The Inner Bottom Line ®: “Change Means Change”
A Column about Ethical Dilemmas and Personal Choices
April 19, 2012
Dear Olive, For more than a year since I turned fifty-eight, everything in my life has changed, and I’ve no doubt that I’ve been going through some kind of mid-life crisis. I’ve been in therapy for over a year and while it’s helped a lot, these changes have caused a lot of tension in my marriage and other relationships. I think my husband and I are beginning to work through some of the more important issues, but I feel lonely a lot of the time and I’ve never felt this before. I’m hoping you’ll answer and offer some things I may be missing. Friends I used to enjoy now seem like strangers. I listen to them talk and feel like somewhere else. They don’t seem to be interested in the same things I am anymore and on several occasions, with three women I lunch with often whom I’ve known since my twenties, I made a remark about something and they got very hostile. I left the restaurant realizing I was very angry but not sure at who or what. Does any of this make any sense to you? I’d appreciate if you could give me some tips. BH.
There’s nothing like a mid-life crisis to turn our apple cart upside down. It can be upsetting and unnerving to anyone, especially someone who describes themselves as having been a laid-back, passive person. Change can be scary, disturbing, confusing, exhilarating, infuriating, even exhausting, but there are several things about change that are predictable and absolute. It is constant. And it always heralds more change and predicts that things will be different.
I applaud your honesty and courage to explore these changes and to accept help from a therapist. Professional support during these kinds of life-transitions can be invaluable in helping us gain useful objectivity and perspective. Along with determination and patience, change also requires we continually keep our list of values current. As long as we take responsibility for re-evaluating our “deck” and keeping it honest and up-to-date, we’ll be playing with a full one.
It’s also completely normal that any significant shifts in your values and perspectives would necessitate harmonic shifts in your relationships, especially your marriage. Sadly, it is often during these years that couples discover how far apart they’ve grown, particularly if they’ve been busy building careers and raising children.
Your initial discomfort in talking to your husband about these changes indicates a need to look at the way in which you two have communicated in the past and consider finding a fresh approach to express your new found feelings about yourself and your needs. Having operated in a somewhat removed, passive manner in the past, experiencing this maturation may have turned out to be more of a jolt for you than for others who possess personalities and styles that embrace and foment continual change.
It takes time to find new language and let unfamiliar rhythms effectively settle in. When deep-seated shifts in our internal landscape begin to cause tremors in our status quo, one of the first areas that can fracture is relationship. Those earthquakes usually predicate an awakening and a reckoning, equally daunting challenges. An awakening to a fresh, unrecognizable sense of life and its value and promise and a reckoning with all of our stuff about which we haven’t been able or willing to tell ourselves the truth or deal with effectively or fairly until now.
While there are many theories and explanations as to why a majority of us go through a mid-life crisis, there seem to predictable life-passages that occur throughout our maturation during which our attitudes, needs, perspectives and expectations shift and change. As these aspects of ourselves transmute, we feel and perceive ourselves and the world around us through slightly altered lenses and the short list of values on our Inner Bottom Line change or rearrange themselves.
Certainly, life experiences seem to activate this passage. Many of us around our fiftieth birthday realize that more than half of our life is probably over. In addition, we are or have recently been confronted with the hard reality that those closest to us, particular parents, are dying or have died and that our own mortality has just moved one step closer.
Furthermore, “someday” is no longer way out there on the horizon, a fuzzy concept about which we can continue to procrastinate or fantasize. Our second or third chances and careers are beginning to run out or down and whatever we hoped to be when we grew up suddenly becomes real and pressing rather than pleasant daydreams we might pursue.
Those factors may account for things to seem or feel different to you, and why some relationships are strained, like worn out outfits that no longer fit or become you. As what’s most important to us changes, topics and interests, passions and priorities change to, and we’re forced to re-examine whether or not we have enough in common with our friends and loved ones to be able or want to maintain and satisfy the bonds.
For those who balk at the inner drive to reach out, grow and transform, these changes can be scary and unsettling, for they demand energy and thought and patience. These folks will be the ones who sit themselves down on their life path and refuse to budge, determined to close their minds and hearts to new feelings, insights and discoveries.
Others, however, like you, will face it bravely and reach out for the unknown, knowing that in order to stay in step with each new day we must continually move forward, learning, questioning, exploring and accepting the unpredictable and messy but exciting possibilities that life offers us if we dare to try.
Certainly it would be rare to find anyone who had the same needs and wants at twenty that they do at fifty. If they were the same, one would have to question just how stuck that individual was in the past and how little they had grown and learned over a lifetime. We learn new things all the time, even if we aren’t conscious of the intake.
We get knocked around, taken advantage of, rewarded, disappointed, rejected, embraced, penalized and gifted every day and every year of our life. If we’re paying attention at all, we become aware as we mature that there are invaluable lessons being offered within the seeming randomness of our lives that are there for the taking. If. If we choose to tune in, hear them and embrace them. Bravo for hearing and heeding the symphony.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com, or call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” with your questions. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
Kindle and audio versions along with the hard cover of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life, are now available on amazon.com.