It may be too early to say this, but I think my generation may have discovered the preventative cure for mid-life crises. I say this because I’m surrounded by people in their forties who, despite the fact that they’re living in a country at war during an economic downturn, are just fine with their lives. I don’t know of one man with a jones for a new, hot red sports car, or who just got his ear pierced, or who is ready to leave his wife for the first sweet young thing to look his way. Likewise, I don’t know of one single woman who is ready to follow-up with her ogling of the bag boys at Whole Foods, who is designing the perfect first tattoo, or who is ready to leave her husband for another female.
So why are we so emotionally stable with our age? I believe it’s because we’re all a little surprised we’re still alive and kicking.
Just about everyone in my generation grew up expecting die sometime shortly after their 30th birthday. They may never have thought about it consciously, though many of us did, but I can guarantee you the thought was always percolating in a hidden recess of our brains at all times. It started in Kindergarten when we learned how to prepare for fire, tornadoes and Cold War bombs whose existence demanded we die. (Am I the only one who wondered, while curled in fetal position on the floor during a bomb raid drill, why they didn’t just build everything out of the same metal and wood that they made the desks we had to cower under?) The follow up began when we started watching TV. News coverage proved the previous generation’s motto of Sex, Drugs & Rock-and-Roll was really warning us of new causes for our natural end. We watched, spellbound, as the footage of dead-via-over-dose celebrities, suffering AIDS patients, and the horror of being trampled to death at a Who concert streamed before us. Religion didn’t offer much comfort. All the Southern Baptists in my geographical area were convinced the world would end in 1980 because some kid born somewhere had some mark on him and there was some building that symbolized some beast that rose out of some sea. After they were proved wrong, they were replaced by New Agers meditating at Lake Eola park telling us the Earth would be destroyed when the planets aligned in 1988. During junior high our science teachers, the first Global Warming preachers, taught a curriculum detailing how the entire history of mankind only served to create an environment too toxic for the earth to survive. We’d leave the lab and stumble down the down the hall only to read Alas Babylon in English class. Who knew Argentina would be a world leader after the US and Soviet Union were destroyed? No wonder they keep saying we should learn to speak Spanish. And meanwhile, Y2K loomed ever closer.
Thirty? Who was gonna live to thirty?
Us! And we did! But we did it a little differently than our predecessors.
Perhaps it was a natural inclination toward a joie de vivre in the face of death. We insisted on having a good time while we waited for the killer asteroid to hit (no, that wasn’t a new fear from the early 2000’s; we started it back in ’86 with rumors about the real reason the space shuttle Challenger exploded). We never gave up our fast cars; we had one in the garage alongside the family sedan—or better yet, we had two sexy SUVs. We never thought we’d work only one job that would burn us out. In fact, if you had only one company on your resume you looked like you had no experience. So we bounced around from company to company, industry to industry. Many of us waited until we were in our thirties to get married and start a family, and our kids only help us maintain our juvenile habits. We ski on the Wii with our children and we buy them sodas to drink while we sip on cocktails at our favorite restaurants. We teach them how to tail gate at rock concerts and foot ball games. And when the kids aren’t around, we still act like we did when we were barely out of high school. We’ll tuck our babes in bed and head down stairs to indulge the frat-boy mentality that still resides in both sexes as we watch Entourage or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We said to hell with social conservative customs and jeans are now accepted everywhere, even in high-end dining establishments. Our president says “it’s all cool” and we’re buying Lego sets to ease our stress.
Maybe it’s all Jimmy Buffett’s fault. He did give us the line “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” Or maybe it was Prince’s dictate to “Party Like It’s 1999.” Whatever it was, we never disconnected ourselves from our youthful appetites, never questioned the validity of our desires, never censored our tastes. So instead of arriving at mid-life in anger and fear, feeling unfulfilled and resentful because we’re missing out on something as we age, we seem to be mildly amused. Already pierced, tattooed and in possession of a drawer full of current concert T-shirts, we go out to dinner with friends when inevitably someone says something like “have you noticed how impatient you’re getting as you get older?” And we laugh because we realize we’re becoming crotchety old fools and it’s no big deal.