On my husband’s (possible) midlife crisis

I skip ahead a decade or so, and imagine my life at 40. I am a late bloomer and so this may come to me later in life, but sooner than expected I suppose, so if I am being generous then I will say two decades. Two decades from now, if I get married, (and the chances aren’t looking too good), my husband might possibly go through a midlife crisis. To begin, what on earth is that about? What is a midlife crisis? This is my initial response, and I am tempted to make a flippant remark about the whole thing and put it down to the whole man flu thing and say, “those people are so weak, they really can’t be depended on for anything”. However, after being told that I don’t trust men (possibly true), I would like to be perceived as compassionate and understanding, and so I will try to engage with the whole thing.

So then, from what I see, at a time when a man should be leaning back, easing into life and getting ready to get to know his wife again, to wash his hands of his children, send them off to uni and be free, he all of a sudden gets this spurt of energy combined with Dawson’s Creek type angst which drives him to re-live all those years in his late teens and early twenties when he chased girls who were out of his league, and generally made an ass of himself. This time though, he has the money to persuade these women that he is a viable option, at least for a while. Alright, but why?

The fear of death? Erm… okay? Doing silly things makes you feel more alive? Okay, if you insist, but why this, why the young women and fast cars? Why not climb Everest, why not take go for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Why not do something that the whole family can come and watch you fail at, like pottery? Why not go zorbing and take your wife along? Perhaps this tendency towards younger women is fuelled by the desire to be seen as a virile man? Erm, well your virility is what made those kids eating up my food in the kitchen and taking great big chunks out of my healthy bank account with their demands for diapers, bicycles and clothes. Three of them dear, I think we can all agree on your virility. Perhaps it is the desire to be seen as attractive by young women?  This is where I lose all sympathy, faced with the more ridiculous examples of this desire, from the Minister who was caught out sending pictures of himself to a much younger woman, to the countless men who marry much younger women to sustain them in their twilight years.

I read Mariama Ba’s “So long a letter,” during my early teens and the sense of sadness of a woman faced with losing her husband to an infant has never left me. I reread it a couple of years back and some details came into focus. Most importantly, the infant in question was in fact her daughter’s best friend, a girl of 19 from a poor family, whose parents saw an opportunity and took it. Looked at this way, how did Mawdo Ba, the husband feel when he saw his in-laws, people of a similar age, essentially sell their daughter so that they, through her, could have an easier life? How many young women who end up with ridiculously older men make this choice, and should those men who exploit this lack be held to account? If, in the event of a midlife crisis, my husband runs off with a younger woman who at least is established, and of an age to know who she is as a person, e.g. if we are 60 and she is 40, then I will assume that perhaps it really is love. 20 years, when you are both really grown up is nothing in my view, but for a man of 50 plus, to take up with a 19 year old is a cruel vanity. It hits everyone, his children, faced with a step mother who is perhaps too young for them to even play with, for the wife, cast aside for firmer breasts and an in depth knowledge of Snapchat and Instagram, for the young girl herself, forced to “interact” with a 50 something old body, that might not be in a great state, and for the man himself, who is at once envied and a laughing stock.

Mawdo Ba’s decision to marry a girl young enough to literally be his daughter has no dignity, for anyone. Additionally, it robs him and his longsuffering wife, of the possibility of a friendship, at a time when they need it the most. It must be difficult to grow old alone, especially at an age when you were preparing yourself to be with someone. To grow old alone, without ever having known companionship must be different because you develop coping mechanisms.  However, to raise a family, and then watch it torn to shreds by the actions of some avaricious toddler and a thirsty old man with more money than sense, is a real shame.

So long a letter remains one of the defining books of my youth, beautifully written and heart rending. It’s a testament to the strength of a woman, writing her pain and leaving it on the page, and facing life head on, even when stripped of her dignity and her worth. I do not think I would have the same courage if faced with the same fate. I certainly wouldn’t be writing letters, although, on second thoughts, perhaps I would.

Very long letters. From prison.

On perseverance, with Ayi Kwei Armah

“Those who are blessed with the power,

And the soaring swiftness of the eagle

And have flown before,

Let them go.

I will travel slowly,

And I too will arrive.

And have climbed in haste.

Let them go,

I will journey softly,

And I too will arrive.”

There are times when my quixotic attempts at living life to the fullest fall flat. Usually my first instinct is to succumb to depression. Fortunately I have quite a short attention span, especially when it comes to boring things and so my next instinct is to encourage myself. I have generally given myself good reason to trust my judgement, and so I have to remind myself that just because it hasn’t worked this time, or just at this moment, that doesn’t mean that there will not be a great moment somewhere down the line when I will be vindicated.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah holds my go to mantra. Even though I have yet to finish reading the book, there is in this book a passage that I find particularly uplifting. Written as the lyrics of a song that the protagonist hears on his way somewhere, (I don’t know where, didn’t read the book) these words remind me that even when I feel that all is lost, it generally isn’t. They remind me that when things don’t seem to be moving they probably are. They remind me to keep breathing, and anyone who knows me knows that I am given to hyperbole, (sometimes just for fun) and so trying times do generally push me over to the overly dramatic, “No, I can’t leave me here, save yourself” type of nonsense that expends much energy without giving anything back. This passage is the message from ground control, saying hey, it’s okay. It’s the message I get in my ear when I feel lost at sea that reminds me that the wind and waves haven’t won before, so there is no need to start now. It reminds me to be myself, and to let that be enough.

Occasionally we need to hear that message- to be reminded to run our own race, at our own pace. Sometimes I just need to remember that even if I was an animal, I definitely wouldn’t be a cheetah, I find running pointless- as a cheetah, this attitude would see me starve to death. I like swimming and flying though, so perhaps if I was an animal I would be a goose, or on my best day, a swan, maybe.  However, no one sits around comparing star athletes to geese, it’s just not sexy, but maybe that’s me. A not sexy good swimmer who likes to migrate for the winter! I’ll take it, I can make it work, if I remember that there are those who are eagles, who have flown before, who have done more than I have, in a shorter space of time, in more elegant or impressive ways, because they are eagles, or cheetah’s or killer whales, and I am a goose. Instead of wishing to be an eagle, or a dolphin, or a cheetah, I really should focus on being the best goose that I can be.

I don’t think I am a goose either though, that’s still a few glamour levels above my station perhaps.

There is, you see, in the juxtaposition between my visionary ambition and the awareness of my limitations, a sort of humiliation, and a sort of pride. I am proud to still be going where some might have given up, I am glad that my vision is still grandiose, and most times beyond me, but on the other hand, I am brought low (original meaning of humiliate) by my own vision. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be by now. I am therefore at once a nothing and a something, a Schrödinger’s cat of potential.

In reality I am perhaps more like a dung beetle. This underestimated creature frequently does far more than its tiny little body would suggest. One type of dung beetle can drag 1,141 times its body weight, which is apparently the equivalent of me pulling six double decker buses. I like this beetle, more than the goose, even as I acknowledge that it is not a white tiger, the coolest animal out there. However, I would love to able to do 1, 141 times more than what the circumstances of my birth dictate for me. I would be very happy with that. If, as I suspect, I am not like those who have been blessed with the power, and the soaring swiftness of the eagle, and I will never fly, nevertheless, if I continue to travel slowly, I too will arrive.

I will arrive slowly, doing something incredible, yet perhaps, not something that anyone else has much use for, as much as the dung beetle feat is impressive, how many of us really care? If someone told us they had a pet cheetah and the other said they had a pet dung beetle, with which of the two would we be more impressed? I can hear all the puns denigrating the poor dung beetle now.

So perhaps my legacy will not mean as a much in the world out there, but I will have journeyed softly to accomplish it, (and accomplish it I will). I will have taken my time, been patient, headed straight for my goal, despite obstacles, used the milky way for navigation, like a pirate, and in the end, perhaps when everyone else doesn’t even remember the race, I’ll turn up. (I have actually done that before, one sports day when I was forced to represent my house and run the 800 metres. I arrived just as the next race was about to start).

Sometimes, it’s enough to remember that you are still moving, that the journey may be slow, but the feats that you accomplish along the way may well be mind-boggling. I am travelling slowly, but one day, I too will arrive.

In the meantime, I should probably head to the gym, those buses won’t tow themselves.