Re-thinking the Midlife Crisis

I was recently chatting with a friend of mine who not only has a highly successful company, but has a non-profit where he gets to pursue one of his passions. To many, these factors alone would put him in the “made it” category of life. To top it off, he’s in good health, has raised great kids and has found a lovely woman he wants to marry.

In just about every way, life could not be better, but he said there is still one thing gnawing at him. So far in his relationship he has kept his very high libido a secret from his girlfriend. His reasoning was understandable in a way – he’s not a public figure but he is a social one, and he did not want to scare her or to risk her breaking up with him and then word being spread about his insatiable sex drive. But all the same, it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have an outlet.

He also remarked on how his current situation contrasted with how he felt in his first marriage. When he was in his late 20s and 30s he was building his business and raising his family; he was under tremendous pressure in all realms and could not take his eyes off the ball for even a moment. He didn’t want sex as much then.

I said to him, “the more you succeed in business, the higher your sex drive gets.” He agreed. Why? 1) Because success frees up some of the sexual energy that was previously being sublimated into work, and 2) We want to to be rewarded when we accomplish things.

I’ll elaborate on the second part: I think the desired reward in instances such as this one go far beyond the superficial. For many people who have reached success by midlife it doesn’t seem to be just about buying a new car, having a younger partner or going on shopping sprees. Rather, it seems to be about cashing in the I.O.U.’s they wrote to themselves, consciously or sub-consciously, since they started putting off immediate gratification in favor of later rewards.

Successful people are largely future-oriented. In the pursuit of success they don’t do everything they want to do when they are younger so they can have bigger and better rewards when they are older. They tend to work their asses off because if they fail they won’t get to cash in any of those I.O.U.’s – the sacrifices they made will have meant nothing.

It seems like what people call a midlife crisis is when the person cashing in an I.O.U. wants to cash it in as if they were the same age and in the same circumstances they were in when they wrote the I.O.U. to themselves. They probably made the I.O.U. sub-consciously and then, upon crossing whatever threshold designated success to them, felt an overwhelming desire to fulfill something they’d been wanting for 20 or 30 years.

To an outsider the midlife crisis can look selfish, even narcissistic, but it’s often the culmination of something that has been building steadily under the surface for a while. I’m not surprised that my friend’s high sex drive was higher in midlife than it was in his 20s – it was like he sat down at a card table 30 years ago and didn’t get up to cash out till now. He felt like he had played his cards right and wanted to collect his reward. But he got himself into a bit of a pickle because he is also hesitant to ask for what he wants.

I didn’t have any politically correct advice for him, but the conversation did get me thinking about how to prevent others from having a midlife crisis.

First, I think it’d be useful to bring all the I.O.U.’s you have written to yourself into the light. Then think about the place you were in when you made each I.O.U. to yourself, asking yourself questions such as:

  • How old was I when I made this I.O.U.?
  • Where was I physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
  • Will I still want this when I have reached by goals – will it be as relevant or compatible with the life I have been building along the way?
  • Does my partner know about this I.O.U.?

A lot of partners are caught off-guard by their partner’s midlife crisis behavior. So it is probably also worth it to check-in with your partner over the years to see how their I.O.U.’s have evolved so you can better handle the times when they want to cash one of them in. This approach might also allow for I.O.U.’s to be cashed in at a more organic pace, rather than in an anxious or overwhelming way, with both partners on the same page.

The midlife crisis would then become midlife integration; a fusion of past desires with present rewards.

– Nikita