My best friend likes to say that what this journey I am on is a sort of mid-life “event”, preferring that word over the more common “crisis”. I always thought that a mid-life crisis involved expensive toys—yachts, sports cars, outward symbols of youth. In my case it seems to be whippings and dresses, a heady cocktail to be sure!
What got me onto this wicket was the eponymous Tony Bennet song, “The Best is Yet to Come.” As I was belting it out in the car, driving along the grid streets of a new world, I was struck by how true those words are, and how important it is to believe in them. In our youth, every decade yields these thoughts like plump fruits.
As a child I dreamt the most colossal dreams, as do all children. Visions, potential, total excitement mixed with total belief in their reality. It is delicious and real—when dreams take such form that we can almost step into them. And in those years, the plasticity of our minds, nearly allows us to. Is that just a feeling, or is it real? Or more importantly, when we feel something so surely, it must be real, because what is there. “When I grow up…” fantasies are such the embodiment of the “Best is Yet to Come.”
In our teen years, these visions find their way to the ground, and we begin to allow them to take real shape. We have no doubt about their achievability, how our lives will flow, and how the world will bend to fit this model…and our dreams become laced with practicality.
[Quick aside please. Especially if you are a parent or a teacher, and have children in your lives. Cultivating this sense of wonder and practicality is the job of an adult. It is not the job of an adult to puncture these dreams by imposing “practical” thinking, or telling the developing child that the world is cruel, tough, or that things don’t work that way. We all find out the hard way. No matter what. But the adult caregiver who takes it upon his or herself to pop the dreams of his/her charges is a sinner on a colossal scale.] And just as an FYI, this was the essence of my father—dream-popper extraordinaire. I wrote about him here.
When we step into our twenties, we have our first real taste of making our dreams reality. I can only say that in my own life, the 20’s were an extraordinary period. All the potential, but also, for the first time, true independence, and also cash, income, and the sense of achievement of stepping away from the nest and taking flight…and bless those fortunate among us who find updrafts and hot air pockets that give us real loft. The twenties are the decade when we sow the seeds of the rest of our lives—not that we haven’t before, but these are the seeds we sow with our own hands.
As we step into our thirties, it is primordial to understand ourselves, our goals, what we really want. The thirties are a decade of work, and for many of us, this means putting aside our dreams or putting them on hold—and such a shame it is. I know so many people who forgot what their dreams were. Maybe they made a conscious decision to set them aside—“I need to make money to secure the future”, or “it’s time to have kids and to settle down,” or “my career is really taking off and it is really fulfilling”. Of course, those are all positives, but there could just as easily be negatives. I think from what I know, the 30’s are quite possibly the most challenging decade of life. So many people come unstuck, get derailed, and forget what they really want.
In my case, my dreams changed, or rather, the things I valued changed. I stopped railing against the world around me and started to line my nest. I wanted comfort. I wanted a family. I wanted my own smooth passage. Revolutionary me might have been disappointed, but I found extraordinary freedom in laying down arms and embracing the good life. I got married, I had children, my career took off, we were financially free, and had the freedom to do as we pleased. Every extra penny was invested, and that has paid off.
The 40’s and 50’s appear to be the decades of mid-life change…though for some they come all the way into the 60’s. I believe that we continue the path we lay in our 30’s until we or some external force redirects things, and usually this is a fundamental shift, and it is this shift which provokes the rethink.
It seems to me that the universal thread to this rethink is this thought of “is that all there is?” Or maybe, “we’re not making enough noise.” Someone like Mike Jagger or Jack Nicholson made noise all their lives, and so you could well imagine, never really experienced this feeling, but I suspect a great many of us do.
While the mid-life crisis as a concept seems to be more commonly associated with men, I find that more women that I know experience it. Most of the women that I know are motivated, intelligent, articulate, highly empowered and energised women that all have and have had the potential to set the world on fire. And this sounds horrible, and it isn’t meant to, but along comes marriage and children, and for many women, this is the end of their non-familial ambitions. I do not wish to turn away from this important choice—that many people see it as binary, but it doesn’t need to be.
The alternative? The butch stereotype of the woman who gives birth and then is back at work a week or so later is far from ideal. The true alternative lies in taking the time to be with our children, caring for them, watching them grow. I am not saying to shoulder all of the parenting or caregiving—our own children had nannies as well as stay-at-home parents, but that we all should take the time.
Of course, our current social structure, regulation, etc, do not privilege the needs of the child, and that is a crime against humanity—quite literally. Fixing this is one of the prime challenges of modern life—and we are a long way from even beginning to have a dialog about it…but the truth is that men and women both should be obliged to take time off work without being punished for doing so—and that it should be enshrined in law.
My own decision to give up my career to be with my children is one that I still relish to this day. The bonds we have, the shared experiences, the memories, the time are marked by the way we interact as a family, how well-adjusted and polite and good they are, but also in how easy it is to be around one another. And time was effortless. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes, feeding their imaginations, encouraging their sense of possibility—well, it is just like living it over again. Totally delectable.
When the children leave home, many adults find a new lease on life. They start to travel, they take up courses in obscure subjects which intrigue them. So many paths. For most, this is a time when there is the financial freedom to indulge without fear of consequences. It is a beautiful time.
But for others, it is not such a time. For some it is a time of bitterness or a time of emptiness—a feeling that seems all too often filled by sports cars or bling experiences, or their equivalents. Proof that “I still have it.”
It is with this thought in mind that I consider my own situation. I am loving life. I find that I do have a very strong feeling of “the best is yet to come”. So much so that my blood is boiling and effervescing with a desire to go and get it. Where is the crisis in that?
Well, it is rather curious. For one, I am suddenly tired of wearing men’s clothes period. I haven’t the faintest idea how long it has been now that I have worn head to toe men’s clothes…possibly two years…but the mix is now shifting very much in the direction of outwardly presenting. For two, I approached a Dominatrix because I wanted to cry, and to feel that I could cry, sob even, and have it all just pour out of me. I am still working on it but am loving the process. And I have lost a lot of my desire to compromise—which is a bit ironic considering how submissive I am.
I am a married man with a wife whom I love and cherish. I have beautiful children whom I love and cherish. That is the essence of a good life. But I also am non-binary, and I have friends who accept that. I am also finding that the more I present, the more there are people who actively demonstrate appreciation for it. Men and women. For one, women seem more relaxed around me, which is wonderful. But also, some men, in fact, most so far, go out of their way to show me that they are enlightened—and that in itself is enlightening.
So, yes, I want to have my cake and to eat it, because it seems like I can. Have you had a mid-life event? Or such a phenom at any other decade? What did you do instead of getting the Ferrari? Did you buy a cute little number like I did? Or was it something else? I’d love to know.