A few days ago, a friend posted a photo of a guitar amp that he just bought. In the caption he mentioned going through a midlife crisis, but at least it wasn’t a Miata. First I laughed, then I Googled “Midlife Crisis Miata” because I didn’t know that was a thing. Yup. It’s a thing.
Speaking of midlife, is it a Gen X trait that as soon as we hear about something new, we must know what it’s all about immediately? Or is it just me that drops everything to look stuff up, no matter how trivial? Somebody mentions a DIY toothpaste on twitter and forty-five minutes later I’m pricing Icelandic baking soda on Amazon.
Back to my friend. We’ll call him Ted. Mostly because his name is Ted, but I did consider changing it for the purposes of this article. Then again, this isn’t exactly a hard-hitting exposé on Miata trafficking in Venezuela. If it were, Ted would definitely not be involved. Just to clear that up. So if you know a Ted who does that kind of stuff, you can assume it’s a different Ted. Or the same Ted. Whatever.
Okay, that was way too much to think about, so let’s call him Bill.
After I saw Bill’s post, I thought about the whole midlife crisis thing. Actually, I first looked up the amp company and followed them on Instagram, not because I’m looking for an amp, but because I am a GenXer and as a generation we have a deep-seated fear of missing out. As previously mentioned, I must look stuff up immediately. I also Googled “midlife crisis” and “Miata trafficking.” Just to check. It’s not a thing.
I’ve been hearing about the midlife crisis since the 70s. In fact, the term was coined by a Canadian named Elliot Jacques in 1957. From what I understand, Porsche sales skyrocketed soon after (just kidding, that didn’t really happen. Don’t bother Googling it). This Jacques guy, the psychologist with two first names, coined the term to describe the depression one goes through when approaching middle age and pondering things like hair loss, declining health and the sudden realization that wearing socks with sandals is why those kids are laughing at you. I learned about it from TV, because back then all the important life moments were catalogued in sitcoms for educational purposes. “Midlife Crisis” was an easy and frequent lesson, typically signaled by a person wearing a sweater around their neck and carrying a tennis racket. The only thing I really learned is that for the rest of my life I would always associate tennis with divorce and the Love Boat.
I don’t think Elliot Jacques intended to create a stereotype, but society and the entertainment industry ran with it and here we are. People of all genders aged 40 to 50 are watched closely for signs of doing something crazy and new, like buying a Porsche or tubs of Icelandic baking soda.
I think we have this whole midlife crisis thing backwards.
The real crisis is in the idea that as we get older and start to ponder our mortality, any move towards something new and interesting is considered a psychological problem. I think what’s really happening for many people is not a depressing reflection on creaky knees or loss of libido. At some point, you start to wake up out of the daily coma of building a career, raising kids, paying bills, and not driving Miatas. The kids don’t have to be watched every second (or even want to be). There’s not as much minute-to-minute attention needed to live your life. So after you’ve binge watched every season of The Handmaid’s Tale you start to ponder the notion that you could be doing something more interesting with your free time. I think this is awesome.
Sure, maybe some people are eyeing sweaters and tennis rackets, wondering why they’ve spent this much time with a spouse who still doesn’t know where you keep the spaghetti pot, but that’s really more about life choices than seeing Death in your peripheral vision.
At the risk of sounding like a life coach, I think we should relabel the term Midlife Crisis. “I Have 50 More Years and All This Baking Soda” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but maybe something like “Midlife Awakening.” Okay, yes, admittedly too life-coachey. Gross. We need something that encompasses “I took up the accordion” and “I’ve watched all the TV” in one phrase. We can circle back to this later.
Consider also that if this were the Virginia Colony in the 18th century, your midlife would start at 17. So if you’re just starting your 40s or you’re almost 50 (not naming any names, me), you’re doing really well just being alive and having teeth. Why the hell wouldn’t you celebrate that by buying an amp or an old VW Beetle (again, no names, please), learning to bake sourdough, opening an online candle store, learning to code, taking up tennis, dyeing your hair to match your Miata, or a million other things that don’t involve just sitting around and listening to your arteries harden? Why not, indeed?
Cri•sis noun: a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.
See? It doesn’t really fit here. How about Midlife Breakthrough? Midlife Solution? Midlife Boon? Okay, yes, I was just browsing through the thesaurus for antonyms. Not very effective. It’s a good thing I wasn’t around when they were trying to come up with names for Diet Coke. I might have suggested FakeTaste Coke or something and they would have wondered who hired the 6th grader in the first place.
Maybe we don’t need a new name. Perhaps we can stop using a label altogether and just say we’re doing something really cool without the self-deprecating nomenclature. We should embrace the excitement of opening up a new area in our lives just because we are, in fact, alive. We can do things! The world is our oyster! Age is just a number! Look at all this baking soda!
It’s from Iceland!
*Matersódi, if you care to know.