No sooner have you adjusted to life than the midlife crisis hits you. This raises a not entirely insignificant question for oneself.

A middle-aged man is sitting on a bicycle that does not move because it is missing the front wheel.

Fuck it! Photo: Benjakon

You can and should see every crisis in life as an opportunity, that's what they say. And, on the one hand, that's how it is.

But on the other hand, seriously: fuck it! That's thinking too quickly in terms of the outcome, the potentially happy outcome. Afterwards you can always tell each other something that clarifies and consoles you. But first you're in a crisis, and something like that can really take its toll on you, it's really not fun, not really. The truth is that we are all the sufferers, the tamers and, at some point, also the veterans of the crises in our lives, big and small, whether we like it or not.

In the set of crises with which we have now learned to describe our lives – albeit with a deep sigh – the midlife crisis is something like a dazzling relative, sometimes illegitimate, but in some cases also the older sister. There's something questionable but also entertaining about it; It can make you stupid but also smart.

Unlike puberty or late-life depression, it is not necessarily based on physical changes or changes in social roles. Unlike the quarter-life crisis (transition from school to work) or empty nest syndrome (reorientation when children have moved away), this cannot be directly attributed to concrete changes in the living situation. And unlike burnout, there are not necessarily external causes such as stress and excessive demands that trigger it.

It's a bit of a strange and mysterious creature, this midlife crisis. Some people would flatly deny that they exist. Others, myself included, can testify that it does exist and can pull the rug out from under us. It can catch you in the middle of life, just when you think you've got your life a little together.

Like a neon sign in the sky

You are halfway to your existence. You have completed your training, you have started your career, you have started a family or not, but in any case everything could continue like this for now (otherwise you would have other crises), but boom, like a neon sign in the sky, like an undoubted underground bass voice. Like a sudden change in depth of field in a Hitchcock film, this line from Rilke suddenly appears in your mind: “You must change your life” (from the poem “Archaic Torso Apollos”). And it won't go away on its own.

The interesting thing is that the midlife crisis is a crisis of the established, but what you have achieved no longer counts, your whole life is on a knife's edge. You are in a decision-making situation. Just as the classic term crisis says, which originally comes from medicine and describes the moment in which an illness can evolve for better (recovery) or worse (death).

A midlife crisis creates drama where there could have been continuity, it creates excitement where there could have been peace. From afar, it sometimes looks easily fixable and even ridiculous. But from within she feels powerful and invincible.

It took a long time for writers, psychoanalysts and other interpreters of life to convey a coherent image of it. The life crises that can hit you out of nowhere in the middle of life were described in earlier times as crises of faith (a great late testimony to this is the novel “God and the Wilmots” by John Updike), as crises of knowledge (Kleist, later the keyword Transcendentals) or as an expression of a brilliant artistic struggle (the haunting Beethoven).

Crises of meaning and creativity were granted to special people, exceptional personalities, while the so-called great masses were promised and recommended a calm and stable adult life: Zapatero, stay until your last and you will have a normal life: the promise of class average of the social market economy.

The fact that such an adult life is not so stable, even when everything seems to be going well on the outside – or perhaps even especially then – is not such an ancient understanding. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, now somewhat forgotten, brought it to the world in the 1950s with his theory of the phases of life and the fundamentally crisis transitions between them. Through the invention of puberty as a mixture of youth, rock 'n' roll and an attitude of protest against the adult world, this teaching gained evidence.

The fear of losing what has been achieved with great effort

The midlife crisis was popularized in the 1970s through books such as “In the Middle of Life” by Gail Sheehy, a global bestseller at the time. The timing is interesting: 1968 had ended, Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are a-Changin'” had faded, and at the same time, the advances in freedom and liberalization fought for in social protests spread. in society in general.

In the suburbs and experimental settings of university towns, people began not only to dream of their own lives, but also to implement them. Emancipation, self-determination, questioning role models, all these became projects. People wanted to live intensely. At the same time, there was also the fear of losing what had been earned with so much effort, namely, for example, the house in the suburbs.

So life became complicated, ambivalence arose and the popularization of the midlife crisis at that time can be understood as an expression of this arrival to prosperity and at the same time saying goodbye to traditional models, for example religiously based. , and embrace an unprecedented “fundamental liberalization” (Habermas).

“Most people lead lives of quiet desperation,” says a famous classic quote by Henry David Thoreau. But that was no longer the case. Beginning in the 1970s, people were able to lead their own lives in a way that was previously unknown to the general public. But the question arose as to whether it could be In fact you want what you have. And then no one – no authority, no tradition – could help you anymore; You had to find out for yourself.

That is exactly the question that the midlife crisis poses for us. The opportunity to lead your own life also means making wrong decisions. Furthermore, you first have to discover for yourself what exactly that is for you: your own life. This movement of searching and self-questioning makes the midlife crisis so dazzling.

Without self-reflection you cannot have your own life

A lot of time has passed since the 1970s and many things have changed. Some things in favor. Today you are no longer as fixed an adult as you had to be back then; The bohemian lifestyle has long penetrated into everyday life, you can try completely different things, even reinvent them, or whatever the common formula is. But there have also been some challenging developments: the security of the former Federal Republic has been replaced by the more flexible world of work of the present, with new opportunities, new dangers and various distributional struggles.

The midlife crisis has also changed. She has become more normal. There are more diverse ways to approach it. Yoga, painting courses, sports: we now know that all this helps to lead a richer inner life. Furthermore, she can now simply get out of the daily routine and careerist work processes without having to immediately immigrate to India and destroy her entire social environment.

But the fundamental pattern of the midlife crisis persists. He says you can't have your own life without self-reflection, whatever you do with this reflection process, whether it leads you to narcissistic self-realization or taking responsibility for yourself and others.

So maybe it's just the wrong question to ask about whether the midlife crisis really exists or not. Perhaps it would make more sense to ask ourselves how we want to tell ourselves about them and what we do with their pattern. The question of whether you really want what you think you want is something you should definitely ask yourself in midlife.

It may be that by then you have only worked on social or parental orders or superficial models of success. The midlife crisis tells you (and this is where the comparison with your older sister comes in) that you cannot delegate this question to others, but rather answer it yourself.

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