Who here has had a mid-life crisis or knows someone who has? Where your anxiety about aging, your boredom with your job, and your sense of the monotony of life drives you to have an affair, buy a motorcycle, and hit the gym?
According to the experts, this is just the stuff of Hollywood films and Oval Office shenanigans--not real life. "Crises" aren't triggered by age, but by some disturbance in your life, like a personal illness, a grave loss, or a career setback.
Those things aside, by the time you've reached mid-life, you're actually less susceptible to crises than you might be at any other point in your life, which makes sense: by mid-life your personality has matured, you have a stable job, a loving family, a house. In other words, you've achieved many of the markers of happiness and success. When Alexandra Freund, an expert on these matters, asked her research subjects what age they'd most like to be, most said they'd like to be in their 40s. Life, like wine, gets better with age.
So the idea of a "mid-life crisis" seems to be a myth:
In the process of figuring themselves out, young people will wrestle with establishing personal goals and values. After young adulthood, however,personality remains relatively stable for the rest of one's life, researchers have found...
Midlife without the crisis
In middle age, people tend to focus on making positive contributions to society through the interactions of people of significantly different ages. Such interactions include formal and informal mentee/mentor relationships, stratified workplace relations and cross-generation family dynamics.
Middle-age adults are "no longer driven, but now the drivers," say researchers Bernice Neugarten and Nancy Datan in their paper "The Middle Years" ("The Foundations of Psychiatry," Basic Books, 1974).
Critically, middle adulthood comes with a greater sense of control then other life periods. Young adulthood, by contrast, is usually a time of striving, and late adulthood is typically a time of loss, including of one's job, health and friends.
The most common complaint in midlife is not boredom, as many young people fear, nor a feeling of crisis. "People are experts of themselves at this age," Freund said. "They know what is good for them and what isn't."
Rather, researchers conducting large surveys have found that the main problem for middle-age people is feeling unable to get everything done.
"In middle adulthood, you are living at your fullest. You've achieved a lot in your job, the kids are growing up, you are healthy and have more resources than when you were a student. There is not much mortality in your social circle. … You know where you are going and don't question yourself all the time anymore," Freund said.
Not that midlife is void of critical changes: Menopause, andropause (male menopause), the emptying of the nest, and the death of a parent all often happen during middle adulthood. But not everyone sees these changes as negative. Menopause and an empty nest, for example, can result in a newly flourishing sex life.
For an alternative theory, see Frank Turner's angsty--but great--song Photosynthesis:
Lyrics can be found here:
Well I guess I should confess that I am starting to get old
All the latest music fads all passed me by and left me cold
All the kids are talking slang I won't pretend to understand
All my friends are getting married, mortagages and pension plans
And it's obvious my angry adolescent days are done
And I'm happy and I'm settled in the person I've become
But that doesn't mean I'm settled up and sitting out the game
Time may change a lot but some things may stay the same
Oh maturity's a wrapped up package deal so it seems
And ditching teenage fantasy means ditching all your dreams
All your friends and peers and family solemnly tell you you will
Have to grow up be an adult yeah be bored and unfulfilled
Oh when no ones yet explained to me exactly what's so great
About slaving 50 years away on something that you hate
Look I'm meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity
Well if that's your road then take it but it's not the road for me
Perhaps Turner is the exception that proves the rule. Let us hope so, at least.