In 49 years I have come to see a lot of what life has to offer. I am hoping I still have many years yet to come but I have been around long enough to survive my 20s, enjoy my 30s and come to terms with my 40s and on the cusp of 50 I am looking forward to it as my best years so far. These 49 years have been filled with many experiences from my childhood and all of it’s challenges to my 20s filled with angst and figuring out what all this adult stuff was all about. My 30s where I embraced the privilege of being a mother and being married and my mid-30s and 40s where my greatest lessons about life and myself came wrapped in every relationship. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I am at a place where I have the scars to prove I have done some living, the ability to use those lessons to help me navigate through life and enough youth to have fun and embrace all the love that life has to offer. Life just gets better with every single day and I am so grateful. I am finally able to come to terms with my aging body because with it comes the experiences that have made me who I am and give me the ability to enjoy life as it presents itself. I am now mature enough to realize that “it is what it is” and fighting with life just as it is only serves to make me miserable. Am I delirious every day? No. But I also know that feelings come and feelings go and nothing is forever. I have also been around long enough to see that we are all in this together and many of us struggle with many of the same experiences as we try to come to terms with the fact that the face staring back us in the mirror is looking more like our parents than we care to admit.
I know many of us struggle with the fact that our bodies aren’t as firm and strong as they once were and they certainly aren’t as forgiving as they used to be. A hangover is akin to getting over major surgery whereas in our 20s it didn’t even slow us down. We realize that some of what we thought life was going to be like just didn’t work out that way for us. We may look around at where we are in our job, our relationship, our possessions, and wonder “is this it?” The aging body in the mirror may even scare us. We attend funerals for friends who die of things like heart attacks and cancer and we try not to think of our own mortality. We look in the mirror and wonder if anyone would find us attractive and sexy. I know as women we struggle with all of this. And then, as if some cruel joke, menopause swoops down and hijacks our brains and bodies and turns us into someone we barely recognize at times. Through night sweats, panic attacks, mood swings and weight gain we feel like at times we are going to lose our minds. Society accepts this as “normal” for women. But what about men? Here is what I am seeing. I am seeing that women are not the only ones who struggle with middle age but no one is talking about it. I am seeing my friends going through divorces after 25 and 30 years together and it makes me think that there is something going on that we need to recognize. I have known more than one husband who turns into someone no one even recognizes and does things that are so out of character. Husbands who were loving and caring and suddenly they are off having an affair and working out in the gym and feeling like they’ve missed out on life. They leave families and homes and wives in shatters and it seems that they are bobbing along in a huge ocean of uncertainty and confusion looking for something to anchor on to. They think the new car, the new girlfriend, the new clothes, etc. will make them happy. They quit their job or change jobs 6 or 7 times in a year and every job has something wrong with it. They want new cars, motor bikes, trailers, etc. expecting it to make them happy but it all leaves them feeling emptier than when they started. I have seen this happen so many times and the more I see it, I believe that there needs to be a recognition and help provided for men to help them navigate this confusion.
I believe that if that if society recognized that not only women struggle with navigating middle age, that many marriages and broken lives and hearts could be saved. It breaks my heart to watch so many marriages fall apart after so many years. They have been through so much – the tough first few years of marriage, raising kids, money issues, family deaths, and just the business of trying to keep a marriage going through mortgage payments and overwork. Now in our 40s and beyond we should be able to come together as a couple and reap the benefits of getting through it all and enjoying our golden years now that the kids are moved out, the mortgage is paid and life is getting easier. What a crime to see lives thrown into chaos when maybe it could all be salvaged with some awareness and support. I have seen a strength in my friends who have navigated these divorces. Initially they are devastated by the shock of having their entire lives thrown into chaos by a divorce, especially when they didn’t see it coming, but once they get over the shock and start to pick themselves up, something remarkable starts to happen. I have seen my friends use that experience to absolutely blossom. They become so much stronger, capable and confident. They face the worst that life had to offer and decided it wasn’t going to kill them but make them even stronger. Wouldn’t it be amazing though if as a couple they could navigate the changes of life together? What if as a society we recognized and supported both men and women as they navigated the changes of life? I intend to do more research in this area but I would welcome comments from both men and women on the idea of menopause or midlife struggles and how each experiences it and how we can better navigate these years of confusion.
I feel change and transitions are a normal part of life. We go through many phases in our life that are confusing – puberty, becoming an adult, getting married, becoming a new parent, becoming an empty nester, and I feel middle age is just another change. With understanding comes acceptance and healing. We live in a society where youth is cherished and old age is looked on with fear and disgust. Aging is a normal part of life and I would love to see us embrace the wisdom, joy, and blessings that come with aging. There is so much to enjoy in our later years. The knowledge that comes from experience makes us wise and calmer. The families and grandchildren we get to enjoy with the wisdom that those childhood years are so fleeting. The joy that comes from the freedom from child rearing and trying to prove ourselves at work and “making a name for ourselves”. There is so much to enjoy if we can just learn to love the one who brought us to the dance, even if it is a tad older and more wrinkled.