What is is about middle age that makes humans long for a new beginning, a second chance? Of course part of it is the realisation of our own mortality but, surely, that’s true of any age after 40, not just a particular point in our lives.
Something happens when we near 50 that we start to question if the life we’re living is the one we should be living or indeed the one we wanted to live. The answer is, inevitably, no. It is not the life we were destined to live or the one we imagined for ourselves. It always comes up wanting. Something happens in our minds and we convince ourselves that this is our last chance to change our fate. That after this, there will be no more opportunities, we either do something about it now or regret it for however little is left of the rest of our sorry lives.
So we do dumb shit. We buy sports cars to make us feel younger, we quit perfectly good jobs to go find ourselves (though quitting your job to go have an adventure is not only perfectly reasonable, it is also highly recommended. Just be sure of what you’re doing), we neglect our wife and kids in a last-ditch attempt at misguided adventures. And, worst of all, we have affairs.
Ah yes, the affair. That midlife crisis classic. It’s impossible for a middle aged man to resist the allure of a young, beautiful woman. It is the closest thing to a unicorn that we will see in our entire lives. And just like with a unicorn, we convince ourselves that this mythical creature is not an illusion, that, somehow, it is real, that we are different, that we are not like the million other saps out there who have fallen for this siren song before us, they were deluded idiots, for us this is real because we are special, this is our future, the moment we’ve been waiting for all our lives, the last opportunity to be truly happy! We are such fucking fools.
But we can’t help it, we’re humans and males at that. No matter how sensitive or sophisticated and educated we might think we are, in the end, we’re just dumb males and we succumb to this mythical, young, beautiful creature one hundred percent of the time. But we know, somewhere in the back of our tiny brains, behind images of us as Indiana Jones, us as the dashing hero who saves the day and gets the impossibly beautiful and voluptuous girl, us as humanity’s last chance of survival, way in the back, behind a sealed and padlocked door whose key we lost when we turned 16, somewhere in there, we know. We know it’s an illusion but we don’t want to know, we don’t want to ask too many questions, starting with: “why is a beautiful, young girl, with her whole life ahead of her even looking at a middle-aged balding guy with a few remaining grey hairs? This should be our first indication that something is not quite right. But we don’t dare ask this, we don’t dare even think about it, lest we dispel whatever curse was put upon this poor mythical creature by some wicked witch. So we forge ahead, into our own fantasy land where, once again, we are the hero of the story, Theseus come to save the young maiden from the evil Minotaur, we are living in our own impossible dreams!
Too late, we realise we’ve been duped and, worst of all, we’ve deceived ourselves and probably fucked our family up in some way.
I think it’s not only the novelty of the situation and the excitement of falling in love again, even if it’s only the illusion of love and we know it could never last. I think the clincher is that it makes us feel young again! Whether it’s by simple association to our early life when we were in our twenties and fell in love every month, or the fact that falling in love makes us feel young and alive, or the endorphins our body segregates with this illusion of love, I believe it is associated with reliving our youth. It is the sort of feeling an extreme sport can give us, though in the case of the affair, it lasts a lot longer. Just by looking at the mythical creature of our devotion, we can get the same rush and fantasising about them not only produces more good feelings but also fans the flame of the illusion and lust. There is an accepted theory that as we get older, time seems to pass more quickly because very little is new to us, we’ve seen and done it all before. So to feel younger or feel that we are actually really living our lives, we seek novelty, this is as good an explanation as any as to why so many of us fall for this honey trap.
When you’ve been together with the same person for a long time, there are no more surprises, you’ve told them your best life stories already, usually numerous times, and they sure as hell don’t want to hear them again. With someone new, it does feel like a new beginning, a second chance, and that’s very alluring. Unfortunately, there is a lot of baggage that comes with this fake new beginning and it usually does more harm than good, we seem powerless to stop it, even when we see it coming.
Disclaimer: before you call the friends and family hotline, I should clarify that a friend of a friend knows someone who has a cousin whose neighbour told him he saw it happen… or something like that.
Disclaimer 2: No, I’ve never had an affair, so stop asking me already! But I have fallen for the siren song of the unicorn…