I think I am having a mid life crisis! It hit me in the shower a couple days after a very long night out dancing. I can’t remember what I did but I won’t forget the wry faces of my friends the next day. I was puzzled. I didn’t do anything I hadn’t done before (except I hope I didn’t take my shirt off) so why were they so discomfited? It hit me, I am 46 after all; like my son reminded me the other day ‘you’re almost 50’. It must have been as disturbing to them as watching Madonna perform at the Super Bowl was to Piers Morgan.
That’s when I realized I just had a mid life crisis and that I been having it for the last 2 years at least! No not menopause, mid life crisis or MLC, the kind that was thought to happen only to men. I’m abashed to think that I have been going through a MLC without even being aware of it. I thought I had made so much progress on the developing-self-awareness-level.
Having little more than a pop culture idea of what a MLC was I googled it. An MLC is described as a transitional period during which a person apparently realizes that they’re going to grow old and die precipitating panicked questions about the meaning of existence and impulsive, stupid life choices that can have disastrous effects. (I think our President might be having a mid life crisis.)
Both men and women have been known to run off with a younger consorts, buy Harleys or make retirement fund depleting financial decisions. Apparently a lot of women are making a business of the mid life crisis, or using their MLC to successfully reinvent themselves. Like Nike Oshinowo who parlayed her mid life crisis into a profitable marriage and the first Nigeria celebrity exercise video.
MLC is increasingly popular and fashionable according to the media reports out there. Of course there is disagreement as to whether it affects only western cultures because they ‘idolize youth and materialism’. Some people think MLC doesn’t happen to Africans and Asians, a racist assumption but I must admit I envy my African sisters that seem to glide from one stage of life to the next without apparent crisis. Or are they just being silenced by a hyper-oppressive patriarchy?
One female Nigerian writer linked MLC to career dissatisfaction and counseled prayer, patience and perseverance. Her implication seemed to be career women should resist making any changes till the feelings of angst pass. Her point of view was religious. Another writer counseled deliberate planning and fastidious implementation of a new career and life direction.
Does the MLC happen to modern African working class women? Does the new Africa woman have MLC? Did my grand-mother? Did my aunt in the village? How did they cope? What choices did they make? Most other articles on MLC by Africans seemed to be telling women how to cope with their husband’s MLC . Nothing online to help an African sister living in Nigeria assess whether she needs to check into therapy or whether her angst was ‘normal’.
In Africa you learn to be your own therapist dangerous as that sounds. So I ask myself – what’s different about this crisis anyway? This is not the first life changing crisis I’ve had and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last either. Why do I think this is a ‘mid life’ crisis? Why is a mid life crisis significant? Is this the not so gentle pull of western cultural influence or was it somehow significant for me as an African woman?
Turns out an MLC is frequently triggered by an event like loss of employment, death of a parent or spouse, sickness or relationship problems. Imagine my horror ticking all the boxes. I’ve experienced all 4 out of 4 of those triggers in the past 24 months. I lost my job, lost my father, lost my first grandchild, had relationship problems and was diagnosed with a grave disease.
The symptoms of MLC are many and varied but they all involve some sort of groping search, grief (and its five stages; denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance) and attempts at transformation. Some people attempt to grow up, some attempt to remain Peter Pan, some attempts are successful, some are foolish and some are just plain mad. Then there are the tragedies. RIP Whitney Houston.
Mine has been plain mad! I grieved my health, my father, my first grand-child, the end of yet another relationship and even my career in international development. At first I was in denial that my life was falling apart, and then I ranted at the injustice of it all. I went through depressions deep as a black hole in space that seemed to suck the very joy out of life. I bargained with God, Lucifer, and my ancestors.
In the process I questioned life, death, love, marriage, being a woman, my sexuality, sex, my relationships to family and friends, my philosophy, my values and my beliefs. Without boring you with all the details I can say is it was quiet a shake up. I realize I have changed in subtle but profound ways. I was going native! Thirty five years of living in Nigeria can mess with a woman’s head.
Or why else would a night out precipitate a MLC in the first place? Almost all the guys there were my age so why was I causing consternation? Of course there were lots of girls, I remember wondering where all the women were, and having a good chuckle with my girl friend over the fact they were probably all home. In bed. In their nighties and hair nets. Praying or watching TD Jakes on television.
It’s like modern educated Nigerian women have been consigned to the domestic prayer front. And why is it that normally intelligent women suddenly immerse themselves fanatically in religion? Okay that was meant to be patronizing. Why do women that normally like to hang out and socialize chain themselves to hearth and home? Sister you maybe busy with the kids but why isn’t mister at home helping?
In New York, London, Moscow and even in Dakar, Nairobi and Johannesburg women my age are visible at the clubs, at the bars, at the lounges, at the concerts and on the midnight social circuit. Some single, some with partners in tow. In Nigeria there is a glaring absence of women my age on the midnight social circle. Probably made my MLC seem all the more acute to me and to those watching me.
Is this another example of how machismo and hyper masculinity mixed with ultra conservative religious values are impacting the choices Nigerian women can make in mid life? A lot of women like me facing mid life career changes are moving from power centers like oil and gas, banking and insurance into baking, interior design and event management frequently disillusioned with male power and leadership. .
I’m all for choice, I believe it’s a woman’s right to choose the type of mother she wants to be, the type of wife she wants to be and the type of woman she wants to be but how many Nigerian women have real MLC choice when you remove the privilege of wealth, class and family status? Mid life high society women maybe staying hot and sexy and parlaying new careers or even hanging out at home with their ‘girls’ but that’s a privilege of their class.
I’m talking about the growing number of educated mid life working class women. They could be single, married, divorced, separated, single parents, one or two income household, small business owners or free lance professionals with mortgages, school fees, and rent to pay and aged parents to care for. Women privileged in a country like Nigeria but without the luxury of the very rich. Women like me and you.
I feel entitled to my MLC, it sounds grown up and responsible. In my usual grandiose way I will manage to make it a production, breaking stereotypes, breaking molds, blazing trails and probing it for insight and stories . It will continue to be feminist, subversive, libertine, and pro civil liberty. I’m pretty sure I will have more fun with life and infuse it with the wisdom of almost 50 years of lessons learnt.
I read a quote from Mohammed Ali a couple weeks ago. He said ‘if you still see the world the same way at 50 that you did at 20 you’ve wasted 30 years of your life’. Carl Jung describes the mid life crisis as an integration of the 5 aspects of the personality. I feel integrated. ‘That’s not who I am anymore’ has a new meaning. There is a new road map but we won’t be too fastidious in following it.
Life continues to evolve and there is a lot to experience on the journey. My mid life crisis just became a mid life process! And it’s only going to get better.