"In 1974, in her best-selling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy depicted midlife crisis with the example of a 40-year-old man who'...has reached his professional goal but feels depressed and unappreciated. He blames his job or his wife or his physical surroundings for imprisoning him in this rut. Fantasies of breaking out begin to dominate his thoughts. An interesting woman he has met, another field of work, an Elysian part of the country—any or all of these become magnets for his wishes of deliverance. But once these objects of desire become accessible, the picture often begins to reverse itself. The new situation appears to be the dangerous trap from which he longs to take flight by returning to his old home base and the wife and children whose loss suddenly makes them dear.No wonder many wives stand aghast.'"
This passage was included in a great article about the so-called mid-life crisis, a period during which many men (and women) experience depression, disappointment, a sense that life has passed them by.
I suspect it might also read as an account of events regarding many of our adulterous husbands (and, for the betrayed men among us, wives).
It speaks to our confusion when our spouse offers up the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" speech. Or our bafflement when our husbands, whom we genuinely thought had it pretty good with us, suddenly find fault with our very existence and seek distraction in the arms of women whose allure is just that they aren't us.
Oh how I wish our culture had a deeper understanding of the drivers of affairs! Instead we deal with the myths – that men are fleeing shrewish wives, that men are seeking mind-blowing sex, that men are simply not monogamous by nature.
Well, maybe not "myths" necessarily. Sometimes those things are very true. Sometimes men are miserable in their marriage and lack the courage to leave until they have someone to leave to. Some men are led around by their penises. And some men don't see the point of monogamy, believing that a variety of sex partners is preferable to a one-partner commitment. And to those men I say...vive la difference. And...stay away from my daughters!
To the rest of us, however, I say that we need a far deeper acknowledgement of how impacted we are by life changes. I also say that our primary relationship, which we've been culturally told should fulfill all our needs, takes the brunt of our disappointment in many other arenas of life.
How often I've read, on this site, of women who've been cheated on by men dealing with sick or recently deceased parents, a wife's illness, disabled children, job loss, chronic illness, or – how cliché – middle age.
If our society did better to educate us about what middle age feels like and how to prepare ourselves for the typical angst, we might recognize when we're tempted to flee something good for something...different.
My father, something of a wise old man, commented recently on a phenomenon he noticed at his newspaper job (which he worked at for close to 50 years): Men, he said, would leave their wives in middle age. And then, he told me, they'd remarry women who were pretty much carbon copies of the wives they left. A few years later, he said, these men would claim to be miserable again.
Perhaps they just married the wrong women (repeatedly) or perhaps, if we isolate the variable, the problem wasn't the women, it was the men.
Then again, given what research is showing about a cross-cultural tendency in middle-age to weigh our lives in the balance and find them wanting, maybe the problem is that so many seek change when wisdom dictates that patience is far more likely to deliver happiness in the form of perspective. And gratitude.
This is not to advocate for doing nothing when doing something is prudent. Sometimes we do need to stir life's pot now and again, to challenge ourselves, to leave unhealthy relationships. But perhaps mid-life isn't a problem to be solved but a stage to be endured. Perhaps it doesn't need to be a crisis...as long as we don't create one by cheating.