You call it a crisis. He calls it a quest. As euphemisms go, his term is a far more romantic description of the turmoil surrounding the transitional phase. Don’t be fooled. When you are in the thick of it, the only tangible aspect of his so-called quest is the one for money to pay the mortgage once he decides life is too short to earn it the hard way.
It happens to most male adults from ages 40 to 45 but can be experienced even at 60, and was described by Carl Jung as a normal part of the maturing process. How do you spot the signs?
First, know that the crisis du jour looks different than the crisis of yore, when madman hubby started feeling his mortality, dumped his wife for the young blond secretary and stole from the cookie jar to buy a red Corvette. In the era of strapped funds and males earning status from owning a hybrid or composting system, the 2011 crisis manifests more subtly before your innocent eyes until the picture comes clearly into focus and you get it. He is no longer the man you married. He has morphed into a balding college kid with bad taste in music.
Here are some of the changes you are likely to see:
1. Refusal to plan for the future
He balks about discussing that European cruise you have scheduled for 2012, arguing he wants to start staying in the present, ignoring that voice that tells him to get up, get out of bed, earn a good living and buy you jewelry. Not looking forward is part of the crisis. It often involves depression which can trigger the crisis in the first place.
2. Actions to recapture his youth
He is riding a bike full time, not to spare the planet, but to conjure those boyish college days on the bike path, backpack strapped on, balancing without gripping the handlebars, wind blowing his recently replaced hair. He is showering less often, not just to conserve resources but because dudes are sometimes too busy riding their fierce bikes and doing junk and can’t be bothered. It annoys you, but the baristas he has befriended don’t seem to mind.
3. Drastic wardrobe redux
Part of his midlife chuck-it list includes ridding his closet of cumbersome ties and embracing a more casual, sporty look, which may or may not include hooded sweatshirts, more fitted jeans and – if the crisis is one capable of spinning out of control – flip flops (sans the pedicure!). Backward baseball caps, once a red flag of the syndrome, have been outsourced by the ubiquitous beanie. If he begins wearing a beanie, begin emailing single ex boyfriends you let get away as a backup plan.
4. Seeks enrichment
He signs up for a seminar on killing chickens humanely and thinks it’s pretty sexy recounting it for you, how he held the bird in a way to work it into a trance before plucking the feathers and ripping off its head. He learns Mandarin, skydiving, how to cobble shoes or master wholesome Basque cooking. You are not invited to join him at the various classes because he needs to find himself and not be bogged down by the story the two of you have created.
5. He talks about quitting his job
You spot the course curriculum for city college where he says he will get a teaching degree and quit being a wage slave. You sweat bullets worrying he will quit his job before formulating a real plan. You should worry. We all hate work from time to time – especially if it is complicated by having to interact with other humans – but a crisis takes it to the next level. He won’t be on the planet forever (revisit Lester Burnham’s American Beauty saga), so imparting knowledge as a teacher or working at a vegan bakery seems just the thing.
6. Dabbles in ill considered romances
Finding lipstick marks on his neon yellow polyurethane-laminated nylon bike jacket. Who’s the ho he’s biking with, you want to know! Is it one of the baristas he met while setting up shop on his laptop in the free wiki shop? Is it his new yoga teacher or his colonic hydro therapist? Part of the crisis is not being young anymore and to prove he can still get action. It’s getting hot in here, but it is just your steam shower.
7. Changes music taste
Out with Norah Jones and Bad Company and in with Kimya Dawson, Kanye West and Jay-Z. He never goes anywhere without his iPod and when you have date nights, he plugs it into its iHome in his new VW Rabbit. He downloads tunes for you, as well, saying you should convert your listening to get more current. What ever happened to Rod Stewart?
8. Cries during movies or when watching Glee
A crisis not only involves symptoms of depression but hormonal swings that are also witnessed after open heart surgery when a man feels his mortality and has the scars to prove it. So, crying during grief-stricken Rabbit Hole might make sense but for God’s sake, while watching Yogi Bear steal picnic baskets? Get a grip, fella!
9. Starts keeping a journal
Sure, journal writing is highly recommended as a method for young, budding writers to loosen up and get thoughts onto paper, but the midlife crisis journaling is a different animal. If you saw A Beautiful Mind, you know what I mean. The crisis journal spells out theories for what happened before and after the Big Bang and how to solve all the mysteries of the universe, plus cursory ideas scribbled down for screenplays, cursory ideas scribbled down for novels and Broadway musicals. Sometimes, they contain notes on how to kill a chicken.
10. Infomercial purchases
He has become a sucker for products being peddled at 4 a.m. when he is most vulnerable. Infomercials didn’t become a $256 billion industry by accident. It’s all the middle age men on quests! He is up and can’t get back to sleep due to changing sleep patterns that exhaust him and add to the depression and hormone swings. Among his favorites: Snuggies for men (sometimes he cries during the ads); the Total Gym cause Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris to look so damn fit for their age; and of course, anything peddled by Kevin Trudeau.