's pretty reassuring, really.

Psoas, I'm with you. I'm turning 43 in a few days and Rauch's article really resonated with me. For those of you who haven't read it, it's worth a read.

He's not claiming it's a universal phenomena, and (despite the headline) he makes it clear it's often more of a "drizzle" than a crisis. But just as a statistical fact, across most cultures (and maybe even across primate species), average happiness dips around forty and begins climbing again sometime around age 50. As with all statistical averages, this is not a universal truth -- some people have dips at other ages, some people don't dip at all.

But as somebody who is feeling a low-key form of this malaise, it's encouraging to know that it doesn't come from some horrible wrong turn I made years ago -- it's just a common part of life, and most people who go through it eventually come out of it.
posted by yankeefog at 7:34 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


If, God willing, I make it that far,I'm going to be the Michael Jordan of being retired.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:44 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was at a barbecue a few days after my 30th birthday and I happened to mention my milestone to one of the other guests, a woman in her late 50s. "30? It's all downhill from there" she told me me, sagely. I was horrified.
My 30s did turn out to be pretty rough, lots of emotional misery. I was finally correctly diagnosed with Bipolar I when I was 39, so I entered my 40s with more hope than ever that things were looking up for me.
I'm 42 now. My brain works most of the time. I have a job that isn't perfect, but that is at least in my career field. My marriage is happy. My children are in their teens and 20s. My parents are in good health. Everything seems possible in a way it never did before. So, no crisis here.
posted by Biblio at 8:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, being older has been better for me than I could ever have expected. But I had maybe expected too little? I had my long (21 yr) marriage end just as the economy really hit the skids, lived with teenagers who were in various states of crazy after their lives were blown up. It was scary as hell and that was my late forties - trying to start a new career and keep the kids feeling loved even when they weren't being very lovable.

And now I can honestly say things are better all the time. And I can do whatever I want. I'm financially secure, not rich but not scared. Kids are just about grown. I am making plans for the future and realize that really being single allows for limitless options. Mid-life crisis? Maybe growing up poor and backward is starting with a crisis of sorts so middle class trappings seem pretty damn fine. A life long attitude adjustment.
posted by readery at 8:08 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like the age I am just fine.

My friends' ages seem to follow a bit of a bell curve, so there are outliers in their twenties, and in their sixties, and the twenty year olds have to deal with so. Much. Drama. It is nice to not have that. Especially the dating shit. Although I guess that isn't directly because of age, because there are plenty of people my age (mid thirties) who haven't settled down with a partner but still want to.

The fifty and sixty year olds among my friends all seem to be dealing with a combination of medical issues and some sort of despair associated with the tail end of their careers, realising they never got quite where they had hoped to be. I'm happy to be putting that off for a few more years.

I think the u-curve of happiness that people talk about up-thread in studies is thought to be associated with having children: happiness increasing again once they can fend for themselves. I'm not planning on having any, so I'll be interested to see if I manage to skip the midlife crisis.

Surely, though, how people feel about their current age must just be a function of how shitty their previous years were? I had a pretty crappy childhood and couldn't wait to leave home. Once I did, my late teens and early twenties were much more relaxed, but also I had to cope with crippling poverty, like a "not having enough to eat most days" level of poverty. Once I graduated university and was able to work at jobs that weren't retail/fast food/minimum wage, life improved again. So it's not really surprising if I feel like my thirties are a big improvement on anything that went before.
posted by lollusc at 8:19 PM on January 5, 2015


On this little island where I have lived for the almost a third of my 46 years, there was a man called Jan, a Norwegian survivor of the second world war who was in the Norwegian Resistence and later, the merchant marine. He lived until 98, spending his last years in a little cluster of apartments that host our elders. He taught fencing to teenagers, and was a beautiful dancer.

Here is a little video about him, including his poetry about sword fighting at the Legion

And here he is in drag singing a funny Norwegian song that I can't understand.

We loved him.

On his last Valentines Day a few months before he died, he was at a concert given by a friend of mine, and she sang him a love song which seemed to capture the feelings we all had for Jan. He was using canes to walk at that point but he threw them to the floor and danced a beautiful waltz with her. When they finished, he turned to the fifty of us who were giving him a standing ovation and he said, with a sigh,

"What. A. Life!"

I swore that these would be my last words.

The last few years, I've entered into the bottom of that U, and reading Rauch's article a few months ago, and the related research really helped give me perspective. And this community helped me get the help I need to move through this wave and prepare myself for the life that Jan modelled to us on our island. There are terrific resources at the Mefi Wiki to help you move through these kinds of times.

I'm glad for those of you that never felt the U; I'm coming to terms with my current experience of it. It is real and it's not easy, but having perspective makes it possible to fully live it.

What. A Life.
posted by salishsea at 8:19 PM on January 5, 2015 [35 favorites]


I'm 42 and in the thick of this - guess I'd better gird my loins.

You're gonna want Gold Bond for that.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:20 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


For those of you who realize their careers suck: try having a degree from a top 20 school and NOT HAVING A FUCKING CAREER. I've had two jobs that required the piece of paper, on paper, but didn't require shit day to day. Now I'm turning bolts basically for free and am unemployable.

Growing up, I pretty much was told how great were the things I'd accomplish, which feels like the most idiotic feel-good bullshit now.

I'm 40, and I don't even know how I feel.
posted by notsnot at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm 69 now, never had a minute (after I got out of the Army in 1968) that I didn't feel like I was the luckiest person who ever lived.

I don't know what anyone wants out of life beyond love, health, wonderful adventures, respect of your peers and meaningful work, but I got more than I could have legitimately asked for. If God took me right now, I would owe Him a ton of change.

Sorry to hear about everybody else.
posted by Repack Rider at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


(I only made it halfway before I had to scroll to the comment field.)

I'm sorry so many of us feel (with good reason?) as they do above. I wish it could be different.

The key for my own happiness (I say this as I edge into my sixth decade) has been to realize there is nothing to achieve, no goals to fulfill, no place other than the one in which we find ourselves.

This thing in front of us, now, is the best and the worst. This now is all we have and it is the best and worst it can be.

I don't mean to be daft.

Sure, by some measures my life (and the whole sprawl of humanity) could be called blessed and charmed; by other measures my life could be seen as frustrated and humiliating. Where is the truth? The reality? What is my perception? What am I perceiving?

What helps me endure life's vicissitudes is trying to understand how everything we know (everything) is temporary and that even this fleeting moment (however long you care to define it) is embedded in a larger context whose size and nature we do not even dimly understand.

It also helps to remind myself how purty y'all are, seriously.
posted by mistersquid at 8:38 PM on January 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


so heartening to read the decade younger spouse solution

fantastic.
posted by skrozidile at 8:44 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The best description I've come across for a midlife crisis, taken from the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (it's a pretty good story and not very apocalyptic, considering it's about a humanity-killing flu.

"...so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts.”
...
“I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. Dan’s like that.”
...
“Okay, say you go into the break room,” she said, “and a couple people you like are there, say someone’s telling a funny story, you laugh a little, you feel included, everyone’s so funny, you go back to your desk with a sort of, I don’t know, I guess afterglow would be the word? You go back to your desk with an afterglow, but then by four or five o’clock the day’s just turned into yet another day, and you go on like that, looking forward to five o’clock and then the weekend and then your two or three annual weeks of paid vacation time, day in day out, and that’s what happens to your life.”
posted by ashbury at 8:48 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Interesting comments, everyone, thanks. The diversity of the thoughts here really reflects the diversity of this process.

We each have our own story, our "crisis" comes when it comes, driven by our history and events, we respond as we need to, there is no rule to follow.

For me (now 66), the "crisis" was triggered by an event in my life when I was 42, one of those events that we can't imagine surviving... but, somehow we do, and it changes the course of our lives. Over the twenty years following that event I bought the sports car, the house on the lake, the motorcycle, took a lover, married again, changed careers, discovered how much I needed a dog in my life, took up photography again, did some writing, learned computer programming, opened my life to new religions, politics, ideas. I read more books, listened to more music, went to concerts, attended war protests, and find that EVERY SINGLE DAY I need to rededicate myself to that kind of life.

I put energy into learning new things, meeting new people, helping, giving and accepting. I've learned how to cook, took up kayaking, traveled some, the list goes on.

I'm 66, given my family health history, given my tendency to ignore good advice, I might have 20 years left, 10 of them might be pretty good.. I can still spend three hours paddling the river, walk 5 miles with the Husky in 5 degree weather, I'm doing pretty well, but, eventually that will run down... I'm well aware of that.

But, until then, I think I want to define "mid-life crisis" as an opportunity... the event or thought, that causes us to step back, look at where we are at, and make the decision to move forward, grasp life and just "be", that's really what it's about.

And...a bit of a post script to these thoughts... I need to thank all of you here at MeFi for your contribution. I discovered MeFi sometime after that "crisis" event, and it's been a significant factor in how I've approached life since...

Enjoy today, friends, in the long run, that's really all we have, all we can count on...
posted by HuronBob at 9:22 PM on January 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


Thanks nevercalm! I'll take a fist bump anytime. I love you guys too. Especially Bob. I feel like we should be smoking cigars and playing poker in here at this point.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The key for my own happiness (I say this as I edge into my sixth decade) has been to realize there is nothing to achieve, no goals to fulfill, no place other than the one in which we find ourselves.

mistersquid, I think you should probably join us at brunch! And, would you please have a talk with my lovely partner, who is taking it all quite hard at the moment...

I don't know what anyone wants out of life beyond love, health, wonderful adventures, respect of your peers and meaningful work

yo i don't know if you ever hang in AskMe, but spend a day and a half there and you'll notice that these things are actually really fuckin' hard to nail down for most people. just ... You're basically saying "I don't know why everyone doesn't just win the lottery the minute they hit adulthood."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:42 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, being in pain every second doesn't exactly help.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:44 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love you guys too. Especially Bob

I always said he loved Bob the most.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 PM on January 5, 2015


HuronBob, I didn't realize how much I needed to hear that. Thanks.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:54 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now." -Edna Mode

I try to remember that, unlike too many people I miss, I'm still allowed to wake up and have a crappy day. Or a great day. Or any sort of day at all. So much cool stuff ahead, I can hardly wait to see it.

This doesn't always work, but it works sometimes.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:09 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Apple Watch will fix this, right?
posted by mazola at 10:16 PM on January 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


I recognize this is kind of tempting fate, but this curve already doesn't seem right considering how hellish my life felt thinking back to my teenage and early 20-something years. At 15 I was an emotional wreck a good 90% of the time; now that at 30, that's a mere 65% of the time, I feel way better! But maybe there are multiple trends happening at once here.

I also wonder how much of this could be explained not by an abstract dissatisfaction with not meeting one's unrealistic youthful goals, but by more concrete things like strong grief. The trough here in the early 40s seems like it might coincide with the average person's parents' life expectancy, or at least their healthy life expectancy. (It looks like rtha had an n=1 confirmation for this upthread.)

It also doesn't look like a huge effect from this graph, though of course I don't know what the scale really represents (how much satisfaction is a "point"?). To tell for real, you'd need longitudinal data, but maybe there's another clever statistical way you could get at whether this is a small but consistent effect, or actually a very large effect that just gets washed into something smaller by averaging when you look at a population.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:39 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a decent job in a vanishing field (magazines) and managed to get myself fired. Floundered for a few years. Finally got a new gig, at a place that pays for shit, but has great benefits, including amazing health insurance. But I haven't saved a penny, and I am 47. Mom, Dad, and sister are all dead, and significant otter is often pretty much done with me. I don't know where to go from here. My dad spent everything he had on my sister's rehab, and the paltry bit he left me I have been burning through. I might have to move to some flyover state and hope Social Security and my job at Wal-Mart can keep me alive.
posted by old_growler at 10:41 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It annoyed me that he quoted Sheehy without being honest about her work. She pretty much said (correcting for the heteronormative biases during which she was writing) that people who have focused heavily on their intellectual/professional development during their 20s and 30s tend to wake up in their 40s and 50s to the importance of relationships, and people who have focused heavily on relationships during their 20s and 30s tend to wake up in their 40s or 50s to the importance of intellectual/professional engagement. Her idea was that what we call "midlife crises" are really just a recalibrating of priorities in order to bring people more into balance, where family and career are equally important and engaging.

Sheehy posited those starting points as gendered, and I think in a lot of ways they remain so, though do more to behavior than biology. People who overly focus on career are going to hit a point where they realize they've neglected intimate relationships. People who overly focus on intimate relationships are going to hit a point where they realize they've neglected their professional or intellectual development. I think it's a productive "crisis" that causes people to realize they need more balance.
posted by jaguar at 10:47 PM on January 5, 2015 [37 favorites]


I think the u-curve of happiness that people talk about up-thread in studies is thought to be associated with having children: happiness increasing again once they can fend for themselves.

lollusc I totally missed this when I posted my comment but I think this is also a really plausible explanation.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:48 PM on January 5, 2015


ahhh jaguar thank you for bringing the actual study into the comments, I was hoping someone would be familiar enough with it to do so!
posted by en forme de poire at 10:49 PM on January 5, 2015


Yeah, Sheehy basically said that if you've been ignoring your family in order to be a provider, you're going to end up divorced because your partner and kids are alienated from you, which will kick you into the realization that your partner and kids are important to you; and that if you've been devoting yourself to your partner and kids to the exclusion of developing yourself individually, you're going to end up divorced because you're going to get so resentful of your partner's independence that you're going to rebel against the constraints to which you've become accustomed.

Her suggestion for avoiding divorce was to work toward balancing relationships with career from the beginning.

That's an oversimplification, of course, but I appreciate the push toward balance. Anyone who is out of balance, in whatever direction, is going to crash eventually, and it's helpful to look at what any focused activity is leaving out and how that imbalance is warping one's life.
posted by jaguar at 11:01 PM on January 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


bit of a sidetrack here, but it occurs to me as I track this thread ...

one of life's bigger wastes of time is bemoaning one's demographic. You were born when you were born. That's one thing you CANNOT change, or as Stevie Wonder puts it in probably his greatest record ...

We all know sometimes lifes hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
so make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell
I'll be loving you


As
posted by philip-random at 11:15 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


The diversity of responses here have been enlightening: anger; sadness; resignation, but also joy and a resoluteness to make the most of what we have--thank you to the collective hive mind. I've learned so many things here. I'm grateful for the posts written here on MeFi and compiled by authors who spent so much time providing related pages, links, discussions that enrich the subject matter to be discussed. There's also the courage of countless here who share their vulnerability and in so doing spread the compassion in forms of responses to those questions. I have a box of index cards in which I've written down some of these responses, and going through them from time to time has probably created this alternative reality of mine that I'm currently conscious of. Just cherishing one of the communities I'm lucky to be a participant of.

I'm almost halfway done with Chapter 33, my life in the past decade has been the unravelling of almost all expectations I had concerning career and family. Although my upbringing certainly cannot explain all of who I am today, it's a long shadow that I'm only slowly moving toward the path of trusting myself, staying curious about people and the surrounding contexts and facing down the present moment even when the Regret Chorus is chanting away in effusive dirges. I am failing every few days, but sometimes I am consistently surprising myself.

Just surfing this ocean with all of us, moment by moment...
posted by wallawallasweet at 11:43 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd also say, for what it's worth, that living a life that involved wandering around the planet drinking and meeting people and working menial jobs and reading books and drinking some more and just generally having as much fun as I could from my early 20s until my mid 30s, well: that deep well of memories, just as I had hoped it would when I was young and actually doing it, sustains me in my approaching dotage, and makes me far less inclined to feel regretful about opportunities missed or needing to Do Stuff before I get too old or that kind of thing.
This is probably the most lasting regret I have, in that 'we regret the things we didn't do far more than those we did' way. Being independent but, more importantly, not depended upon, is really the only way to do this. Once you have kids, you can never really say your 'job' as a parent is over. You can never be truly carefree again. I'm not saying I couldn't theoretically throw some stuff in a backpack and hit the road once the kids are grown enough, but I couldn't enjoy it the way I could have if I was 25. Due to a series of poor decisions on my part, I've spent almost my whole adulthood as a parent or proxy parent. I wish I could say I don't regret that at times.
posted by dg at 12:01 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Had kids late in life. One is snuggled up next to me right now at 2 am while I'm tossing and turning and struggling with how trapped I am at 44 and at the bottom of the U. I do think having the kids at young needy ages really adds an extra dimension to this. So glad I read the whole article and found this thread. I've been consciously grappling with this stuff for at least a year now and it's helpful to be told its a phase. In my less rational moments I plot my escape. But really, my logical voice keeps saying: the kids are perfect, your wife is beautiful and smart and loves you, you're really good at a job that contributes much to the world and is richly satisfying. I just don't understand this other voice that is screaming "you are trapped, you are in the wrong place, you need to go back and be twenty again!"
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:06 AM on January 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


ps I've been watching the 7 Up documentary series because my buddy who is just coming out of the U was telling me that the latest, age 56, has a lot to say about finding happiness in middle age. Don't know if this is true yet, but thought I'd drop it in here since no ones mentioned it yet.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:24 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Apple Watch will fix this, right?

I remember when I first got an iPhone. After a week or so I looked at it and I said to myself "This is supposed to make me happy" and I almost burst into tears.
posted by thelonius at 2:33 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Before I read this thread, it would never have occurred to me that one of the reasons I am generally happy at age 42 is that I am, apparently, PROFOUNDLY unambitious.
posted by kyrademon at 2:59 AM on January 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


The article doesn't really have a reason why there's this burst of unhappiness in midlife, but it does suggest that the angst is deeply psychological, and we falsely attribute it to one or another cause in our daily lives. As the author points out, if you ask the same person ten years later, they feel far more satisfied and less troubled in mind, despite the fact that the putative "causes" are still present.

I'd like to offer a suggestion of the mechanism, based on an article posted to MeFi 3 months ago: "My Daughter, Myself" (discussion thread)
In recent decades, the Eriksons’ development model has been given an unexpected boost from research in neuroscience that has begun to uncover empirical evidence of significant developmental change in midlife. In the 1990s, the Harvard Medical School research scientist Francine Benes made a pioneering discovery while studying adolescent brain development. She found that the adolescent brain undergoes a pronounced increase in myelination – a form of growth that boosts the brain’s processing power by enhancing the way neurons conduct electrical signals. To highlight this peak in brain development, Benes and her colleagues compared the growth of the adolescent brain against a control group of 164 people, aged between zero and 76. That’s when she noticed a second spike: the brain, it transpired, underwent a second, wholly unexpected, growth spurt in middle age. The implications for cognitive science were huge.
Do you see that? Essentially our brains go through a second massive transformation, comparable to that which converts the child to an adult. And what mental dysfunction is associated with that first transformation? Everyone knows that: teenage angst, despair, emotional turmoil. So inexplicable mid-life unhappiness could just be neurological, which we call "hormones" when describing teenagers. This is what brains feel like when they're reconfiguring themselves.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:18 AM on January 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


As if being a teenager wasn't bad enough once!
posted by dg at 4:12 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


But, until then, I think I want to define "mid-life crisis" as an opportunity... the event or thought, that causes us to step back, look at where we are at, and make the decision to move forward, grasp life and just "be", that's really what it's about.

That's wisdom. Thanks, HuronBob.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:15 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm 42 and am finally feeling that I'm on the upswing of getting it together after the shittiest three years of my life. I don't have the energy to have a mid-life crisis.

Or maybe I'm just combining it with what has happened. Over the past month I've realized that I'm just not the same person any more and that I need to learn about post broken me. I feel like I'm just getting started on a new life again. There's pre 'the shit me' and now 'post the shit' me.

I sure as hell hope that I'm not set for some more mid-life crisis because this one life circumstance crisis has been way more then enough to get me all inward, searching my soul, yadda yadda, thank you very much.
posted by Jalliah at 4:42 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]



I missed Harvey's post about the brain study before I posted. It makes me happy. True or not, I'm going to believe that there is such a thing as a second growth phase because it fits right into what's happening to me right now. Means my brain can take all of the new info I'm trying to stuff into it.

Also a call out to Huronbobs comment. The biggest difference between now and then is that now there is this voice hiding in the corner whispering "It's too late to start all this again. Don't bother." I tell it to shut it on a regular basis but having extra ammunition of great examples of why this is just not true is appreciated.

"See voice! Check out Huronbob and shove your negativity." *sticks out tongue "nyah" for good measure.
posted by Jalliah at 5:08 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm closing in on forty, and I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. But I've found the people I want to be with, and figured out what my needs are. Life is harder than it was in my twenties, but it's happier.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:32 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can agree with the others in this thread who don't feel like what they imagined an adult would be. I just turned 40 this year, yet I still feel closer to "petulant adolescent" than "centered adult."

My wife and I have no kids of our own, so we try to spend as much time as we can with the kids of our family and friends. We've attended every school concert our niece has ever been in since she started elementary school. The year she entered middle school was the first time I felt like I had more in common emotionally with the kids singing and playing in the band than their parents in folding chairs on the gym floor.
posted by anthom at 6:02 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had the great good fortune to be able to hold onto my carefree youth longer than most folks I know. I was able to (mostly) ignore the deleterious effects of aging and onerous demands of adulthood until they reached a critical mass in my mid 30's. It was like a switch flipped and I went from thinking of myself as young to "Damn I'm old. How the hell did that happen?"

It is true what people say about becoming smarter/wiser with age. I'm becoming a better problem solver and (usually) making better decisions, which improves the quality of my life. So there is that as a silver lining. Now if only more employers would appreciate those qualities in the "olds".
posted by jazzbaby at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2015


I'm closing in on forty, and I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up.

Something I wrote here four years ago (in a topically related AskMe) still holds true -- no one knows what they want to do when they grow up. There is an asterisk that goes with that, though: I recall hearing from someone (maybe even on the blue) who at 35 or so had the career she had had her heart set on since age 11. She was deeply unhappy, and glumly admitted that she had a life picked out for her by a eleven-year-old.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This just appeared on twitter as:

"MeFi: A Constant Drizzle Of Disappointment"

Harsh.
posted by feelinglistless at 7:06 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Some of this has to be the realization that you're now one of the adults in charge, but you have no idea what you're doing. The fear and anxiety of imposter syndrome, where everyone else seems to have their shit together and you're just faking it, must be especially overpowering when you've been waiting for that moment when adulthood was just supposed to crystalize. It didn't happen at 30, so it must be 40, or maybe it's 50... When it doesn't come, when the much vaunted wisdom of the grown-ups never appears and your adulthood is just the same mess of confusion and frustration it's always been, it breaks some people. Nothing makes the world seem faded and hollow like learning its all bullshit.

Thankfully, I was a gen-x goth, so I've been aware it was all a joke for a good, long time and I'm really, really enjoying the ride. I have responsibilities and constraints, but I get to learn new things and make wonderful stuff and play with my kid and spend my days helping people.
posted by Lighthammer at 7:11 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was able to (mostly) ignore the deleterious effects of aging and onerous demands of adulthood until they reached a critical mass in my mid 30's

For me, and for most people over 40 I know, there was a moment where we actually hurt ourselves doing something that we had always been able to do before (it was moving furniture, in my case). I thought, as Marcellus Wallace said, that my ass would age like a fine wine, but my knees said otherwise. Next time, I hired movers.
posted by thelonius at 7:26 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


A running joke around my house is "Dear alumni magazine..." When at 3 a.m., I am trapped in the corner of a hut with an angry 400-pound sow and her newborn piglets between me and the door -- when I am covered in blood and feathers and poultry entrails -- when I am holding a stinky baby turkey against my belly to keep its body warm, and the dog keeps whuffling my shirt and the kids have not scooped the cat litter or cleared the detritus of their snacking -- I think about how funny my letter to the alumni magazine would look alongside the announcements of job promotions, new books, and mentions of profiles in national publications for good work in international matters. I laugh. Whatever I was supposed to be is over there somewhere, an invisible country closed to me, because through great dumb luck and the wit to say yes at a couple of key moments, I chose to live here. Not "what if" but "what is."

I learn stuff all the time. During the most recent pig escape, I was mad. Not worried that we couldn't get all eight of them back home, and not afraid of them, but pissed at the extra work. Afterward, it occurred to me that it wasn't impostor syndrome running its ass after livestock -- it was me, doing what needed doing, competently and with a lot of swearing. That was a revelation to me: I am proud of being skilled in peculiar, if not alumni-magazine-ready, ways.

I have less time for shame and envy and self-criticism when I am really present in what I'm doing right this moment, and truly appreciative of the small goodnesses of the here and now. Livestock where I left it? Awesome! Hot water, electricity, indoor plumbing? YES, they're amazing! Gorgeous light on the trees today, better take a picture! This is the stuff of my life. It's enough.

My realm is small. But I engage with it deeply, and I keep at it even when in despair, because even though the work is overwhelming, it's also the thing that keeps me connected and awake and alive.

tl; dr: Here at the bottom of the U, connection, embracing the present, working in full-heartedness, and appreciation for everyday graces are what sees me through my days. It's enough.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:46 AM on January 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


I went through something mid-life crisis-like a few years ago. Barely survived, to tell the truth. But hitting bottom then really kind of did just seem to kick off a longer process that seems to be ongoing, and I'm still hopeful I'll be able to make the last part of that pull-quote from the FPP happen. But when you see 40 bearing down on you all of a sudden and realize you're flying rapidly toward death without a safety net, let me tell you--it can make you reevaluate things. TBH, it kind of felt like something instinctual or biologically driven to me, like I would have gone through it regardless of where my life was at the time.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:57 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really needed this thread at this point in my life, btw. Thanks everyone. Good to know I'm not alone when I get like this.
posted by empath at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm 57. Got downsized for the Happy New Year. Don't know what's going to happen. But have always been happyish, so hopefully will persevere. Remember my grandmother, in one of her rare lucid moments toward the end, at 96,"It's hard cause...I'm still 19 inside. What happened? " I feel that way a lot. Although for me it's 27. I have always felt 27.
posted by umberto at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm 38, and this morning I just shoveled my driveway for the first time this winter. Now feel like I'm 50, while one spot in the lower right area of my back feels like it's 90. Psychologically, I'm okay with getting older, but I would prefer to do so at a rate of roughly one day per day, and that the aging were evenly-distributed across my entire body.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:45 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like I need to go give my parents a hug.
posted by Monochrome at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's almost always a good time to go give your parents a hug. The same goes for anyone else that you don't know how long you'll get to have around (which, more or less, is everyone).
posted by weston at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I want my goddamn Moon base, you fuckers

Oh really? Be careful what you ask for. On the Moon, there's no time for carping on the internet. You spend your day oxygen mining and fuel catalyzing. Then you have to fix the hydroponics again. Then you have to set up the synthesizer because your plastic chair fell apart again. The transistors in the comm gear need replacing. The E-rations are getting really boring. And the only channel on the Moon is ESPN. You think maintaining an ecosystem all by yourself is FUN????

So go read Calvin and Hobbes on your Kindle again, instead.
posted by Twang at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2015


U-curve—with the nadir, on average, at age 46

Well, if nothing else, it's good to know I'm at the nadir.

Actually, overall, I am generally feeling pretty good except for three things:
-haven't had kids, it's probably too late, maybe I can foster/adopt but not sure about it all, and sometimes I feel really sad I am not having the parent experience in life
-feel like I work all the time, and have to in order to create a platform for old age, but hate what it's doing to my inner life and social life, and
-anxious about the knowledge that I will have to endure the loss of most of the people I love (unless I go first)

But other than that, you know, hunky-dory! Heh. I will say that another mid-40s friend and I had a great conversation New Year's Eve about the mental abilities and wisdom that seem to come with getting older. I am producing work I never imagined being capable of, working faster than I could have ever foreseen, and making ,myriad connections with a rapidity I can only be in awe of. I feel like I'm getting a lot smarter. So there's that.
posted by Miko at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


People who were born when I graduated high school can vote now and that's not okay.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:53 PM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


> you're now one of the adults in charge, but you have no idea what you're doing

This came as a great relief to me, because it showed that the adults who were in charge when I was a kid didn't know what they were doing either. Not knowing when you've grown up enough to be doing what you wanted to do when you grew up is fine, too. The really hard part is to take a look at what you've grown into — what you've become —and be able to be contented with that.

I had a fairly tough 45: lost my career entirely, and after months of unemployment had to start again, way below where I'd been. But now I know exactly how much to trust employers, and also how useful my experience is to certain clients.
posted by scruss at 7:06 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


umberto I love what your grandmother said. I always knew that 27 would be the perfect age. I would have shit figured out. I would have my career well under way. I would be married. I would own a home. And then 27 rolled around. I started in a new career. I filed for divorce. I desperately needed out of a shitty marriage so I gave up everything but my car and my clothes in the divorce. No house, no marriage, no steady career path. That year ended up being incredible and I found the partner that makes me happier than anything in the world.

Now I'm 32 and I don't have a 401(k). I don't own a house. My parents are having to "sell" me my mom's car because I can't afford to make real car payments. My partner and I have started to experience health issues I didn't think would show up this early in my life. And so are our parents. It's a weird time. I struggle with "midlife crisis" feelings a few times a year, when I realize my parents are my safety net and I'm still living paycheck to paycheck. I really appreciate all the words in this thread. Like so many other people have said, it's nice to know some people are dealing with this and some people have dealt with it.
posted by persephone's rant at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wait hold on. I turn 36 at the end of the week and you're telling me it gets worse?

I'm 36 and I'm on my eleventh year of quarterlife crisis. In four more years it graduates.

Really, what bothers me is that I'm "sooooo oooooooold" or "too young" (I rarely spend time around anyone my age and my coworkers tend to be in their 20's or 40+), and I am living the life of a 22-year-old but am soooooo olllllllld and I'm supposed to have had 2 kids and a husband and a house by now. Meanwhile I'm still shocked I own a car, which I got last year. And that's as good as I am going to get, I think. I look like a loser by comparison to the standards for people my age.

I decided oh, 8 years ago I was going to figure out another career because my first career was journalism and my second career was likely to get outmoded by technology. I never did. I fell into career #3 when the second one got merged into the third one, and the third one frequently sucks because I get to deal with unhappy people too much. I'd like to do something different, but you can't get hired for anything unless you have already done that job before, and fuck if I know what I'd do anything because "transferable skills" is BS. I am going to have to learn to tolerate this job/love Big Brother/whatever because I don't see anything else out there for me and I'm lucky to be employed and not moving in with my mom until I die. I couldn't catch a man if I sold my soul to the devil, and I've pretty much stopped caring about such a thing 99% of the time anyway. I'm so drained from work I don't know how I'd cope with screaming children at home wanting dinner, so it's a good thing I never wanted any.

Feh. I'm ALREADY in a midlife crisis and it's only gonna get worse?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:27 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, it's likely to get better at some point, if the tales above are anything to go by.
posted by dg at 4:13 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


What gets me is I don't feel old at all, and then when other people my age go, "I'm so old!" it's like, What? No.

I still wear Converse and am wondering if I've 'aged out' (ugh that is a vicious phrase) of them, but the wonderful thing is, you kind of quit caring what other people think and just do what you want to do.

I don't know if anyone's mentioned that in this thread (haven't slogged through all of it), but the LA LA LA I DON'T CARE WHAT OTHERS THINK ANYMORE is a wonderfully freeing thing. Probably a bit more freeing for women? I'm not sure.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:58 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


the LA LA LA I DON'T CARE WHAT OTHERS THINK ANYMORE is a wonderfully freeing thing. Probably a bit more freeing for women? I'm not sure.

I was thinking about this thread and came to the exact same conclusion. I just don't give as much of a damn what other people think about the way I dress or the effort I appear to put forth. My therapist thought that many women feel this way - that we're often so eager to please when we're younger (not that men don't feel that way either, but "pleasantness" is such an ingrained female habit), that once we achieve some sustainable success, and perhaps once we lose some of that beauty currency, we can just focus on what makes us happy. I know I have never had fewer fucks to give than I do now, although the things I do care about, I care about deeply.

I also feel like I've had enough experiences where the effort I put forth just wasn't worth it for me, that I've come to prioritize my work/life balance more than anything else. I don't want to sound cavalier, because like every other American, my job and financial stability could disappear at any time, for a variety of reasons, but I just don't feel the drive to stand out professionally anymore. I'd rather do my work, come home, see my kids, read a book, and play 4-5 hours of video games because I am really, really not a grownup. I can't imagine I will look back on my life and regret all the committee meetings that I missed.

And that's a damn comfortable feeling that goes a long way to mitigating the awareness of my inevitable physical, mental, and social decline.
posted by bibliowench at 8:11 AM on January 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have only one regret: not majoring in finance in college. Because being a 45-year-old single female fucking SUCKS. (The single part more than the finance part, but still.)

Great discussion here, hearing other people's stories is very enlightening and comforting. Love you all.
posted by Melismata at 9:31 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


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