~ Waiting For My Friends To Have A Midlife Crisis ~
Often when my life was at its craziest and my writing its most existential, I got accused of having some sort of crisis. It was true. They were quite right. I was well and truly experiencing a crisis, although I didn’t believe my crisis was a temporary one like that of everyone else’s. In truth, my whole life was a crisis. From a young age I had wandered the world with wide eyes trying to figure out what the hell it was exactly that was going on. I mean, when you really stopped and thought about the situation of human existence, how was it not possible to have some sort of crisis? Here you found yourself incarnate in a transient vessel of flesh and bone, riding a spinning rock through an infinite universe with no apparent reason other than to make money, pay taxes and spawn some others into the same situation you found yourself in. Every day to me was some sort of crisis and I made no distinct definition of a quarter-life one or midlife one. Beginning, middle and end: it was a constant crisis, a storm, a maelstrom – a disaster akin to something straight out of a plot of a Hollywood movie.
There was one thing I enjoyed about my life being a constant crisis: it made things interesting. Not constrained by the shackles of mental stability, every week was an adventure of not knowing where the turbulent road of human existence would take me. I had no set path – no long term plans or cultural script that I had to follow or abide by. This meant that I could well and truly be doing anything in any place within a few months. Perhaps I’d be teaching English in Spain? Washing dishes in a cafe in Paris? Locked up in some hellhole prison in South America? The possibilities were truly endless and I gradually became welcoming of the fact that my life was going to be in a constant state of disorder until the day I died. In fact, I was even excited by the prospect. At least my life was going to be an adventurous and thrilling one, rather than a very safe and stable journey to the grave down a grey highway of work, television and weekend-drinking.
Of course, some of my friends did suggest that there was something mentally wrong with me, but I tried to explain to them that I was just ahead of the curve. I told them that everybody would have an existential crisis eventually, and that it usually came when you had gone a few decades through your life. It seemed to me that a good old-fashioned midlife crisis typically took place in the 30s and 40s when the individual awoke to the fact they had gone halfway through their life and usually done nothing more than study, work and maybe pump out a couple more children into the world. This is how it worked all across the world: at a young and influential age, you’d listen to your teachers and parents and spend the first half of your life fitting in and conforming to the traditions that were handed down to you from previous generations. But eventually after doing all that stuff for the first part of adulthood, you would wake up one day to find yourself feeling the same way you’d always felt – your life half gone – your death drawing ever closer and closer. And what did you have to show for it? A well-polished CV? A half-paid mortgage? A wardrobe full of designer clothes? In most cases, you ultimately had just passively walked through life and not paid any deeper thought to making the most of your one fleeting existence. And by that point the years had fallen by and you stared into morning mirrors seeing the hairs grey and skin wrinkle as your deepest dreams and desires lay gathering dust in the dark, forgotten corners of your ageing heart.
Okay, a little harsh maybe, but the general point is true that most people generally had a period in their life where they begrudged what they had done with their life and how their youth had passed them by so quickly. Personally, I kept such thoughts at the forefront of my mind when I woke up every day. No doubt this ultimately explained why my path was such a wildly different one to those around me. Treating life as a continual crisis was working out to be an interesting and fulfilling path for me, but sometimes I wished that some people could join me in the adventure. The people I had met travelling were usually there walking alongside me on the crisis highway – usually the older men and women who had been divorced, abandoned careers and homes to start again doing something they truly loved. But back home in the realm of everyday life, everybody was usually very serious about their lives, and consequently I often felt a need to stir some madness in the minds of the socially sane around me.
The closest people around me at home were my friends from school. While I had mostly been a travelling bum for the first chapter of adulthood, they had all followed the traditional path of studying and going straight into a steady line of work. We were now in our late twenties and most of them had been working in graduate settings for over five years. I knew some of them would be getting to the stage in their lives where they would begin to start questioning the reality of the rat race. Consequently, I stared at them with sinister eyes waiting ever so patiently for the first cracks to begin to form – for them to quit their jobs and come join me on an adventure out somewhere in the world. From my experience I knew it didn’t take much for a functioning member of society to slip into the pits of existentialism and start questioning everything around them. Sometimes it was a spell of depression. Sometimes it was a relationship split. Sometimes it was something as simple as staring into space while sitting on the tube after another day of being pushed around by your boss. All it took was just one moment for the seed to be planted and your reality to begin to shift to something drastically different.
With that thought in my mind, I considered which one of my friends would be first to break and weighed up their odds. First was James – a journalism graduate who had moved to London to start working in sales. I knew he had been nursing a desire to get out and do something different for a while. He had often asked me about my travels and listened to my views on life with an interested look in his eyes. I knew he had recently broken up with his girlfriend and that he was also dissatisfied with his stressful sales job. On the other hand, he was one of the most methodical people I knew who didn’t do anything without long periods of introspective reflection and preparation. His odds of having a crisis any time soon: 10/1.
Next up was Chris – a relatively stable guy, although he had his manic side as I had known from our booze-filled adventures in the early stages of adulthood. Since then he had become relatively settled living in London while building his career in graphic design. There was once a period where he told me he needed a change of equilibrium and that he was going to cycle across America. But time had moved on and he was now settled in a job he loved as well as a healthy and stable relationship. The odds of him having a crisis any time soon: 20/1.
Next up came Richard. He was a guy who had planned his whole life out from his childhood. Coming from a conservative family where deviating from tradition was considered a crime similar to murder, he was the most socially sane of them all. He had once taken a gap year and used it to stay at home working to save money for his university fees. Very rarely did the madness and anarchy enter his eyes. On top of this, he was now in a high-paying job, a long-term relationship and had recently put down a deposit on a house. The odds of him having an existential crisis any time soon: 100/1.
I continued looking at the people around me and weighing up their possibilities. There were some who might be pushed to the brink given the right combination of circumstances, but all in all it seemed that very few of them would be joining me in the wilderness very soon. Ultimately everyone was too settled, too organised, too sane. Their conversations about life were normally geared towards middle-aged things as they discussed promotions, who would be the first to get married and saving up for a house deposit. The horror of it all caused me to try and tempt them away from it all by jokingly asking them which one was going to drop out of the rat race first. Such comments however were quickly laughed off as I was left alone as the eccentric outlier they had classified me as.
One day a moment of hope came from an unlikely source. His name was Matthew – one of the most calculated and sensible people I had ever met. He was the sort of person who did his homework the day he got it, planned out his year with a Microsoft Excel chart and would organise to meet at a place at 7.53pm. He was the most rigid-minded of them all – that was right up until his girlfriend left him. It was the end of his first-ever relationship and never had I seen a change in someone so drastic. Out drinking and chasing girls every weekend; wildly more confident and spontaneous; weekend trips to anywhere and everywhere. Finally life had worn him down to the point he was talking to me about quitting his job and travelling the world. This was it, I thought to myself – this was the proof that there was only so much sanity and sensibility a civilised man could take before he eventually abandoned it all. I thought this was going to be the start of an unconventional new lifestyle, but his organised approach to life soon came through as he started meticulously plotting and planning his year out and putting money aside for a house deposit for when he returned. Like everything else in his life, his crisis was organised down the last detail – an event that would maybe last a year or so at the most before he returned to the neighbourhoods of normality to settle comfortably back down into the realm of conventionality. Well, at least it was something anyway.
Besides my friends from school, there were a few people I knew older than me who were in the peak midlife crisis age. Naturally their odds were much higher as this was the time when many realised that money couldn’t buy happiness, that stress was a cancer, marriage was often a trap and that suppressing your true self for so long in order to fit in only caused you misery and spiritual emptiness. Naturally some of them had been struck by these realisations including a teacher who had switched to part-time hours so he could start a business in which he rented out an inflatable pub. Another was someone who had quit her career in marketing and to work on her writing, but who was now looking at getting back into her career. Another was a banker who had purchased a Volkswagen Campervan to take on weekend trips to try and reconnect with his hippy side.
It seemed that, like with Sean, there were some who mixed things up slightly, but never anyone who completely walked off away from normal life for good. This is how it seemed to work: the midlife crisis and quarter-life crisis was an event for most people that usually lasted a year or two at the most. Some might buy campervans and become weekend hippies. Some might grow moustaches and wear eccentric clothing. Some might leave their jobs for a year to travel and then return back home to settle down. There might have been some small deviations away from the realm of regular life, but all in all the cultural script would be followed to the grave. They’d be no becoming a mountaineer or running away with the circus. They’d be no starving to death as a tortured artist in Paris. People had a brief crisis and then went back to their normal lives with maybe a new suntan, tattoo or moustache – effectively leaving me to wander alone with my relentless existential madness until the day I died.
The thought of it all was enough to give me some sort of crisis.