Midlife crises have a deservedly bad rap.
They bring to mind young blondes on the side, racy sports cars, hair plugs and a general lack of grace. Think of the cringe factor while watching American Beauty. Bingo. There you have it.
Males get the worst rap, as midlife crises go, because they tend to be the most flagrant violators of social mores. But my fellow females have been known to raise an eyebrow or two also.
I am somehow, magically, avoiding the existential craziness that comes from midlife. I think this is because I’ve matured into my limitations.
Yes, I said limitations. This will not be a rah-rah coaching session on how to overcome them. It’ll be a gentle admonition to face them and accept them. Midlife crisis avoided.
You can blame Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project”, for this musing. I’ve been reading her book (yes, I’m always late to the party) and she talks a lot about just being Gretchen. About loving the idea of playing chess or frequent theater trips, but accepting the fact they just don’t make her soul sing.
I think we all could take a page or two from Ms. Rubin’s book.
For instance, I think it’s safe to say that I will never become a ballerina or the diva of a Martha Graham dance company. I’m pretty sure no one is looking for a mid-forties wannabe whose dance lessons consisted of “creative” dance in an elementary school gym, wearing a red bandanna, black leotard and black tights while trying to channel the movements of a kite in the wind. I mean, I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty positive on this one.
And yet, I love dance. I love to dance in my home, at weddings and anywhere music is playing. Could I have been a professional dancer? I think probably, if my parents had seen this as an acceptable career choice. But dance lessons just weren’t on the agenda at my house, no matter how much you begged. Math and spelling homework were the clear winners.
Do I sit around regretting not being a dancer? No. I have found other loves and talents to feed my creative fire.
So, I do not angst about things for which I have talent but did not get a chance to pursue. I either decide something is feasible or it’s not. And if it’s not, I use my energy to pursue other outlets, not to angst. How very Midwestern of me.
Then there are the talents and desires I want to have, but just don’t. People who like extreme sports are seen as daring adventurers. I’d love to be seen as a daring adventurer. But truth be told, I’m not. I have no desire to skydive or bungee jump. I don’t want to try blowfish (I struggle to eat salmon).
When exploring online dating sites for an article, I realized how very boring I just might be. When filling out the interest inventory, I could not check off a lot. I used to play tennis, but not really much anymore. I run, but at a pace where old men and dogs pass me. I love to sail, but am usually not the one doing the tacking. I do not mountain climb or participate in triathlons.
I like to read and write. I love cooking and wine. I do so love a good movie or play. I like to hike but not if you make it a competitive sport. I enjoy metaphysical lectures. Museums, concerts and dancing. Travel. Evenings with friends around a fire.
Makes me sound very bland, does it not? I hated that version of myself when filling out my profile. And yet, I was honest. As a result, I got paired with plenty of totally inappropriate men. Amazed me how the dating site matchmakers thought I would want to date a male version of me. I don’t want the meathead athlete but the male version of me drives me crazy.
In midlife, looking at yourself squarely in the mirror causes plenty of crises. Sure. You realize not only will you never be a vet (too much math and science), a dancer or an astronaut (see vet), you also have changed. The crinkles around your eyes, the crepe-paper quality of your neck, are here. To stay. You see that you are still working on patience but have not mastered it. That you still tend to interrupt people when you get excited. That you never mastered the fine art of folding that damn bottom bedsheet.
But, if you’ve done your job right, you’ve created a lot of good with this first half of life. In my case, I have two boys that mean the world to me. I have put my writing out into the world and it has made people laugh, cry and think in new ways—goals that were important to me. I’ve added some beauty to this world in the form of flowers planted, kind words offered, jokes provided. I’ve held the hand of loved ones who were dying, letting them know they were anything but alone as they approached the threshold of a new life.
These are not earth-shattering contributions to the world. Plenty of other people have done similar things. But I’m not plenty of other people. And what I’ll be held accountable for is if I’m leaving this place better than I found it.
I am, in myriad small ways. Despite my many limitations, I have developed strengths and used them to the best of my ability. It’s really all that is asked of any of us.
Midlife crisis avoided.