By February 28, 2012 28 Comments Read More →

The Single Person’s Midlife Crisis

Can single people have a midlife crisis but with the emphasis on the fact that they have never married or had kids?

A couple I know are just about to celebrate their 15 year wedding anniversary. I know this because my friend, the groom, phoned to remind me. I shouldn’t need to be reminded, I was best man at his wedding, a duty I have undertaken twice in my life. It should be but isn’t one of those annual dates that sticks in my memory, and I think my friend is aware of this, hence the phone call.

I have no strong feelings for or against the institute of marriage but lately I’ve been giving the matter some thought. A lot of people in my generation married in their early twenties. To me, early twenties is still young, and most people aren’t usually the same person with the same attitudes in their twenties as they are in their thirties or even their forties.

Get married in your early twenties and you could have a grown up family by the time you hit forty and then what? According to the experts, this is one of the danger zones when it comes to the midlife crisis; the point when people begin to feel anxious about what to do after the children have left and the next big stepping stone of retirement looms on the horizon.

Can single people also suffer from a midlife crisis but with the emphasis on the fact that they have never married or had kids?

A few weeks ago I was out with a couple of friends in a bar, both married, both dads, both in their early forties. I had known them for years, since school actually. I haven’t seen them regularly, maybe once every six months. The conversation focused on what had been happening since we had last seen each other. Then, when I stepped outside for a cigarette, I came back to find that I had suddenly entered (cue Twilight Zone music) the ‘dad zone’. The conversation was now focused, for what seemed liked the foreseeable future, solely on their children; I had only been gone five minutes. Maybe they were waiting until I had left to begin this ‘for dad’s ears only’ conversation.

After about twenty minutes of this I asked, half jokingly, if dad talk was going to be a staple for the entire night. I didn’t have anything to contribute to the topic of children having chicken-pox or how they were doing at school; etc. I was the single 44 year old who was not part of the club. The dad talk continued and I continued to drink feeling a bit like a child who had nothing to contribute to the adult’s conversation. I was brought into the conversation at one point only to be reprimanded for my smoking habit by the two non-smokers; sorry dad.

I’ve never felt anxious about not getting married or not having kids, it never used to bother me and still doesn’t really. I’ve been in long-term relationships, although admittedly never past the six year point. The marriage and kids thing has never really been on my mind before, although of course it has been brought up from time to time in previous relationships. But the fact that I had noticed that night that I wasn’t part of the married dad’s club got me thinking, and then came the dreaded inner questioning. What have you done with your life? What are you going to do next?

While others from my generation have married and raised a family, what had I done? I had asked myself these questions a few years ago when my dad had died. When my father died I felt, for the first time in my life, old. Maybe old isn’t the right the word but there was a definite sense of time running out. My father had married at around 20 and had three grown-up children by the time he had reached the age I am now; now that to me is scary shit.

If some married people can have a midlife crisis about what they have done with their lives, do single people have the same midlife crisis but with the opposite subject matter? Whereas the married mid-lifer going through this crisis tries to recapture whatever they think they have missed out on by buying a sports car, wearing clothes only fit for a teenager and trying to ignore the comments coming from their kids about their dad-dancing routine at parties, does the single mid-lifer wake up during the night in a cold sweat agonizing over whether they have missed out on the annual cost of raising children or tax allowances when married and the benefits of a permanent job with long term prospects and employee benefits such as gym membership, workplace crèche facilities and a good pension plan and family medical insurance and family holidays, and, and, and, STOP!

I have to now go and buy a 15 year wedding anniversary present and card. I think it will probably be best not to mention any of this when writing the congratulatory message inside the card.

 

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About the Author:

Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal, Roadside Fiction and Orato. His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. View My Profile

  • Cher Duncombe

    Great thought-provoking article, Garry. My own feeling is that the later a man marries, the better. They really need to sow those oats and hopefully have that part out of their system. Aside from that, I do not believe that marriage is for everyone. Some people are quite happy with long term relationships and if they do break up, the damage is far less severe, especially if no children are involved. I have this feeling about you. Call it intuition. When you least expect it, the woman of your dreams will appear in your life and you will…know. She will be a woman who loves the writer as well as the man and will be your ‘constant gardner,’ tending to your needs. You need a very special person, so hold on. Wait. One day we will see a message from you and that will be that!

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Ah Cher, you are ever the romantic I think. This was an old article that I put on today because tomorrow is the 29th Feb, leap year, maybe get the mid-life crisisers thinking. Ha, after being in a relationship with me, most of my exs immediately run out and get married but freedom has many perks.

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  • http://www.firkroy.blogspot.com/ Dan LaFollette

    Garry, everyone goes through some sort of midlife change parent or not. The change happens when someone finally realize that they may be over that hump with less years to live than they have lived. It’s that time when people start to do funny things. Some start to evaluate their lives and what they are doing with it, and some get a red sports car and a bimbo to ride in the passenger seat.

    I started out with kids late, and had first cousins younger than myself being grandparents before my first kid was 3. I got to live responsibility free for my 20s and 30s. But now I’m at the point where I’m doing what most people did in their 30s. It’s keeping me young, and forcing me to take better care of myself so I can do fun things with my kids. But it sure would be nice sometimes to not be interrupted when I’m concentrating on writing, or to be able to do what I want when I want to do it.
    Those friends of yours who could stop talking about their children need a hobby, or you should just forget about them for a while. Believe me, I look for conversations that aren’t about my children.
    Bottom line “What have you done with your life? What are you going to do next?” is normal for everyone, just do what makes you happy.

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  • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

    A red sports car and a bimbo are starting to look enticing Dan, don’t knock it but I will put that on the back burner for the time being, maybe when I hit my 60s..shouldn’t be too long now.

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  • http://sipsofjenandtonic.com Jen and Tonic

    Let me start off by saying I loved this!

    I agree with what you’ve said about people getting married in their 20’s. I’ve seen a lot of people who have grown tired of a partner they really weren’t meant to be with. Sure, life doesn’t offer guarantees, but you have a greater chance of marital success if you really know yourself before taking the plunge.

    I’ve been alienated from entire groups of friends who do nothing but talk about their children. At least your friends waited until you left for a minute— my “friends” (who used to be really interesting and dynamic) start off conversations with, “I just found this awesome breast pump!” I have absolutely nothing to contribute, and they’ve slowly been “forgetting” to invite me to hang out when they get together.

    I only worry about “What have you done with your life? What are you going to do next?” in terms of all the things I’d like to accomplish before I die. Marriage doesn’t define a person, and neither does having children. If you got married tomorrow and had kids, you’d still be Garry Crystal. Do all the things you want to do, no matters what that entails, and your life will turn out exactly as it should.

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Jen re the “What have you done with your life? What are you going to do next?” and accomplish before you die, i’m the same. Things such as marriage don’t really enter onto my list, probably because i’ve seen so many bad examples in the past and have thought “woh, really don’t want to be stuck in that sort of situation.” Plus I don’t like the idea of having to have someone else’s approval such as church or state as the ‘right’ way to life my life. Yet, I know people who are my age who are tearing their hair out because they haven’t got the marriage and kids thing and they are continually searching for it -- that’s bound to cause a crisis.

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  • http://tjlubrano.blogspot.com/ TJ Lubrano

    This is such a great article Garry!

    Like Jen said “Sure, life doesn’t offer guarantees, but you have a greater chance of marital success if you really know yourself before taking the plunge.” -- I couldn’t agree more.

    Not sure if marriage is something for me. I’ve had a few friends who did talk about how they don’t want to follow this ‘standard path’ and be all married or settled down…in the end they did just that. Maybe they want to avoid the questions others could throw at them? I know the questions can be annoying, but I’m too stubborn to I just throw myself into the arms of some dude, just because I get tired of the ‘why aren’t you married yet? Don’t you want kids?!’ questions. Like everyone else said: I want to do the things that I want to do :) If I’m happy with myself, I could be even more happy with someone else. You know, sometimes the gap I have in conversation subjects with friends is difficult, because next to the fact I don’t have kids, I also don’t have a ‘regular’ job.

    I have an article as a draft where I ramble about the ‘quarter life’ crisis. Not sure if I had one though haha!

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Lubraners, can someone have a quarter life crisis, never heard of that one, you need to get the draft finished and published here. Have also had the ‘regular job’ questions as well, and although I was making enough money from writing to pay the bills, go on holidays etc they still didn’t see it as a proper job, it’s people’s own perceptions of how you should be living your life and usually it comes down to because you aren’t living the same sort of life as them.

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      • http://tjlubrano.blogspot.com/ TJ Lubrano

        You’re absolutely right re people’s own perceptions!
        As for the article, I shall see what I can do. I think I used bits and pieces of it in previous articles. The first draft was a ‘deep pondering and questioning society’ one haha.

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  • http://www.elisaashley.com Elisa Ashley

    Um. Anyone who reaches middle age can experience a “mid-life crisis.” Subject matter is personal.

    Apparently for me, I’ve just reached the point in my life (43? AAAAAHHH!) where I immerse myself in chocolate.

    That said…life is more fun when you surround yourself with people who have things in common with you. When my friends got married and had kids we lost touch. But we caught up again later when I had kids and needed advice or found the next coolest baby thing.

    Spend time with people who make you happy…not who make you wonder what the hell you’ve made out of yourself and why you aren’t like everyone else. Everything will fall into place.

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Well whatever works for ya..although can baby things ever be ‘cool’.

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      • http://www.elisaashley.com Elisa Ashley

        Some baby things are VERY cool, you idiot. 😀

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  • http://www.tiredofpreviews.com Katy Kern

    Single, married, divorced, or widowed, etc… -- I think everyone reaches a point in their life where they have experienced enough to take a look back on their life to make some accounts of what they have or haven’t done. There is nothing wrong with that -- it’s natural.

    The problem is when others reflect their judgement on your life’s choices because it wasn’t what they would have chosen for themselves (or maybe they are jealous they didn’t). I have gotten to a stage where I realize no one really knows me and what I have been through so have no right to judge me; and I, in turn, try not to judge others anymore. Having things in common or not holds little value of who I choose as friends. Some of the best people I know live drastically different lives than me and I value their experiences as much as my friends who I might have things in common with. But if you find it easier to live like others and that makes you happy -- then do it. Same goes with people who chose different paths. They are all valid -- Bottom line: just don’t tell me how to live my life.

    With age comes wisdom but it can also bring severe judgment from people on your lifestyle choices; and I am old enough now to say: Fuck it -- you are not me. And when I am going through in my mid-life crisis -- be a friend and listen and let me get through it because the only person who can change it is me. Support is a friend’s job.

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      I like that Katy, I want a t-shirt printed up with ‘Fuck it — You are not me” on the front and “Be thankful you’re not” on the back. Screw the severely judgemental people, sometimes they can get to me but most of the time I can blow it off, are they actually worth taking advice from or allowing to make you feel a certain way?

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  • Anya Pham

    I rather think it shouldn’t be about marriage, but about what exists between two people. Marriage is a symbolic act -- it’s not the act of commitment itself. You commit in your heart. I think the fact that a lot of people are getting married and/or having families later in life is nothing but a change in the norm -- it used to be quite normal for girls to marry at 12 or 13, and at some point, that changed. I think it’s great if we’re able to let go of old expectations/norms that might not work for us anymore.

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      The thing is marriage isn’t seen simply as a symbolic act by many people, and divorce is seen by a large number of people as one of life’s failures, basically another way to make people feel crap about their lives and people are made to feel as if they have failed bigtime if they have went through it, especially where religion is involved. Maybe in the future this will all change as religion slowly, I hope anyway, dies a death.

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  • http://castlehearttimes.blogspot.com/ Dani Heart

    I think we all reach a point in our lives.. no matter the circumstances where we take stock of our accomplishments or lack there of. I would have admonished you for the smoking too. LOL But I applaud your decision to not have children and not marry. Too many marry and have children for all the wrong reasons. I am a mom, but have on many occasions wished I had made other choices. I agree with you that in your twenties is too young to know what the heck is up, and certainly not to be making lifelong commitments. That said… I did just those things. sighs… was in a 16 year relationship from the time I was 16, then a five-year relationship, and now going on 12 years and finally got it right. Socially we are somewhat expected to partner up and procreate and many espouse that’s the meaning of life… but I don’t agree. Not everyone is cut out to be a mother/father wife/husband. Good for you. smiles.

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Hi Dani, it’s never actually been a conscious decision to not get married or have kids, it just seems to have gone that way. Six years has been my limit in a long-termer and i’ve done the living together thing a couple of times. I was speaking to a woman from Paris who said that in the bigger cities people concentrate on their careers first, there is not this hurry to get married and have kids as there seems to be in smaller towns. I don’t know if that’s true but in my city all my friends and immediate relatives have married young, and i was always more happy to be a guest at the wedding than actually taking part in one. One partner for life? Too late for that now :-)

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  • Larry Conley

    Garry,

    I would say anyone who survives to reach mid-life can have a crisis. Some do and some don’t.

    We make our choices and we take our chances. Almost everyone looks back once they get so far and wonder how they got where they are.

    We have to live the life we have and that comes from the choices we’ve made. As the saying goes, however, “Where there is life there is hope.”

    So here’s hoping it all comes out well for you!

    Larry

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      I’ll get back with a new article if I actually do hit the crisis, i’ve heard it’s a pretty bad thing to go through. I’ll take a series of mini ones throughout my life instead. You are right, where there is life there is hope.

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  • http://www.momsarefrommars.com Janene

    Great post, Gary. I don’t think it matters whether you’re married or not. When you hit that mid-way mark, you can’t help but sit back and assess.

    As for dad talk, the problem is that kids take up so much of your life that it’s hard to avoid the subject. Plus fellow parents have so many shared experiences. It’s an easy way to connect.

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  • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

    Janene are you trying to say I have hit the mid way mark at 45, I intend to live until 120, at least. Ah I didn’t mind their dad talk, I minded the ‘stop smoking’ more, that never gets old.

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  • http://www.thevocationalcoach.com craig nathanson

    It happens with everyone. Whether you are married, single, divorced.

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  • http://savagelettuce-thesavageland.blogspot.com/ Savage Lettuce

    As a childless woman in the latter part of her 30’s, I can tell you first hand how shitty it feels when you’re reduced to a spectator among other adults. And the stuff that comes out of some people’s mouths make you question how they can be held responsible for the care of a small human. That said, I try to remind myself that opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one and they generally leave a bad taste in your mouth. I also find perverse pleasure in the knowledge that I don’t have someone bilking me for money while calling me stupid behind my back (except the government).

    Love this piece!

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      I wouldn’t mind reading an article on this from a woman’s point of view. I know I have women friends who talk a lot about how they are made to feel by others if they haven’t married and had children by a certain age, for some it feels as if they see it as a big negative thing, a sign hanging over their head and i’ve read insane comments such as some people calling others selfish if they don’t have children. You are right about the opinion/assholes quote :-)

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  • Joanne Morley-Hill

    Hi Garry, I can so relate to this! You and I are kindred spirits methinks! I’ll be 50 next year and I have never done the marriage and kids thing, not because I didn’t want to or because my career got in the way, it was just that it never really happened. But I think that for us quiet, reflective people it’s harder to meet like-minded folk because we’d prefer to be on our own most of the time. Interacting with others can feel like such hard work and it’s difficult for a lot of people to understand that.

    It can be especially hard for a woman to get to a certain age and suddenly realise that it’s too late to have children and the opportunity has passed her by. Even more difficult when most of her friends’ and colleagues’ lives revolve around their children. But the way I like to look at it is this: all the energy and emotion I would be spending on those kids I can now channel into my writing.

    Thanks for a great thought-provoking article!

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    • http://www.garrycrystal.blogspot.com/ Garry Crystal

      Thanks Joanne, good to see you on Expats. You are right, sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I don’t think anyone should feel as if they have to make excuses for that. For many it’s not an actual choice, it just worked out that way. I think for a lot of people though there is this pressure to get married and then if it doesn’t work out the person has the added pressure of being seen as having a failed marriage, you can’t win either way. Hopefully though that is all changing as some people are able to step out of the dark ages.

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  • Ujjaini

    Good one-would have liked to read a bit more indepth reflection of emotional challenges if any? I think there are many -- which we hide skilfully from the society as we hate pity of others. Nevertheless its not easy to cope with many complex thoughts-genetic death or old-age helplessness for example. Yes single people do go through this phase as well-with more difficulties but also perhaps with more courage.

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