I’m still sort of in charge but maybe I don’t care quite as much

In the past week or so I have been browsing in desultory manner through a book I’ve had kicking around for 15-years or so called The Seasons of a Man’s Life, by Daniel J. Levinson.

What it really consists of is a series of case studies that look at the world through the eyes of assorted men of various callings as they make their passages through the morass of life. It goes right from kiddiehood to later middle age. I was especially interested, for obvious reasons, on the mid-life transition period, since it’s one with which I’m rather familiar.

As I indicated, I’ve had the book kicking around for ages but never really got into it. I think that’s because I wasn’t ready for it. I was still transitioning a lot at the time of purchase.

So, today, I want to look at ‘mid-life crises’ (I use the plural for valid reason) from the male perspective. Sometimes this distressing phenomenon is called ‘male menopause’ or andropause, whatever works. While volumes have been devoted to the female menopause (for absolutely valid reason, so I don’t quibble about that) there is still a paucity of study of what men face.

Now, some get through this transitionary time with élan. At the end of it, around 50-ish, they are still quite happily with their original spouses, they have their personal habits in check, they like their jobs, their homes, their career path, their leisure activities, their friends, their extended families, and at the end of a tiring day they can still ‘get it up’ with comfortable excitement with the ministrations of the person who was once their high-school sweetie.

None of those applied to me, I must confess. I think I have medals of honor from the mid-life combat zone, and I have the scars to prove it. But, I also survived it.

I cannot remember exactly how old I was when I went into the realm of MLC, but it was an amazingly disruptive time. And, despite those fine fellows who sail through it, a lot of men are like me. But, as Levinson points out, if you don’t get your shit together during that time, you never will. And sometimes the passage is like the Cape of Good Hope – turbulent and threatening all the while – and that makes it even more worthwhile to dig in, find focus and evoke the changes we must. I think I did that, and I also think I got my shit together sufficiently to enable me to find, I daresay, genuine joy in my life. But, what a trip to get there.

Going back to our guy that sailed through, and making a comparison. When I was 50-ish (and over the previous decade) I’d crashed and burned in two marriages (one ended after 24 years, the other after 11-months), took no care at all with my health and smoked and drank heavily, I was frustrated in my job and my mid-management position (I wanted to be boss, and deserved to be), my friendships and associations grew increasingly chaotic and, while I could easily get it up, it wasn’t necessarily with the person I was ‘meant’ to be with, but with random other persons.

Yet, through it all I navigated a certain course that, while it was unclear at first, it eventually clarified. Many things helped me along that way. Good friends were essential, some counseling, major lifestyle changes, finding a partner whom I could genuinely love, and who genuinely loved me, and even putting a lot of my thoughts into words. Somewhere kicking around is a 250 page manuscript that has never seen the light of day. In that I offer some words of advice to younger males. Maybe advice is too strong – suggestions might be preferable. There was good therapy in writing it. It’s probably too naïve to ever be published, but I don’t really care about that. That was another change within me – ceasing to care about things that are purely ego-driven. Never thought I’d be at that place, but here I am. Albeit, only to a degree. I still take much pride in what I do.

Another element that enters the life of us all at a certain age is recognition of mortality. Parents and other senior members of the family pass on, and eventually contemporaries start to as well. Does that mean ‘death’ could happen to me? Well, yeah, and likely sooner rather than later. Get over it. But, it’s a big adjustment this mortality thing, and it puts other things that used to distress in a certain perspective of relative unimportance. In truth, awareness of death can be mentally healthy.

“I don’t care so much that he got a new sportscar,” I overheard my first wife saying to a friend many years ago when I first acquired the hot little vehicle I still drive to this day, “As long as he doesn’t want to get a new wife.” Little did she know that within months our marriage would have ended and within a few months after that I would be on the quest for a new wife. And so it began. And yet I made it through. I am happy about that.

One thing that did help me through all the stuff was acquiring one bit of wisdom especially, and that was to kill ‘expectations.’ There is a bit of wisdom that has been bandied around for years. It holds that: Expectations are resentments lying in wait. I fully believe that. Thus, when anything really good happens — and lots of good things still do — it comes as a nice surprise because it’s always unexpected rather than longed for.

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12 responses to “I’m still sort of in charge but maybe I don’t care quite as much

  1. First of all, the cartoon is hilarious! I read your post with a great deal of interest.

    My husband has convinced me that women can go through MLC, too. I’m a bit of a late bloomer in that area, but I remember telling my daughter that as soon as she was out of the house, that I was going to buy a sports car.

    I’m much more interested in gadgets than I used to be (but not nearly as much as many men are). After I turned 40, I also became more interested in music my kids listened to — not all of it, but a fair amount.

    One of my daughter’s friends thinks that “moms should not know the lyrics to Rihanna songs.” LOL I just keep singing.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  2. One thing is for certain. Menopause and MLC are not the same thing.

    And it’s annoying as hell to deal with both of them.

    And probably MUCH more annoying to Mr. Jazz than it is to me, poor guy.

  3. I think what basically happens (besides all that physical stuff with women in particular) is that we all reach an age where we realize that it just doesn’t matter, so what the hell, go for it! Life is far too short, so quit worrying about what others think and quit trying to please anybody else and just do what you want to do (with the caveat that it doesn’t harm anybody else, of course). I don’t know about you, but I wish I’d had this attitude back in my twenties! Not that I didn’t do most of what I wanted to back then, but I wouldn’t have cared so much about other peoples’ opinions, which would’ve saved me much angst at the time. Ah well, as they say, youth is wasted on the young.

  4. Jazz: No, they’re definitely not the same thing, but both are ‘charming’ in their own ways, just like boys and girls are.

    Pinklea: You basically encapsulated my philosophy and put it in a nutshell. Yep, you and me both in the categories you suggest.

    Deb: If you want to listen to Rihanna, then you darn well should, right?

  5. This is – ha ha ha – a lot better than most of the school-of-life philosophies I read; or let’s just say it’s better expressed.

    Today I was watching a programme about plastic surgery gone wrong. I said to my friend, “I want to say to these people, ‘hey – you will be in the ground being eaten by maggots one day, maybe soon, and there’s nothing you can do about it.'” They couldn’t accept getting older and uglier. But, I suspect, when death is imminent they will hang on to what they’ve got no matter how withered they’ve become.

    I know that a lot of people with religion in their lives don’t dig very deep with it; they have some easy consolations and it kind of just about shoos the bogeyman away while it still seems an abstract threat. But nevertheless, I think that for most people there’s something to be said for, if not a religion as such, some kind of transcendental philosophy that can put one’s own small life into a bigger context. So that ageing and death doesn’t seem like the end of the universe. If you ask an Hindu guru what he thinks about death he would probably say that it makes no difference to him. If you asked a Japanese Zen master he would probably say ‘I am already dead’. Yet neither of these people would be pessimistic or lacking in vitality while alive – quite the opposite.

    I think that we don’t know what death is so we don’t know what life is – like how you can’t know light without knowing darkness. If you understand both then neither need perturb you. What we fear when we fear ageing and death is just an idea. If you want to get scientific/empirical about it, stats show clearly that most old people are happier than they were in their 40s. I don’t think it’s senility. I think that as people wither they gradually learn to let go, even if only in small ways.

  6. P.S. Judging by your general tone, I would be surprised to find your manuscript ‘naive’.

    But we all have our own standards, and unfortunately we can become our own gatekeepers, preemptively suppressing things that others might appreciate.

    I don’t know. I’ve been told I do this; and actually I still tend to stick to my guns in favour of perfectionism/idealism, so what the hell.

  7. @Ian: Yep, I’ve earned my right to listen to Rihanna whenever I wish. 🙂

  8. What a great article that really made me think and look back on the last twenty years and how my expectations have changed. Now I am just pleased to have got through another day without going off the diet or disgracing myself in some way or other.

    I’d never heard that phrase about expectations, but I think it is good to have a few things one hopes to have done before leaving the earth. Mind you I can’t for the life of me think of any.

  9. Julie: But I put hopes and aspirations into a different category from expectations. Hopes are things one can strive towards, whereas expectations suggest some sort of entitlement which may not manifest — hence the resentment potential.

  10. Expectations almost inevitably lead to disappointments, and that’s too much of a crap shoot for me. It’s far easier to accept thwarted hopes because there is no implicit entitlement in the equation.

  11. Oh, wow. I just read your comment right above mine and realized that I kind of reworded it because I didn’t read it first.

  12. I wonder if some of your experiences weren’t simply a result of trying to learn how to live. When one grows up around dysfunction or mental illness, that process often isn’t straightforward. For example, how in the hell are you supposed to have a warm, smoothly functioning marriage right out of the starting gate when one of the fundamental relationships you had with a female, your mother, was damaged?

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