The Big 4-Oh! -- The Midlife Crisis: Hey, It's Foolishness

One day you wake up and realize you just hate everything about your life; you hate it hate it hate it. A man in the throes of a midlife crisis knows that; fortunately, there is something he can do, something we will call, for want of a better term, ``making a fool of himself.'' Part 2 of five parts excerpted from ``Dave Barry Turns 40.''

The past 20 years have seen tremendous advances in our understanding of these mysterious creatures called men - what motivates them; what kinds of complex and subtle emotions they're really experiencing underneath their brusque ``macho'' exteriors; and why they are all basically slime-sucking toads. Most of this understanding has been supplied by popular psychologists, dedicated men and women who - despite the very real risk that they will have to appear on the ``Oprah Winfrey'' show - are constantly churning out insightful ground-breaking books with titles like:

``Men Who Hate Women''

``Men Who Claim Not To Hate Women But Trust Me They Are Lying''

``Men Who, OK, Maybe They Don't Hate ALL Women, But They Definitely Cannot Stand YOU''

And so on. Reading between the lines, we can see that men do not have a terrific reputation for being dependable, lifelong partners in a relationship. In this chapter, we will put on our pith helmets and begin to explore a major reason for this, namely: the midlife crisis. This is a phase that all men are required, by federal law, to go through, as part of the official Popular-Psychology Schedule of:



0-2 Infancy Pooping

3-9 Innocence Guns

10-13 Awareness Sex

14-20 Emancipation Sex

21-29 Empowerment Sex

30-39 Attainment Sex


66-Death Contemplation Pooping

We can see from this scientific chart that if you're a male who has reached age 40, you should be preparing for this exciting lifestyle phase.


Basically, it's when a man, reaching his middle years, takes stock of his life and decides that it isn't enough - that although he has a loving wife, nice kids, a decent job and many caring friends, he feels that he is trapped - that there is still something more he must do, something that we will call, for want of a better term, ``making a fool of himself.''

There is virtually no end to the humiliating activities that a man will engage in while in the throes of a midlife crisis. He will destroy a successful practice as a certified public accountant to pursue a career in Roller Derby. He will start wearing enormous pleated pants and designer fragrances (``Ralph Lauren's Musque de Stud Hombre: For the Man Who Wants a Woman Who Wants a Man Who Smells Vaguely Like a Horse''). He will encase his pale, porky body in tank tops and a ``pouch''-style swimsuit the size of a gum wrapper. He will buy a boat shaped like a marital aid. He will abandon his attractive and intelligent wife to live with a 19-year-old aerobics instructor who once spent an entire summer reading a single Glamour magazine article titled ``Ten Tips for Terrific Toenails.''


Generally the midlife crisis is triggered when a male realizes one day at about 2:30 p.m. that he has apparently, for some reason, devoted his entire life to doing something he hates. Let's say he's a lawyer. He did not just become a lawyer overnight. He worked hard to become a lawyer. He made enormous sacrifices, such as drinking domestic beer, so that he could afford to go to law school. He studied for thousands of hours, sweated out the law boards, groveled to get into a firm, licked a lot of shoes to make partner, and now, finally, he has made it.

And then one afternoon, while writing yet another deadly dull formal letter to a client, a letter filled with standardized, prefabricated phrases such as ``please be advised'' and ``with reference to the aforementioned subject matter,'' he re-reads what he has just written, and it says: ``Please be advised to stick the aforementioned subject matter where it hurts.''

He may not be a trained psychologist, but he recognizes latent hostility when he sees it. And so he starts to think. And the more he thinks, the more he realizes that he hates everything about being a lawyer. He hates his clients. He (needless to say) hates other lawyers. He hates the way every time he tells people what he does for a living, they react as though he had said ``Nazi medical researcher.'' He hates his office. He hates Latin phrases. He hates his briefcase. He hates it all, just hates it hates it hates it, and finally he decides that he really wants to have a completely different job, something fun, something carefree, something like . . . hang-gliding instructor. Yes! That's it! He tried hang-gliding once, on vacation, and he loved it!

Meanwhile, somewhere out there is a middle-aged hang-gliding instructor who has just discovered that he hates his life. He hates not making enough money to own a nice car. He hates sudden downdrafts. He hates having to be nice to vacationing lawyers. What he really wants is a better-paying job that enables him to do something truly useful with his life. Yes, the more he thinks about it, the more he wishes that he had become . . . a doctor.

Of course, if he did a little research, he'd find that most doctors hate the medical profession. They hate getting sued. They hate the way everybody assumes that they're rich (they are rich, of course; they just hate the way everybody assumes it). They hate their beepers. They hate peering into other people's personal orifices. They wish they had a career with less responsibility and fewer restrictions, a fun career that permitted them to drink heavily on the job and squander entire afternoons seeing how loud they could burp. In other words, they wish they were: humor writers.

My point is that there's no reason for you to feel depressed about being trapped in Career Hell, because so is everybody else. Doesn't that make you feel better? No? Hey, look, at least you can put this down and go watch TV if you feel like it. I have to sit here and finish this stupid piece so I can meet my stupid deadline.


If your husband is exhibiting signs of a midlife crisis, at first you should try to humor him. If he wants to buy a ludicrously impractical sports car, tell him you think it's a terrific idea. If he wants to wear ``younger'' clothes, help him pick them out. If he wants to start seeing other women, shoot him in the head.


- or -


I realize that sex is a delicate subject, so please be assured that I intend to discuss it in a mature and tasteful manner devoid of crude and tasteless expressions. But we definitely need to take a long, hard, penetrating look at sexuality, because, as we find ourselves plunging deeper and deeper into middle age, it becomes increasingly important that we have the knowledge we need to maintain a firm intellectual grasp on our private parts, so we can avoid becoming victimized by:


The biggest myth, as measured by square footage, is that as you grow older, you gradually lose your interest in sex. This myth probably got started because younger people seem to want to have sex with each other at every available opportunity, including traffic lights, whereas older people are more likely to reserve their sexual activities for special occasions such as the installation of a new pope.

But there's no reason for us to feel that getting older should stop us from having sex. Our role model in this area should be such biblical stud muffins as Job, who, if I remember my Sunday School lessons correctly, remained sexually active for several hundred years. Of course, I vaguely recall that at one point in the story all of Job's cattle and relatives died and he got boils all over his body, which should serve as a reminder to all of us, no matter what our age, of the importance of practicing safe sex.

With that in mind, there's no reason why we can't continue to lead sexually fulfilling lives well into our Golden Years, as millions of older people have done before us, including for all we know your own parents. Yes! It's possible! Your parents having sex! I realize that this is difficult to accept. Most of us have trouble believing that our parents ever had sex, even when they conceived us. Deep down inside we believe that our mothers got pregnant because of fallout from atomic testing during the Truman administration.

But the truth is that our parents were probably engaging in sex, and some of them still do, and we can, too. Physiologically, there is absolutely nothing to prevent us from remaining sexually active into our 60s and 70s and even 80s, except, of course, the possibility that Doing It will cause sudden death. This has been known to happen.

In the interest of common decency I am not going to name any names, but this is apparently what happened to a billionaire who was vice president of the United States under Gerald Ford and whose name rhymes with ``Pelson Pockefeller.'' He was allegedly working late one night on a book with a ``research assistant,'' and all of a sudden, probably right in the middle of an important footnote, bang, so to speak, old Pelson was gone.

But this is unlikely to happen to you. For one thing, you don't even have a research assistant.


You should definitely schedule a thorough medical checkup. Notice I say ``schedule.'' I do not advise that you actually submit to a thorough medical checkup, because when you reach age 40 the medical profession suddenly develops an intense interest in a bodily region that I will not name here.

Also you should learn to recognize the various warning signs of heart attack, such as that you feel sharp chest pains, or dizziness, or certain familiar printed words suddenly start to appear diffonable and remulations weedle volcrantitude understand them. That is definitely the time to get help.

(From ``Dave Barry Turns 40,'' by Dave Barry. To be published in June 1990 by Crown Publishers, Inc. Copyright 1990, Dave Barry. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.)

Tomorrow: Your disintegrating body.

-- Dave Barry appears today on the editorial pages of The Seattle Times.