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.
About the Author: Garry Crystal
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. br> His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. br> View My Profile