You know, two of my dear friends have arrived at points in middle age where their husbands are…well…annoying. And the men? They seem to have something in common.
I think that as time passes men must experience what we can best describe as holy sh!t moments.
• The kids go off to college.
• The son leaves the city, maybe even the state. Maybe even the country.
• The daughter marries. He doubts the young husband’s suitability. She doesn’t.
• The son gets a job that pays more than he, the father, ever dreamed of earning.
• The daughter gets a job that pays more than he ever dreamed of earning.
• He looks at his wife and realizes she looks younger than he does.
• He goes to his 25th high-school reunion and fails to recognize the girl who had that crush on him all through senior year. He figures it’s not his fault she put on all that weight.
• He looks down at his feet and realizes he no longer can see his dong past his belly.
• The daughter has two kids. He begins to appreciate the son-in-law: at least he’s brighter than the other set of grandparents. Grandparents?
• He needs dorkish-looking glasses from the drugstore to see to read the computer.
• He arrives at the age when his father died.
• His doctor prescribes blood-pressure pills for him.
• He’s working 18-hour days at a job that no longer fires him up the way it once did.
• His doctor prescribes cholesterol pills, and adds that it would be wise to take a baby aspirin each morning.
• He realizes he’s going to have to retire pretty soon.
• He and the wife keep getting notices from the Social Security administration going on about how much they’ll be entitled to, one of these days.
• His wife says his inability to hear the female voice is no longer selective deafness. His annoying doctor agrees and sends him to get hearing aids.
• His sciatica hurts. Most of the time.
• He retires. Now what? Old age is no country for young men!
Well. Into each life some holy sh!t moments must fall. Women probably expect them because we anticipate menopause and see it coming, long before seniority and retirement arrive. Except for a spreading waistline, thinning hair, and maybe having to listen to their wives complain about mid-life changes, men have no sharply delineating physical manifestation to serve as a stepping-stone to full maturity. It’s like not noticing the force-field that surrounds the solar system before running your spaceship right into it.
We’re told men are as likely to experience depression as women — this insight is presented as a news flash! And now it is revealed: men’s depressive symptoms can include “anger attacks, aggression or irritability, substance abuse, risk-taking behavior and hyperactivity.” No kidding?
Much more dire, we learn that veterans, largely men, are committing suicide at the rate of 22 a day. That’s one self-inflicted death every 65 minutes!
A returning war veteran has a whole set of difficult issues to handle that don’t apply to ordinary working stiffs — although it should be noted that almost 70 percent of suicides among veterans have been men aged 50 and older; most of them, one might guess, back in the country long enough to readjust to civilian life. And retirement is a particularly difficult holy sh!t moment, when a man and a woman who, most of the time, have spent at least 12 hours a day apart, suddenly find themselves facing 24 long hours a day together. Think of it: twenty-four hours a day with a person who no longer looks, thinks, or acts like the one you married and who’s richly accustomed to ruling his or her own domain.
If you weren’t already depressed, that prospect will do it!
What can people — whether male or female — do to forestall or at least ease the depression that naturally must follow from one too many holy sh!t moments?
One strategy might be to avoid going to high-school reunions… 😉
Another — probably more effective — is to try to anticipate, to the extent possible, what sources of angst might afflict us in the normal course of life. For example, it’s pretty obvious that various health problems will arise with age. Some of them can be delayed or avoided fairly simply:
• Quit smoking
• Limit drinking
• Avoid recreational drug use
• Eat healthy foods, by and large
• Get regular exercise
Harder to conceive is the likelihood that one day you’ll have to spend most of your time in the company of your spouse. To make that transition more or less smoothly, both partners will need to work at the relationship over the years. When my son was an infant, a pediatrician remarked to me and my husband that the pair — man and woman — is more important than the parent/child dynamic because the kid will grow up and leave, while the parents will have to spend the rest of their lives together. He advised keeping that in mind over the years. Among the many things you can do to keep sight of that fact:
• Spend time together one-on-one — as a regular thing.
• Develop common interests that don’t necessarily include the kids.
• Build interests with the kids that can continue happily once the offspring grow up and go away.
• Create a social life independent of the office and of child-rearing.
• Commit yourselves, as a couple, to volunteer activities that can continue all your lives.
• Enjoy a sport or activity together, one that you can reasonably expect to continue into your older years — such as hiking, fishing, or golf.
• Also develop interests in things you can do separately, so that when the time comes you’ll have a handy reason to spend some time away from each other.
• Don’t be afraid to take separate vacations now and again.
Men I’ve known have reported they found losing a job or retiring deeply depressing because they so identify themselves with their work that without that work, they felt, as one man said, “worthless.” A way to avoid that sense of loss — of value, of personal identity — is to start building a side gig some years before retirement actually descends on you.
A friend of mine, for example, expanded his interest in metal-working into gun-smithing. He started taking courses in the art of gun-smithing and, in an informal way, began working on friends’ hunting weapons. Recently he established a small corporation, and, as retirement looms, he plans to turn this enterprise into a going business. He’ll be doing something he enjoys — an outgrowth of a hobby — and he’ll earn enough extra income to make himself feel that he’s still got an edge…one that gives him a sense of “worth.”
These represent just a small sampling of the possible depression-avoidance strategies that might help any of us keep a grip. Most of them require some advance planning, though: recognizing that anyone can suffer depression — that it may even be a normal part of life, which truly is infested with holy sh!t moments — and starting early to build structures to help defuse sadness, exhaustion, or frustration.
What strategies to you use to maintain your equilibrium as you journey through your life?