I think I’m going through a midlife crisis.
No, I haven’t run off with a younger woman to Aruba. I haven’t ditched my responsibilities with my wife, my children, or my job–although my wife has had to talk me out of buying a motorcycle a couple of times. I haven’t gambled away the mortgage payment. I haven’t gone off on a week-long drinking spree. I haven’t bought a shiny red convertible. I haven’t done any of those things.
I don’t know why this is so hard to take. I’m closer to 50 than I am to 30. Think about that for a minute. By the time you hit your 40s–and I still qualify (barely) as my EARLY 40s–your life is pretty well set. You’re not a ball of potential anymore. You pretty much are what you are. You’re … well … you’re grown up. Set in your ways. Your identity is pretty well static.
There are things now that I know I’ll never do:
I’ll never win Wimbledon. I’ll never be the editor of The New York Times, or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I’ll never catch that touchdown pass and win the game. I’ll never make one of those “40 Under 40” lists. I’ll never pitch the Braves to another World Series title. (In my defense, it doesn’t look like anyone else will do that, either.) I’ll probably never have that Porsche roadster. (Where the hell would I put the kids’ seats?) This midlife crisis–mine, I mean; I can’t speak for yours–is all about what might have been, and what will never be.
I’ll never be that young hotshot reporter, editor, or writer again.
Of course, I’m also a better reporter, editor, and writer than I used to be. Experience does make a difference. But the thing is that I’m no longer “potential.” I am what I am, and every fiber of my being fights against that. I’m dying for open roads and vast stretches of countryside no one has ever explored. I look into the distance and wonder what else is out there. And then I look at my close surroundings and see my family: the wife, the kids, the house, the cars, the dogs.
I’ve trapped myself. It’s a trap of my own making, and its bonds are fragile. I know–KNOW–I could break them if I wanted to. But I’ve also changed a great deal in the last few years. At the very least I understand now what it means to love someone else more than I love myself. And that means that I stay in the trap–singing in my chains like the sea.* (50 points if you get that literary reference without having to look it up.)
My wife tells me not to worry about it, but I do. She went out of her way yesterday to remind me that I really am getting better as I get older. “You are a lot more things than middle-aged,” she said. “You are a daddy and a husband, a friend and a brother, a son, a PR flack. And you are actually starting to hit your stride in those things, I think. You are a better friend and son than you were 10 years ago … you are a better husband than you were five years ago … you are a better daddy than you were three years ago.”
So there are positives to aging, I suppose. But there’s a part of me–a small, but LOUD part–that misses those days when I was wild and blue and young, when I was simply a mass of potential rather than an early-40s middle-aged man with responsibilities and regrets.
I’ll never win Wimbledon, but let’s be honest–I was never going to do that anyway. But it would have been fun as hell to play on the grass.