Day 50 -Being 16 at 50.
I was talking to someone last night about middle age and being single. There are some pretty amazing similarities between middle age singleness and adolescence:
1. My mom is at my house after all my dates.
2. I have a curfew of sorts - age dictates that I can’t stay out all night/my mom is only willing to watch the kids until so late.
3. Amongst my friends - there is endless talk of sex, love and relationships.
4. There is a lot of dating.
5. There is a preoccupation with looking good and feeling good.
6. There is a return to self obsession in a new yet familiar manner.
It is a lot like being 16 again but with more insight, money and less self consciousness.
Speaking for myself, when I left my marriage - part of that leaving was a rejection of aging...growing up. At some base level, I evaluated my decisions and commitments and held them up against the estimated time my life had left and thought “Fuck no." On a very primal level, I made a conscious choice that I didn’t want to go on for the rest of my days married to someone I cared about and loved on some level but felt wholly incomplete with, misunderstood by, take for granted by, mismatched in the sexual department and disconnected from. When I looked at the looming trajectory of my life, I just came up with NO! FUCK NO. I did not want to spend the rest of my days with this person who left such a vacancy in my soul.
All of that being said, it is not easy to walk away from a marriage...especially with kids. I am a commitment honorer - I do what I say I am going to do most of the time. It is hard to find a good reason not to. I want my word to have depth and weight. I feel bound to my past decisions because I meant them when I made them. The issue really is that the person I am today bears little, to no resemblance to the person who made those commitments in the first place. I am different. I have changed. And I ultimately, had to honor the person I am today more than the person I was when I made those decisions.
I see this all the time at work. Women and men who hit their late 40s, 50s and 60s who look at the person sleeping next to them and think - “Nope. Just can’t do it.” I get it. For me, there was this feeling that staying in the marriage required that I take an early retirement from life. It required that I take things that were important to me: sex, appreciation, passion, understanding, being seen and chuck them under the proverbial life bus. I have to say that I wasn’t really sure which thing I was more afraid of: staying or going. In the end, I had to honor the person that I had to live with for the rest of my days...me.
From my perspective, we (men and women) reached a certain age when we realized a lot of childhood dreams:
Career - yep
Partnering - yep
Children - yep
Adulting - yep
Financial stability - yep
Getting here kept us busy for a couple of decades. Then one day we woke up and saw that we have somehow made it to the back of life’s hill. We are on the downward trajectory. And we do not like it. We rebel in small ways: change our hair, spend some money on things that make us feel younger and hotter, take vacations, start a new career. Those avenues bring us marginal relief - some are satisfied with the lift or boost they get from these acts. Many are not and we have to up the ante. We rebel in larger ways: have an affair or affairs, become someone unrecognizable to the people who love us, spend money on bigger things designed to make us look still more younger and hotter (plastic surgery, cars, houses, vacations). What I think we are all saying is “I didn’t think this would happen to me. I didn’t think that I would hit mid-life and panic” But each in our own way - we do. Men and women handle it differently sometimes...but we all have that crisis I believe.
Having decided to leave my marriage and become single again was a difficult and lengthy process. I felt lost for a long time and still do sometimes. In a society where there is so much value placed on being part of a couple, it is hard to get your bearings on where you fit into this new world order. Married friends tend not to understand: some because they are so jealous they can’t stand it, others because they are afraid to dive too deeply into that pool with you lest they realize their own level of dissatisfaction and others because they just don’t relate at all. I completely believe that there are people who are just meant to couple. They are the best version of themselves while paired to someone else. Then there are people, like me, that seem to only be able to be most themselves when single.
Regardless of the trajectory or vehicle of change that brings us to the middle of our lives alone, we all seem to be saying the same thing: I wanted something different and I want something more.
This bring me back to the adolescence of middle age. We become youthful in our interests, hobbies and preoccupations. We become more self centered again. Waking up to the fact that our time is indeed limited and whole heartedly want to use the remaining time wisely. We care less about conventions and are more experimental in our attitudes. We do all these things while holding down a job, earning a living, raising children and trying to figure out where we fit into the machine that has become our life.
For me, leaving my marriage was about recapturing myself. The person that I sacrificed to become one of two. It was about evaluating, inventorying and discarding those parts of myself that no longer served me. It was about seeing who I had become almost by default and reaching the very real conclusion that I could not go on for the rest of my days being that person anymore. Whatever the future held for me, it was a solitary path that I would have to walk in order to feel like at the end that I had had a life well lived.
So today at almost 50, I take stock in all that I have accomplished, lost and gained. I laugh at being the most advanced in years that I have ever been and still frequently feel like I am 16 again. Dating, living, working and parenting while undergoing major psychic changes. Staring down the barrel of life and seeing that what matters most is not that I do it “right” but that I do it for myself which requires a lot of introspection, insight, brutal honesty and integrity. I did not walk out of my adult married life into this fast paced new world with knowledge of what lay before me. I walked out into the unknown, undiscussed adolescence of my middle age. I walked out into uncharted terrain that was often lonely, scary and unconsidered. Like a teen, I spent a lot of time in my room sorting through the many complicated feelings I had about relationships, sex, fears, insecurities and growing up.
Today, I am grateful for this second go round with youth. I feel like today I am the best version of myself that I have ever been. I like myself and love myself in ways never before possible. I find some peace in the uncertainty of my future, the disconnected and disjointed status of my relationships. I feel excitement at the prospect of the great, looming future that remains unwritten. I remain hopeful that those childhood dreams of true love and connection are still possible but with the firm conviction to more forward living my whole life with or with out them. The only thing that is important is my authenticity in the process. Honoring that middle age adolescence is both terrifying and exciting. Riding the highs and lows sometimes incredibly painful, hilarious and outright fun. Taking my turn on this crazy ride my life is giving me and being grateful that at 50 I am more sure of how much I do not know than what I do.
There is some perverse comfort in not knowing what I am going to do next, who is going to walk into my life, how I am going to handle what comes and excitement in the uncharted territory of my second bout with growing up. I could literally show up for work, buy a Maserati, or fall in love and move to Zimbabwe. It is all on the table....anything is possible. This makes me fucking excited about what today brings. My story is being written on the daily with the final destination known but not looming. I am closer to the end than I have ever been which has unexpectedly caused me to relish in the mundane. Here’s to being 16 at 50! I am going to keep going...