I love women's magazines that offer five-step solutions to all of life's problems. A Better Sex Life! A Trendier Spring Wardrobe! A Hotter Marriage! A More Fulfilling Career! As a veteran self-improver, I find articles like these almost irresistible.
In that vein, I propose the following five (easy) ways to take the edge off your midlife crisis. There are undoubtedly harder and more radical ways to fix what ails you, such as therapy, divorce, quitting your job and so on. These suggestions are more in the nature of short-term triage - like a new spring scarf or a fresh recipe for quinoa salad. And they work!
1. Take Up A Sport. I know. I can't believe I'm suggesting this either. Up until recently, I'd never so much as attended a swim meet. But if you are in your forties, you are probably grappling with some unsettling physical limitations that are cropping up like bad weeds. Twinges in your back, bad knees, an odd foot problem...it's mildly embarrassing, isn't it? Knowing that your body is on the slippery slope to hip replacements and arthritis? Taking up a new sport and improving at it is an effective psychological counter-measure. I, for example, play tennis, which allows me to hit things really hard in a socially-appropriate context. Arguably I'm only hurrying myself down the slope by courting new injuries, but it feels really good in the moment.
2. Embrace Your Creative Side. Write. Paint. Learn the piano. Take Irish step dancing. Exploring your creativity is an incredible outlet for all of the anxiety and confusion that attend a midlife crisis. And it fends off Alzheimer's.
3. Hang Out With Other Women. Find communities of women that nourish you. I have a bunch of them: a book club, a tennis group, a professional advisory group (like a career cabinet) and a monthly dinner club (more on that later). I spend time with younger women who remind me that I'm happy not to have very young children anymore; and I spend time with older women who reassure me that this too shall pass. And of course, I spend time with women who are in exactly the same boat, which makes me feel normal.
4. Make A Wild and Permanent Gesture of Size. Do you remember Heartburn, that barely-fictionalized memoir of marriage breakdown by the late, great Nora Ephron? God, she was fabulous. Here's an excerpt:
"Rachel," said Richard, "it had nothing to do with how much you cooked for him. It had nothing to do with how much you wanted to be a couple. It had nothing to do with you."
"It must have had something to do with me," I said.
"Why?" said Richard.
"Because if it didn't, there's nothing I can do about it."
"That's my point," said Richard.
"I know that's your point," I said, "but I can't accept it."
"Well, if you ever do," said Richard, "you ought to do what I did. I feel much, much better."
"Are you suggesting that I ask someone I'm not in love with to marry me and then jump into the seal pond?" I said.
"I'm suggesting that you make a wild and permanent gesture of size," said Richard, "and mine was to ask you to marry me and jump into the seal pond. Yours can be anything you want."
"The only wild and permanent gesture of size that has ever crossed my mind," I said, "is to have my hair cut."
Wild and permanent gestures of size come in varying degrees of wildness, permanence and size. Some of the most extreme ones are beyond the scope of these 5 Easy Ways (see above). But there are some interesting possibilities in the middle of the range, between a haircut and a divorce, let's say, that may be profoundly satisfying. If you're into physical improvements, you could straighten your teeth, get or remove a tattoo, or try laser hair removal (no more shaving for the rest of your life!). On the psychic improvement side, you could ditch that old high school friend you haven't liked for years, or quit that volunteer board with the meetings that you fake illness to avoid every month. You get the idea - small scale enhancements with long term benefits.
5. Start An Outrage-Of-The-Month Club. I admit it. This whole blog has been a thinly-veiled excuse to tell you about my OOTMC. It's one of the best things in my life, and I want to share the joy. Credit for the OOTMC goes to my friend Sara, who used to work at a really dysfunctional institution where all anyone ever did was talk about how terrible it was to work there. She and her friends banded together and made a solemn agreement to save all of their complaints for one monster bitch session at the end of the week. The person with the most outrageous tale of anti-social behavior in the workplace got a free drink. How brilliant is that?
My own OOTMC is a dinner club. There are four of us, and we only ever meet with a full complement. If someone is sick, we reschedule. We eat, we drink, and each of us presents an outrage for consideration -- a story that we believe will secure our position as the most downtrodden, maligned or otherwise insulted member of the group. It's absolutely hilarious and we almost laugh ourselves sick every time. And the best part? No matter what obnoxious thing befalls you over the course of the month, there's always a silver lining: you just might get a free dinner out of it.