The Anatomy of

a Midlife Crisis

March 24, 2020

Every midlife crisis is the same. The same cause and the same effect. It happens to all of us, too. The only differences are when it happens, and to what extent it’s embarrassing.

I had my midlife crisis when I was 28. Given my proclivity for eating contests, this may indicate when I will die.

It occurred, if my memory serves me, on Reed Avenue in Sunnyvale, California. I was riding my bike home from a dead-end copywriting job—it was a dead end because I was terrible at it—and nearly partook in a fender bender with a Prius. Which isn’t so bad unless you’re on a bike, your fender is your patella. This shot me with the immediate, deep, unnerving sense that my life was a tragedy. Bike to work, work, play bocce ball at lunch, pretend like meetings accomplish something, bike home, then try to repress the fact that my main source of transportation is a bicycle. Sure, I had a lot of fun too, but only contributed to the problem in that it was a distraction from my real issue—I was neither doing what I wanted to do, nor what I was good at. I wanted to be a psychologist. I’ve known this since I was 19, but it never seemed like a big deal until it felt like I was living in a consolation prize.

My previous, perhaps mostly unconscious, protests to becoming a psychologist seemed silly in the face of an utterly meaningless life. That psychology isn’t manly. That it isn’t intellectually challenging. That it’s the subject basic girls get into for a few months during their undergrad. It’s the humanities version of photography.

These are all true, but who cares? I wanted to be a psychologist, no matter how basic that made me. Sure, pumpkin spice lattes are lame, but they’re good, dammit!

That evening I began to research graduate schools.


I’m still not a psychologist—not yet, at least. But I get to work make progress every day. And though my life is just as pathetic as it was when I was 28—perhaps more pathetic since not only do I still ride a bike to work, but it’s the same bike—fulfillment is my co-pilot. I do exactly the work I want in exactly the way I want to do it. I play my strengths like a finely tuned chord. If I won millions of dollars, not only would I still do the same thing, but I’d be able to pay more people to tell everyone what a big deal I am. Now, when I get in a near fender bender with a Toyota, I’m only afraid for the work I’ll miss.

That’s how a midlife crisis goes for everybody.

1. First you have a need. Mine was to become a psychologist.

2. Then you repress the need. You’re probably used to repressing needs, so you barely even know what it feels like to have one, let alone get it met. You rationalize that needs are selfish and nods of approval from a semi-fat middle manager will compensate for your inability to live the life you want.

3. What represses the need? Your anxiety, the unconscious symptoms of which present as 95 percent of the “fun” 20-somethings—and now 30-somethings—have.

4. Spotify recommends Kansas and a few days later you’re hit with the realization there’s no point in hiding from yourself anymore. Protection reveals itself to be the illusory inhibitor that it is. Grief is the initiation that propels you to the next stage of adult development.

It’s the man in his 40s who leaves his family, buys a convertible, and then tries to pick up girls in a painfully outdated fashion. When he was 19, he didn’t do these things. He was too afraid. This is what he’ll tell himself, if he’s honest. If he lies to himself, like most men do, he says he didn’t have any time, that he was too busy building his career. He’ll end up with a new wife, one that is curiously similar to his previous one. He wasn’t protesting where he was so much as what he was.

It’s the awkwardly aging woman living the Eat, Pray, Love fantasy. Guess what she never did. You know it. We make like that dog in the meme and tell ourselves “this is fine” for such a long time it becomes habit. We don’t even know what we feel anymore until our burgeoning crow’s feet offer a terrible glimpse of the truth. Blame the patriarchy if you cannot face your anxiety, but just because everybody believes it doesn’t make it any less of a delusional projection.

The pattern is universal because these crises are deeply embedded in our psyche. The neurosis of this psychological aeon is the repression of our own needs for the sake of what we think others want us to do. I don’t know you, but this is the crux of your emotional issue. It can manifest in a myriad of ways, but that’s the core. You’re afraid of your own anger—you’re afraid of existing because if you were to exist, other people won’t like you. And you’re right, they won’t like you.

The crisis doesn’t contain itself to midlife, though. We feel it at midlife because of marination, but it’s happening every day, no matter your age. Probably the most damaging banality we hear is there’s plenty of time—for marriage, family, and career. But as the crisis reminds us, there isn’t any time. Either you do it now or not at all. Either die today or never. The only problem with the midlife crisis is we don’t have enough of them.



Become devastatingly honest with yourself ( until your own validation trumps the validation of others. It makes a scene, but the only way to save yourself from the embarrassment of a midlife crisis is to embarrass yourself now.

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