Why Men Go Through a Midlife Crisis

I am a man, at midlife, and quite familiar with crises. I’ve caused a few and watched others. And refereed a really good one. In fact, all of my peer group buddies have have either had a midlife crisis or dream of having one. Perky young girls are often involved, as are cars, hotels, diets and exercise, covert operations, and getting caught. I mention this in honor of Prince William, who earlier today announced his engagement to longtime girlfriend and “commoner” Kate Middleton. Kate is beautiful and her parents are millionaires. Trust me: She may well be a commoner by British definition but she certainly is not a K-mart shopper.

The royal nuptials will come in spring or summer — whenever London stops raining — and, at 28, both have circled the block often enough to know when it’s time to stop dancing in strobe lights and park their bottoms on the royal sofa to grunt and eat junk food while watching TV.

Babies, I presume, will come quickly. William is prime fatherhood material and clearly Kate’s genes must be passed down among a toddling brood. I predict four, three girls and a boy, and my guess is they’ll arrive in quick succession. As they sprout William’s hair shall thin, wrinkles parked at the corner of each eye. William too, unfortunately, must someday grow old.

Getting married is easy but staying married is hard and half who try fail. Drama varies but most who divorce tap out before the man is old enough to choose the tapestry of his midlife crisis since half of divorces occur within the first five years. Unions lasting longer will be tested and retested by significant emotional events, money arguments, broken dreams, and sundry other irritants that morph even princess brides into bitter, angry exes.

Most of us enjoy canoodling. Early in life we do so often, with effort, boldness, and vigor. But our vintage years of romantic Twister arrive too soon — high school, for example — and continue as long as both ends of the candle manage to burn. Once routine has replaced discovery and exploration is lost to ritual, life’s only new surprises are purchased on sale by others using credit cards. When that happens, tedium sets in. The heart and mind wander, replaying hymns of happiness, stolen recollections from midnights kisses of far earlier lives.

A man has a midlife crisis for three very predictable reasons:

  1. He can afford one. Two kinds of currency, money and time, fuel a man’s tip-toe to the dark side. Men know the difference between right and wrong. Most of the time we choose right, even when no one’s watching. But not always. Time and money create opportunity. And opportunity creates temptation; temptation is a mighty seductress. She can topple the strongest of men with pursed lips and the wink of an eye.
  2. His mind has accumulated significant life experiences. What’s boring to one woman is fascinating to another. This is why, thank God, even a boring man can be interesting. The key is finding a woman who’s bored of different things. Without this quirky oddity, no man would ever get a date.
  3. The body is in decline. Mortality is extraordinarily inconvenient, especially when gravity throws hand grenades and everything that worked as a young man barely works at all and things we took for granted suddenly pull, break, tear, ache or require an MRI. The mirror does not lie if you squint and lean in to look close. With the sagging of everything comes the inarguable realization that the world really does belong to the young and we, as middle- aged gray people, are no longer among them. We are irrelevant but lucky. In a less forgiving society, we would be culled and processed into soylent green. [ed. note: Anyone but me ever see that movie? 1973 sci-fi film, set in NYC in 2022. The city has 40 million residents. They are culled and processed for food.]

To pinpoint the precise moment a man’s midlife crisis will mushroom forth like a nuclear cloud disrupting an otherwise normal boring life, let’s draw a chart. Draw one vertical line and connect its bottom with a horizontal line drawn to the right. These represent our Y and X axes.

Now we plot the three reasons we mentioned before. Points one and two (above) start low and increase up across the chart. These show our increases in time, money, and intellectual capital. But our third reason, our virility and manly-manliness line, goes in the opposite direction; it starts out high but steadily drops down low. It’s going the wrong way.

Where these lines intersect: ka-boom! This is the epicenter of a man’s midlife crisis. Draw a circle around ground zero and step back and watch. Men do really bizarre things. At the time they feel so good and justifiable that the magnitude of their post-consequence screwup is invisible. We think we’re having fun. But what we’re really doing is  teeter-tottering between heaven and hell.

Men can’t help it. After all, we’re flawed. We’re us.

So while Prince Charles juggled his Diana and Camilla, I certainly hope the best for young William and Kate. She will be a lovely bride and I wish them much success. But if Willie gets the urge to roam in twenty or thirty years, I hope he decides to go bowling instead. Too many perks with his day job to blow it.

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