Being a fan of Guardian live-blogger Stuart Heritage, you can appreciate how much I enjoyed finding out we have something in common. On Friday, my counsellor offered her diagnosis of my occasionally all-enveloping sense of ennui. At 32, she says I’m going through a midlife crisis.
“At last,” I thought, “a proper search term to plug into Google!” This, of course, is exactly what I did next; only to discover that Stuart wrote about having a ‘midlife crisis’ last March, aged 33. The find resulted in a feeling of connection, which due to my frame of mind was quickly repressed. Not only is Stuart merely speculating about his condition, he is writing in a national newspaper, a year ago, and has over 28 thousand more Twitter followers than me. Pah. I could teach Stuart something about inadequacy.
Much of what I’m reading about midlife crises just reinforces the illustration I have in my head: a kind of male-centred Beryl Cook painting in which my dad appears in full biking leathers and his friend Mike is cataloguing his chattels on iPhoto. My dad’s crisis stopped short of an extramarital affair, but he did join a Wine Club and purchase a Suzuki Bandit 600. By comparison, I’m newly married and the owner of a too-new red Skoda Fabia, nicknamed ‘Labia’. With a meagre 1.4 litre engine, my midlife crisis seems not only premature, but lacking thrills.
NHS Choices covers the topic under ‘Male Menopause’ and ‘Male Midlife Crisis’: two headings I’m a little alienated by. It says they happen to around 20% of people, mostly men, between the ages of 35 and 50. The Telegraph says signs include listening to BBC 6 Music (check), excessively reminiscing about ones childhood (check), and looking up medical symptoms on the internet (check). Speaking from the privileged position of experience, I can add to this list: total bafflement at which direction to take your life next.
At this point, happily, Facebook algorithms put my attention in the direction of a TED Talk by the Slovenian philosopher and sociologist Renata Salecl. In ‘Our unhealthy obsession with choice,’ Renata explains how choice, personal freedom, and the idea of self-making has been elevated to an ideal. She says our fixation on individual choice prevents us from thinking about social changes and leads to feelings of anxiety (check), guilt (check) and inadequacy (check). “Instead of making social critiques,” she says, “we are more and more engaging in self-critique, sometimes to the point of self-destruction.”
I’m now wondering whether my early midlife crisis might be better described as having too many options? If this is the case, Renata says I can overcome anxiety by accepting that my choices are irrational and heavily influenced by those around me. I need to stop taking choice so seriously. In other words: I’m spending too much time fondling fruit at the supermarket, when what I really need is a box scheme.
Published in Viva Brighton, April 2015