As men, we are taught to possess life, not live it. The “American Dream” is really the Patriarchal Man Dream: Get the girl, get the job, get the house, get the money, get retired, and start playing. There is very little said about cultivating love, intimacy, meaning, and purpose. The mid-life crisis in men often occurs about the time we realize we’re transitioning into playing the “back nine” of life (to use a golf term) and we feel as if we have little to show for it. For many men this forces a time of reflection and for some a state of panic: “Do I play the back nine the same way I played the front?” “Did it work; will it work again?”
The crisis comes when we try to get out of a situation by using the same methods that got us into the situation in the first place. There’s an unspoken pact among men that says they should be at a place of power and wealth, the envy (if not the leaders) of the man-pack. So, the aging process is often experienced as a loss of power and prowess. And, since men are taught that introspection and reflection are for women, we take action. We don’t sit around belly aching about something, we are fixers. So we find the props, and fix the feelings of dread, despair, and fear. Rather than relish gray hues in our once charcoal black hair, accept the slowing down of reflexes and career, we are driven to dye our hair, drive fast cars, run marathons, chase the money trail, and dangle younger women on our arm. Instead of seeing the aging process as an opportunity for change, we see the props that made us feel good in our 20s and 30s and think they will surely do so again. But it rarely works that way. The props are quick fixes, in that they only work temporarily to ward off negative feelings. The feelings of dread and insecurity eventually come back with a vengeance that requires more props, more action; a vicious cycle. Hence, the mid-life crisis.
Surviving a Mid-life Crisis
There is a way out of the mid-life crisis. It involves claiming your full humanity. This may sound like getting in touch with your “feminine side,” but it isn’t that at all. You see, you were born with a need for an inner life, connection to others, meaning and spirituality. But, you may have only lived a half life, because you abandoned half your humanity in pursuit of masculinity; leaving you with a dull ache in your soul, with rumblings in your belly for a life of meaning. The mid-life crisis is a call to reclaim your abandoned and neglected self. This takes emotional and moral courage; a different courage than running marathons or shooting the rapids in a river. It means exploring your soul, your inner life. When you explore and know this interior world, you will be able to build deeper connections with others. If you have the courage, you will discover your true humanity and find meaning, love, and satisfaction. You will find that these meaningful and deeper connections are rewarding and sustaining unlike the props of earlier times that you used to hold up your masculinity.
Mid-life Crisis Resources
There are several things you can do that will help you move through a mid-life crisis and on to a better, more fulfilling life:
- Reconnect to family and friends,
- Reconnect to your heart and soul; find activities that will help you become more aware of your body, emotions, values, and needs,
- Find significance and meaning with a higher power, something bigger than you,
- Find a community of other thoughtful and meaningful people so you aren’t so alone in this pursuit. This is found in faith communities, men’s support groups, men’s retreats, and other recovering communities.
You aren’t alone in this struggle. Other men are championing this new frontier. The Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan provides a number of programs and services designed to help men navigate the sea of change around them including men’s support groups and retreats.
To explore who you are doesn’t mean you have to stop being a man; a human-doing. It just means you have to also work on yourself as a human-being. You can still play golf, run marathons, and start a new career … whatever you want. But you won’t need these things as props to your life anymore. They’ll just be for fun. Because you will have taken control of how you want to play the “back nine.”
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Randy Flood, MA, LLP
Evaluator and Therapist; Director and Therapist, Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan. Randy has been involved in counseling psychology since 1992 and joined the Fountain Hill Center in 2000. He believes sitting with individuals 1:1 and in groups while they share their pain, joy, fears and passions is a privilege. He beleives it is soul work: the process of taking off the social mask and placing oneself deeper into vulnerability takes courage, the journey of leaving the security of the familiar patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving to seeking new ways of living.