No, it was always men, and it was always a particular kind of crisis. It involved a sports car (usually a Corvette, God knows why). It involved a gold chain and open shirt. And invariably it involved a woman "half his age." So there you had him ... an aging, somewhat pathetic Lothario, driving around in his loud car with his medallion perched on his belly under the steering wheel, his bored and sexually frustrated wife/girlfriend in the passenger seat applying lipstick in the mirror and trying to keep her hair in place.
I don't know how this ended up becoming my image of a midlife crisis, but it did. Was it because I grew up in the '70s? Was it because I actually knew that guy? I don't know. Yes to all of the above.
I'm 39 now, which is crazy to think about, because I don't actually feel a day over about 23 or 24. Well, actually, when I was 23 and 24, I had a 1-year-old baby and two jobs and made about $11,000 a year, so maybe that's not the best age to idealize. Life was freaking hard, a lot harder than it is now. Maybe it's more like I don't feel a day over about 12.
The point is, my own midlife crisis has been in my mind more and more as I near 40, and I'm really curious what shape it will take. I wonder about it sometimes as I'm driving between the various places I drop my kids off. Will I decide to start growing hallucinogenic mushrooms in my laundry room? Will I try to learn Chinese or get into classical music? Mostly, though, I wonder: will I buy a sports car, get a chain and take up with a woman half my age? These images we form in childhood are hard to kill.
No, I don't think so. For one thing, I don't give a shit about cars. I really don't. In fact, I hate them. If I never had to drive again, I'd be happy. If I could live in a city with public transportation, I'd gladly never put my foot on an accelerator again. And as far as taking up with a woman half my age ... oh God no. She'd be 19 years old, and please spare me. Not only do I really and truly love my current wife, but I already went through being 19 and I have no desire to do it again. Lastly, I don't even like jewelry. I don't have a watch, much less have any desire for a gold chain.
If that midlife crisis is out, then what?
I've been working like mad lately—almost literally around the clock. Sadly, when I work like this, my showering habits become somewhat erratic. Let's say that maybe sometimes more than one day will go by before I drag my ass into a shower. And even on the days I do shower, my shaving habits are even more erratic. I've been known to grow almost a full beard from sheer laziness.
Tonight, though, after I showered, I went to shave and looked in the mirror, and I found myself thinking about the kind of man I pictured myself when I was little. I always pictured myself in a suit (which is really funny, considering my previously mentioned showering habits and the fact that I work from home), fabulously wealthy, and for some reason, distracted all the time. Staring at the mirror, I realized fully that I was NOTHING like that guy. I mean, yeah, I'm distracted much of the time, but that's about it. Otherwise, there's nothing about my life that resembles the life I once thought I would live. No suit. No fabulous wealth. I'm not even a Republican, which for some strange reason was also part of the picture.
So I shaved for the first time in a week, scraping away the residue of my own benevolent self-neglect, and I thought, "Maybe I'll grow some crazy ass facial hair." And I didn't shave my moustache. That's right. I left the 'stache. Now this might not seem like the biggest deal in the world to most people, but to me—a guy who's never had a moustache, but who still tells jokes about moustache rides—it was perhaps as close as I've gotten so far to thinking, "My God, I'm getting old. Where did half my life go already?"
My hope is that I'll have the guts to grow a full handlebar moustache. Because one other thing I've discovered about aging is that you care less and less what other people think ... and maybe that's what a good midlife crisis is really all about after all.