Conversation with Your BFF: Is a Midlife Crisis Just an Excuse for Poor Behavior?

One day while at lunch with a friend, we saw a middle-aged man, maybe a bit past the halfway point of life, pull up in a sports car. As he exited the car, my friend and I said at the same time, ‘Yep, midlife crisis.’ That comment led to the lunch conversation about whether men and women, (yes, I said women), have a point in their lives, where you throw care to the wind and buy that Mustang, date that guy or gal half your age, and take off and leave it all behind for the beach? I told my friend I would do some research and get back to her, but Iwas so glad she asked!

Signs of a Midlife Crisis

The typical midlife crisis that most of us know about is a man who’s left his wife of 20 plus years for a younger woman, traded his 2005 minivan for a Corvette, and takes up the life of a man half his age. But how realistic is that image or the concept of a midlife crisis?

After much reading, I have determined a midlife crisis can be said to happen between the ages of 40-60, when a person finds themselves looking back wistfully on their youth, while at the same time grappling with their mortality and impending old age. However, research shows the causes of midlife crises are actually far more complicated than a simple dread of growing older. For many, middle age can be described as an emotional time when regrets of the past, fear, and doubt of the future, collide with the present.

Even though most of us have heard about ‘midlife crises,’ it’s not an official mental health diagnosis. One study found that around a quarter of Americans experience what they would call a ‘midlife crisis,’ so is it real and a rite of passage into old age, or just a myth or excuse to legitimize bad behavior?

Where Did the Term ‘Midlife Crisis’ Start?

A Canadian psychologist coined the phrase ‘midlife crisis’ in 1965, in an article he wrote, discussing a period of time in his life at the age of 36 where he questioned himself about the path he was on in life and the hopelessness he felt. At that time, the average life expectancy was on the upswing from about 70, so technically, he was on target at age 36. During the mid 1960s, advances in medicine and standards of living were improving and divorce was becoming more accepted, so re-evaluating life seemed a good idea. With these new opportunities and questions, many wondered if they had chosen the right career, or if they should go back to school, or do they really love their spouse.

Along with bell bottom jeans, mood rings, and disco balls, came the complete acceptance of a midlife crisis just being part of one’s life. With continued studies and research, much still ongoing, today’s mental health professionals believe that the midlife crisis is more of an excuse than a real time of life. However, the consensus of the findings do not invalidate the feelings of fear, doubt, and uncertainty that can come with middle age. Even if these feelings may not, in fact, be part of a life crisis or transition, and may not result in dramatic changes in behavior, such as upending one’s life and riding off into the sunset in a new sports car, they are valid, normal, and most definitely treatable feelings.

Some signs of a midlife crisis can include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Boredom with activities you once loved
  • Restlessness
  • Questioning the purpose or meaning of life
  • Confusion
  • Depression

Experiencing a midlife crisis can feel like standing on a cliff with nothing between you and your mortality. But approached in a healthy way, this time of life can lead to exciting new opportunities and open up a whole new world for you. A midlife crisis can be a time to help us grow and give us resilience and strength to rebuild a better future.


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