Why We Need to Ban the Term “Mid-Life Crisis” From Our Lexicon


Why We Need to Ban the Term “Mid-Life Crisis” From Our Lexicon

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Iturned 50 recently. My world didn’t come crashing down. I am still the same person, doing the same things, but with more confidence and a much lower tolerance for bullshit. But what has changed is people’s perception of me. Every move I make, every jump I take, every marathon I participate in has now suddenly become super-inspiring for the younger lot. It’s as if I am defying everyone’s unanimous stereotype of how a person my age should behave.

As I survey the countless thinkpieces written by young women for old women like me, I know that I should have junked hoop earrings the moment I turned 30. Fast-fashion brands are passé for old-fashioned folks like me, and what the hell am I still doing with those crop-tops and coloured tights? I can sense millennials grasp at my audacity. You see, if I refuse to abide by this cultural construct, I’ll promptly be labelled as yet-another-hilarious casualty of the “mid-life crisis”.

If I’m being honest, I did keep waiting all through my 40s’ to have one. Yet, it has continued to elude me like the lone mosquito that daringly buzzes in your periphery, but can’t be satisfactorily squished between the palms. It’s not as if I am a saint. Even I’ve had my fair share of staying awake all night to search for the meaning of my life with a torch in my hand, like the young kids these days. The only difference is, these bouts of existentialism had nothing to do with my age.

The term “mid-life crisis” was coined way back in 1965 by Elliot Jaques. It was a time when living beyond your 60s was as much an achievement as gender equality. So it was perfectly normal to reach your late 30s’ and be hit by a realisation that you’ve wasted away your entire life. But now, with people living well into their 80s’ and 90s’, you’re never too sure if it is ever a right time to have a crisis.

These days when I look around, I see a quantum change in the way younger men and women lead their lives. It makes me all the more confident that the mid-life crisis might just be a thing of the past now. Rather than putting their lives on hold, to prioritise their duties or accumulating assets, they’re prizing experiences, through travelling or finding a new calling. No one waits and saves up for that dream vacation for the sunset of their lives anymore. They do it anyway. And even though, we could be veering toward a culture obsessed with material happiness rather than meaning, our periods of restlessness are driven more by unrealistic expectations from our lives rather than the greys in our hair.

It’s as if I am defying everyone’s unanimous stereotype of how a person my age should behave.

When you live as long as I have, you’ll understand that “mid-life crisis” is just the fear of not being okay with your own self. And since when has someone’s date of birth dictated the achievements they can call their own? So why can’t I, a 50-year-old-woman, decide to become a ballerina, learn a new language, or get a tattoo on her arse without someone sniggering in the background?

I suppose it’s a thing that we have come around to accepting that it’s not humanly possible to be happy all the time and that bouts of despair are just minor setbacks, not the end of it all. Because, what is inevitable is becoming the oldie you thought you’d never become. Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung called it “the shadow” (the dark side) – the thing a person has no wish to become. All through our 20s’ and 30s’, we suppress our true mildly unhappy and unpleasant selves, because it is a hindrance to being acceptable to others. But there will come a time when you stop letting that affect you so much that you need to give a performance of happiness.

My favourite person was this lady in Brisbane. She was well into her 70s although her wardrobe wasn’t. She dressed in colourful leotards, her hair was a violent red, and as I’d pass her every day on my way to the fitness centre, I couldn’t help but stare at her. Always on her own, she would walk briskly on Queen street, soaking in the vibe, the happy chatter, yet would make no attempt to stop and engage or worry about what others were thinking of her. I’m certain she missed the look of admiration in my eyes. But that didn’t stop me from making her the heroine of the story I had woven about her life. In my version, she lived a life of solitude with her numerous cats, excited about her weekend plan for kayaking on the river that one of her students (she teaches Spanish online. Did I not mention?) had recommended. And the story’s plot twist? She’s still waiting to be hit by the dreaded mid-life crisis that everyone talks about.

I want to grow up to be her.