The new midlife crisis with adults barely grown up

Before the anguish was to die in a life already built, whereas now, the anxiety is to die as a bald teenager 😉

It’s unlikely to go through a midlife crisis when we’re barely grown up. Paralyzed by the idea of making the right choice (professional or private) in front of multiple, life is passing by and we are becoming teenagers with wrinkles, unconsciously guided by our modern society.

No judgment, just observation. If you live in a “big” french city (Paris – Lyon – Marseille – Bordeaux – Toulouse – Lille – Strasbourg etc.) , you probably have at least 60% of your 35-year-old friends who order UBEREAT, live alone in a 50m2 (or at least 35 in Paris), are on Tinder, spend most of their evenings drinking beer and watching netflix. It’s unlikely to go through a midlife crisis when we’re barely grown up 😉

It’s quite surprising not to have an article which deals with the fact that in 2019, the 40’s crisis can’t be apprehended in the same way than in 1965.

It’s the psychoanalyst Elliot Jaques who creates the term “midlife crisis” in 1965. He said it was the period when a personn becomes aware of her own mortality. He wrote that, at this point, the death is no longer an idea in general, or the loss of someone else : it becomes a personal affair. 

In its classic definition, the midlife crisis was about boredom, lassitude, and the feeling of being bored in a professional and family life. In some ways, it meant a form of anxiety linked to the feeling of having nothing new to live before the death.

What is very funny is that some recent articles only say that Elliot Jacques’ theory was wrong because you can’t identify a specific crisis… But Elliot Jacques wasn’t necessarily wrong at his time, it’s, in part, a social and psychological analysis that depends on the time. So it’s completely stupid to say 50 years later that his concept is right or wrong, without re-contextualizing it. However, Jacques Elliot himself presented his theory as timeless. He quoted Mozart among others to explain that this crisis among “high” spirits was worse.  

On this point Jacques Elliot certainly did not anticipate the big change that would come into our lifestyles: digitization, social networks, studies always longer, etc. etc. With these big changes, both in human relations and in personal life, the mid-life crisis, if it still exists, is no longer the same.

At 35 years old today, most of my friends (men) living in big cities, do not have children, they do not live in couple, they have their own apartment. Many of them have never even lived with a woman (or a man). We have to note a difference with women, who are usually in couples at the same age. Perhaps the biological clock has its unconscious (or conscious) role in this difference. In both cases, they are mostly not in a relationship for years, and don’t have the same lives as the time of Elliot Jacques. 

The new mid-life crisis, if one were to be defined, is that this 35/40-years-old generation realizes that she is just entering adulthood, and that she has been living for years in a kind of unending teenage life, while death is not so far.

What has replaced the anxiety of having lived everything, is the anguish of having lived nothing. This seems to engender a kind of paralysis, time is becoming “precious”, the right to the error is restricted. Life goes on with our past choices and our teenagers’ mistakes. Everything must be perfect because there is no time left, so finally we watch the trains go by wondering which is the right, to finally be unable to take risks. The information is immediate, the choices are multiple and the fear of being wrong is tenfold.

Everything becomes kind of heavy and dramatic because of the focus on the purpose of finally building something.

There is also an anxiety of being a strange person, unable to found a family by comparing our times to standards of another century.

This subject is taboo and people will often tell you that they are doing very well. Spleen is (quite) out of fashion, mostly on Instagram 😉 The truth seems to be that most of these people are now experiencing a real anthropological anguish, for example in not having children yet, or real others achievements that are related to the life of “adult”.

It’s perhaps on this point that there is a connection with the theory of Elliot Jacques : it’s the age where we realize that our ONE life has an end. 

The difference is that before the anguish was to die in a life already built, whereas now, the anxiety is to die as a bald teenager. 

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