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.