end midlife crisis w/out accompanying fallout
March 19, 2009 7:24 AM   Subscribe

How do you get out of a midlife crisis without destroying your life?

40 year old male - by objective standards successful - beautiful family, home, life, and so on. But overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction and boredom. Also, feelings of regret over career choices and other things, even though all of those things are objectively desirable.

How do you end these irrational and troubling thoughts and feelings? Also, is this common? How common?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's common enough that we coined the term midlife crisis to refer to it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:28 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it a midlife crisis or a spiritual crisis?

Take some time to yourself to really ask yourself what it really is you are longing for.

These types of crises are normal. Use them to reevaluate where you are headed, not where you have been.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:30 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Buy a sports car or a convertible.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:31 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Midlife crises take many forms. As someone who has had several, my advice would be for you to follow your heart, because if you tried to "stuff" those feelings, they would manifest themselves in something more destructive.

Share your feelings with your wife (if such is your partner) and allow yourself to feel what you feel. Perhaps she feels like she's fastened in the yoke of life also, and perhaps you both can make an adventure out of exporing ways of throwing off this yoke (however "objectively desirable" it is).

Everyone goes through this.
posted by Danf at 7:35 AM on March 19, 2009

Generally, people talk through these things, either with friends/family or with a therapist or with a spiritual advisor/clergy member. That seems to be the best way to deal with this kind of overarching life issue for most people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2009

One of the things that trigger the midlife crisis is pretty much the same thing that will solve it: freedom.

You feel regret over some of the choices that you've taken and a sense of loss over the doors that have closed to you forever.

Take advantage of this reawakening to take some time off, to travel, to read, to experience life. Use the freedom that you have, don't waste it. You have found that *stuff* doesn't make you happy, so don't waste your time/money on more stuff.
posted by unixrat at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

Buy a sports car or a convertible.

This is generally preferable to the other standard option, which is buying a mistress.

How is your marriage? If you're content but bored is it perhaps time to shake things up a bit? Plan a vacation with just your wife, focus a little more on each other rather than the family as a whole, talk about and make plans for your future, have hot monkey sex and get sand in all the wrong places?

Peole in mid-life crisis often make stupid decisions out of boredom. Get unbored, because it beats stupid hands-down. In this quest, avoid golf, gambling and the nanny.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2009

"How do you get out of a midlife crisis without destroying your life?"

It's all about creative destruction. Get rid of the things that aren't satisfying you - wife, job, mortgage, friends, whichever applies - and keep or add the things that do satisfy you - wife, job, mortgage, friends, hobbies, whatever. Speaking from experience, the weight that lifts off your shoulders and the sense of freedom that you will feel when you finally get the courage to do these things is amazing. Suddenly, the whole world is open before you and to be honest, the sense of freedom and possibility can be amazingly and gratifyingly overwhelming!
Good luck!
posted by conifer at 7:43 AM on March 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

How do you get out of a midlife crisis without destroying your life?

I think there are three basic strategies. One is to ignore the crisis; it will in all likelihood pass, and you will eventually look back on it either as silly or as a critical interval that you blew. Second is to engage in some kind of satisficing -- get the car or whatever -- to resolve your feelings minimally or at least to distract yourself. Third is to redefine what you mean by "your life."

I think considering this third tactic is much more transparent than evaluating "creative destruction," but everyone's different. For me, personally, the question boils down to a question of what you consider to be a life well-lived, and even (if you have a family) the extent to which it is appropriate to regard it as "your" life.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:06 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd start by making a list of things that you would want in your life if you were starting over and could choose any path without any obligations to anyone but yourself. Then look at (and past) these things to see what you truly value and need to have to be fulfilled.

I'd put these values in order, from most important to least important. Then look at your current life and see what is on the list and not in your life. Then look at what is in your life but "out of order" compared to how that list is prioritized.

Then make decisions about what you need to get in your life, what to rearrange, and whether the costs of making these changes are worthwhile. You'll probably be faced with some tough decisions if you do this honestly, but it should give you a more concrete idea of what exactly you are lacking right now.

Then make your next move based on what you find, what you want, and what works for your family.
posted by PFL at 8:14 AM on March 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

Maybe I'm stating the obvious here, but what about counseling? Therapy is good for everyone, not just those with serious mental disorders. And it's certainly a far better option than destroying your marriage on a whim. If, through therapy, you find that your marriage is the problem, or your job or your lifestyle, or whatever, then take action to change it. The worst thing you could do would be to sabotage your life in an effort to relieve your boredom.

If your career is "objectively desirable" then odds are you have health insurance that covers behavioral health. Take advantage of that benefit: see a psychologist and start making the choices that will change your life for the better.
posted by philotes at 8:34 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Step one would be to appreciate what you do have, and not worry about what you do not. If "by objective standards" you are successful, and you have a wife/kids you love and get along with, a good job, and a home you're happy in, you're better off than a lot of people; the first thing you need to do is celebrate that.

PFL's idea is a good one - make a list of what your "ideal" life would look like, and work towards achieving it as much as is realistic. This should be a collaborative process - draw up the list by yourself, but when you find things on that list you want to work towards, involve your family as much as possible. They're a part of your life and should be a part of this process.

Believe it or not, what you have right now is a fantastic opportunity - taking stock is an important part of one's life, and you will benefit greatly from doing it. Have fun.
posted by pdb at 8:42 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do I work with you? One of my work friends is this guy (and age), and he's such a bad case that I've lost hope that he'll ever snap out of it. Objectively he has a -far- better life than anyone else I know, and he knows it... it doesn't help.

The real kicker is that while I'm sure he thinks it's just a midlife crisis, he's actually been showing the signs of this since his late 20s, which is almost as long as I've known him -- basically since the day he got married. And not just showing it, but showing it such a glaringly obvious way that it's become a running joke with everyone he knows. He crams in time for hobbies that are typically reserved for the young and single, and goes out with any number of female friends so often that anyone who doesn't know him and his wife well assumes he just MUST be cheating, stuff like that... and then whines because he doesn't have time to spend with his wife and kids.

So, while I generally agree with the "assess your life and make some changes if it works" advice, if you're THIS guy... then that's not what I would tell you. Him, I would tell to stop taunting himself with the kid hobbies and "dates" and go give the choices he made a serious chance by committing his time and energy to his family instead -- because right now he's dead on track to be the classic "never there dad" his kids won't care about in 15-20 years, and if he thinks he's unhappy NOW...

If he asked, that is.
posted by Pufferish at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The midlife crisis is a modern phenomenon, brought about by a world that pushes us into careers and social roles that demand constant work but usually provide little real personal fulfillment. We don't have time to contemplate, our work is usually a random slice of the whole that doesn't seem obviously concretely useful, and our relationships are often kept at pretty superficial levels because our schedules are so hectic. Sometime halfway through life, we realize THIS IS IT, this is our one chance to be alive, our one shot at experiencing or creating or expressing anything - so continuing on with these limitations seems disappointing.

Some people get over it - decide that their relationships are deep enough, their work is meaningful enough, that they've read enough books or seen enough movies or whatever to account for any layer of thoughtfulness - basically, that they freaked out over nothing.

Some people treat the symptom - a sense of being trapped, being a cog in the machine instead of an existentially free consciousness - those are the ones who go on a vacation or buy a car or whatever.

Some people will really change the direction of their life and try to find a way to make it honestly alternative. This is much harder and not always even possible since you have to do it somewhat outside the boundaries of normal society. The extreme example would be to become a monk or join a commune or move back to the woods or something, but there are some portions of normal society where alternative lifestyles can be lived - to some extent in academia, to some extent among artists, performers, perhaps even in some cases among freelancers or small business owners, etc. Of course those each have their own issues, and are not easy to become part of, either.
posted by mdn at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

I agree with others to go ahead and let yourself feel what you're feeling. Go a little crazy even, but don't do anything too crazy, such as cheating on your spouse or spending a lot of money you don't have.

I find that my past episodes of self-absorption and dissatisfaction have helped me a lot with loving and appreciating my life more. I'm betting you'll look back on this period and think how silly it all was and thank god you didn't do anything crazy like leave your marriage or put your children on the back-burner.
posted by Fairchild at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2009

A friend of mine did very well navigating his midlife crisis with the help of a therapist. He also talked it over at length with his wife, throughout, and as a result of all that he committed to not considering any cheating or leaving her or the family, but that left him free to look at all sorts of other options to bring things he was missing back into his life - including more time for music, more travel, etc. It really helped his wife to sort of have a part in dealing with it rather than having him stuff it under. Also, sharing it with her helped him see it wasn't about her or any failures of their marriage, which made him less interested in looking for whatever he felt was missing in other relationships.
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Geez, I have couseled so many friends about this. Not every culture expresses an idea of mid life crisis... it seems to be a big concept in the US but not as much in Europe, and much less so in other cultures. Why? I think US culture puts such a value on "youth" and so little on growing older. So look at dealing with it as an adaption to something that you will eventually become comforatble with. And yes, it will pass.

Avoiding fallout? Do not buy a motorcycle if you haven't already ridden one by this point in life. A lot of guys go for sexual adventures, which is default mode but is disasterous. Get into somethng where, as a beginner, you can enjoy some progress which will make you feel the thrill of accomplishment again. Teach English to refugees. Learn a musical instrument or a new language. Personally, I took up fly fishing... and just by chance, so did disgraced former NY Times editor Howell Raines who wrote the enlightening and enjoyable Flyfishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis.
posted by zaelic at 11:19 AM on March 19, 2009

For me the midlife crisis was realizing that doors are closing, and no new doors are appearing to replace the ones that are irrevocably closed. Therefore, it's time to do those things that I'd been putting off until some vague "later", while I can still do them at all. In my case, the limitations are physical (bad knees, etc) so I know I need to do all my walking, hiking, cycling etc in the next 10 years or so before my knees crap out for good (yeah, there's surgery but you can't count on that to always work).

So I'd advise you to think about the things you've always wanted to do but have deferred, and figure out a way to do them before it's too late. Probably a lot of these things can be enjoyed with your wife and kids with judicious planning and saving. The things you want to do solo, well, figure out a way to do them that's OK with your wife. You'll both have to compromise a little here.

Regrets about career choices - can you volunteer in the "right" career or do it as a hobby? You may be kinda stuck in your present career, but it doesn't have to be the only thing you work on.

Finally, stuff isn't what makes you happy, and most of us middle-aged middle-class folks already have so much stuff it becomes more of a burden than a pleasure. I'm not suggesting you're the guy in the cliché, but just as an example, if you think a red sports car would solve your midlife crisis, think a little deeper. That car represents something; it's a means to an end. Freedom? Youthful vigor and health? Sexy self-image? Figure out what the car would get you in theory, and think about how to get it in reality without blowing a wad of money on a ridiculous symbol. You may end up with a bicycle or gym membership instead, but I think you'll be more satisfied by going after the "want" directly, without using "stuff" as a proxy. (And you probably already own a bike!)

On preview, Miko has excellent advice, as always. Actually, just about everybody in this thread has good insights.

Middle age is a sobering if not downright depressing time when dreams die and you realize that half of your life is over and the remaining half will be less healthy, less mobile, and less comfortable as your body creaks and aches its way into senescence. I regard the midlife crisis as a kick in the ass to do the stuff you really want to do before time runs out. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

You need some excitement. A motorcycle could help, but only if you ride it (I'd say 90% of the midlife crisis Harley owners never take it out of their garage after the first weekend). Hookers/strippers could help, but that would be too temporary.

I recommend taking up something that's exciting and that would give you something to look forward to. Learn to scuba dive and plan some trips, start backpacking and spend a week in the Grand Canyon. Things like this -- adventures that can involve your family -- are really the solution. I know that "get therapy" is the MeFi leitmotif (and I usually agree), but in this case I don't really see what therapy is going to do for you that you can't do for yourself. Therapy isn't going to change the fact that life is boring -- only you can do that.

(Also, if you're feeling depression, working out and eating right can help a lot.)
posted by coolguymichael at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2009

crap, I was gonna say ...

Buy a sports car or a convertible. ... or a motorcycle.

But coolguymichael's right, only get a bike if you're gonna ride it.

Go on some kind of "journey" to find something creative that you like doing. Men often neglect creative pursuits, and a change can do a body good.
posted by dwbrant at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2009

Every time I feel the Midlife Crisis thing gnawing on me, and I start to make plans, I remind myself that while it's easier to destroy a thing than to create a thing, the thing created has more lasting value, whereas the thing destroyed only brings satisfaction in the brief act of destruction. This has, I hope, kept me from making a good many regrettable decisions.

Regarding the convertible, my cousin's husband came home with a fireapple-red Harley one day,about the time he hit his 40th birthday. My cousin was irritated at first, but she told me later, "better he bring home a red motorcycle than a redhead."
posted by lekvar at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2009

Your life is really under control, it seems, but most of us have an inherent need to continually challenge ourselves. Are you taking enough risks? Are you doing anything out of your comfort zone?

I think there's a lot to be said about the cliche advice, "follow your fears."
posted by philosophistry at 9:19 PM on March 19, 2009

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