The Oxford English Dictionary defines a midlife crisis as “an emotional crisis of self-confidence or identity that can occur in early middle age, associated with the idea that one is growing old or that life is passing one by.” Please note that nowhere in that definition does it limit such a crisis to men, nor does it mention marrying a pool boy or starting a rock band. For years, I thought the midlife crisis was just an(other) excuse for men to act dastardly, but now that I’ve recently turned 40, I understand what all the hubbub is about. I think I’m having an emotional crisis, though not of self-confidence. What’s troubling me is an actuarial reality: half my life is over. My youth is gone. WTF? Just yesterday, I was hustling for tickets to Bare Naked Ladies. Now, I need to write a will, and I just don’t understand Chatroulette. I should have gone to medical school. I will never be friends with Angelina Jolie. (OK, I’m still holding out on that one.) Even my funeral plans have changed. In my 30s, I was committed to a simple cremation. “When I’m gone, I’m gone,” I used to say. “Just make sure to have a shot for me.” Now not only do I care about not dying, but also, if and when it happens, I’d prefer to be buried like a Egyptian pharaoh, with all my favorite stuff (including plenty of reading material and my complete collection of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia) in the crypt with me, just in case I need something in the afterlife. And I want people to grieve, deeply, for me and never be the same after my demise, ever.
Technically, I’m still five years shy of middle age. But all around me, it seems like people are having midlife crises well before midlife. Jacquelyn B. James, director of research at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work simply sees it as a transitional period, one of many in our lives. “Only 10% of people have a genuine crisis. The rest of us simply find a way to adjust our identity without acting strangely or making decisions with dramatic effects.” Yet everyday I see grown men in my neighborhood dressed like they’re competing in the X Games. (Dude, you have a 401(k), give it up.) Famous people aren’t helping, either, with Tiger Woods and Jesse James behaving like everyday is 2-for-1 lap-dance night at the booby bar. Isn’t it possible to freak out about one’s lost youth in a dignified way? Unfortunately there are few role models for women trying to gracefully age out of the hottie category. I’m going to have to be creative and stoic. I don’t have it all figured out, but here are just a few of the rules I’d like my midlife crisis to follow:
1. Your glory days weren’t.
I’m never going to be 25 again. But you know what? I don’t want to be 25. The years between my 17th and 29th birthdays were some of the most angst-ridden I’ve endured. I ping-ponged from one messy love affair to the next, and I couldn’t make it 48 hours without a crying jag. Sure, I could stay out all night and still get to work the next day on time(ish), but I was usually broke and rarely had health insurance. So sign me up, AARP, because I like the stability I have now.
2. Forgive your parents.
There is nothing uglier than a 40-, 50-, or 60-something complaining about their dysfunctional childhood. Watch a little Celebrity Rehab if you don’t believe me. Here are three words that are the key to any graceful midlife transition: “Get over it.” If you’re still traumatized by what your parents did to your sick dog when you were 11, get therapy. I hereby forgive my mother for not mailing in my Shaun Cassidy fan-club-membership application in 1974.
3. Forget the bucket list.
Thanks to that dopey movie, everybody’s got at least a mental list of the things they’d like to do before they die. But creating a bucket list is limited only by your imagination, while actually doing the things on your list requires time and money and possibly different DNA. Who the hell has time to visit all seven continents, climb Mt. Everest and hike the Donner Trail? Sure, I’d like to scuba dive or learn French. But when I think about my bucket list, it becomes a description of the person I think I should have been, some kind of glamorous double agent who wears Blahniks by day and can effortlessly raise a child that sleeps in his own bed and make homemade pasta for my husband without taking antidepressants. My life has been just fine. I don’t need to jump out of an airplane.
4. Observe a 30-day waiting period for body modifications.
This one is inviolable. No plastic surgery, tattoos, piercings, or extreme haircuts without a long period of contemplation. I do not want to look like an elderly woman, but neither do I wish to look like Meg Ryan. Plastic surgeons are salesmen. Good ones. If you walk in there with a general sense of dissatisfaction, you could walk out looking like Jocelyn Wildenstein. Don’t forget that tats may be compromised by muffin tops, stretch marks, or a variety of scars. If I feel the need to do anything, I’ll have the ridiculous tattoo I got when I was 25 removed.
5. Don’t mix technology and sex.
You will only embarrass yourself. No sexting, Facebook flirting, or naked Skyping. I hate to be ageist, but Tiger couldn’t figure out how to be discreet with a cell phone, and you can’t either. Technology is outpacing us—the least we can do is stay clothed when we’re in its path.
6. Underwear is no longer optional.
I’m not saying you have to wear granny panties, but leave the flashing to Britney Spears. You’re not 19—so stop dressing like you are. This goes for outerwear as well. Grandfathers should not dress like Justin Bieber, and women who try to look like Kim Kardashian sometimes end up looking like Morticia Addams. Not to be sexist, but even I don’t want to see old cleavage. It’s creepy and desperate. I accept that my micro-mini days are over (but I’m sticking with leggings).
You’re probably thinking I’m some kind of beast who wants to shuffle you off to assisted living. But, really, I’m trying to help you—and myself. There’s still time to learn a few new tricks, but I have to admit my chances of becoming a pop star or an Olympic athlete now are small. Besides, if you think about it, it’s not all downhill from here…it’s been downhill from day one! That’s a morbid yet somehow comforting thought when you’ve aged out of the cool-kids demographic.