The midlife crisis can be a starting point for a reorientation. But for a long time only men were allowed to suffer such a crisis;

A person jumps in front of the sunset.

Jump into a new phase of life Photo: imago

The fact that women have the prospect of a midlife crisis should be considered progress. For a long time, research, the media and talk shows only talked about men when it came to taking stock in midlife. Well, you could say that one less crisis is not a big loss. The elderly Porsche buyer who has become a cliché is not the character one would desperately want to be. Unable to find a safe way to deal with aging, half surprised, half offended that finitude applies to him too.

But the midlife crisis involves more than just wasteful shopping and skip-the-line relationships. From this comes the self-confidence that one's life is important enough for a mid-term review. It includes the idea that this crisis can be the starting point for a reorientation, either quietly or as a dramatic reinvention. And: the assumption that the outside world will add to the readjustment.

Seen this way, the midlife crisis is not only an imposition, but also self-confidence and a privilege. It was also granted late to women. After the American psychologist Daniel Levinson fundamentally addressed the developmental cycles in men's lives in “Seasons of a Man's Life” in 1978, it took 18 years until his book “Seasons of a Woman's Life” was published. If I ask my 87-year-old mother about a midlife crisis, she only thinks about men. If I ask younger colleagues, nephews and nieces, they also think about women.

But the door to reorientation is, at best, half open. Before that is the menopause scenario, which takes women out of the game before they even get into it. The image of the menopausal woman is a variation of the concept of a woman who is emotionally driven and unable to think rationally. The woman in menopause is the sum of her hormones in disorder, her main problem is hot flashes and her main characteristic is saying goodbye to motherhood.

Immersion in irrelevance

He is a victim and a reactor; self-determination is unknown to him. Menopausal women are an interesting group for manufacturers of hormonal preparations, but that's about it. Things aren't helped any by books claiming that menopause is “cooler than we think” and that with a little good will it should be possible to still feel sexy.

The menopause woman is required to bring her dysfunctional body to something resembling a tolerable resting state; nothing more is expected of her. There is no talk of reinvention or exit, and we cannot talk about it at all. He is devastated. You could write “More than the sum of my hormones” on your t-shirt, knowing full well that the hormonal changes of aging men are not a problem.

In any case, the menopausal woman is not the one who would have the ability to take stock beyond her hormonal levels. It is not she who looks at herself in her role as a professional, as a colleague, as a friend, as a mother, as a daughter or as part of a society and asks herself: where am I really? Do I think what I'm doing makes sense? I like it? Would I like to be the boss? Would I like to be the coach of the local ring tennis team?

Of course, it is important to be able to articulate the pain instead of remaining silent about it according to ancient feminine custom. Of course, no woman has to act as if her body is a machine that does her job silently with a little maintenance. But no one should have to pay for this opportunity by disappearing into the depths of irrelevance.

More freedom than ever

A term comes up again and again in texts that talk about women in midlife crisis: invisible. Most of these texts come from women and mainly try to go unnoticed by men of different ages. The extinction is explained by the loss of attractiveness, until now, so predictable. But why do older women become invisible to young people?

Because they are prisoners of menopause, incapable, it is believed, of developing external effectiveness. It is the ideal time to take radical steps. Because the fixed roles that existed before are weakening: potential children are independent and people no longer play traditional attractiveness bingo. This is more freedom than ever before in a woman's life.

Shouldn't this be exactly the space from which women in midlife crisis reinvent themselves, semi-reinvent themselves, or stay the same, just as they want? I believe this space exists. But it's small and messy. The woman in a midlife crisis must escape the spell of menopause. If she doesn't protest, they will hold her. A small selection: if she is an actress, presenter or comedian, she will be hired less often.

If you are a journalist, you run the risk of being sent for interviews less frequently. What she does to impact society is very likely to be ridiculed: The volunteer who helps with homework: well-intentioned, but not to be taken seriously. If she is indifferent to her appearance, she has given up. If she doesn't care, she didn't hear the shots. The midlife crisis is a time when women realize that in theory they have all the options, but in practice they don't.

But it's also the time when you can look around and realize: time is on our side. We are a lot. If we should be invisible to others, we are not invisible to ourselves. I recently spoke to two women about their midlife crisis and one of them said, “Older women are more supportive. The young women are also supportive,” said the other. It's probably both. In any case, all solidarity is needed in the fight against hormonal smoke and mirrors.

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