Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Male Menopause

When I was 50, my older brother died of lymphoma. He had been separated from his wife, but rejoined her in the last months of his illness. His death was one of things that led me to 2 years of depression—a chemical inbalance which was both genetic and situational. As I neared my brother’s age, I kept asking myself, “Is this who I am? Is there where I’m meant to be?” And in a long painful process for both of us, my wife of 25 years and I separated.

Sunday, as I prepared to watch Mad Men, I talked to a good friend who told me about an acquaintance whose husband of 25 was leaving his wife that day. He’d apparently had an affair with another woman for 18 years and had finally decided to leave.

In Mad Men: A Night to Remember, that night, the main character and his wife—the image of the1950s perfect couple—face his adultery and her sense of being trapped by the two children and the suburbs. I identified with it as an archetypal situation.

Over the years since I left my wife, now almost 12 years later, I have become convinced that we men go through a sort of male menopause. In some ways—if I can say this without it sounding flip—women are lucky in that their menopause gives them physical signs. For us men, the changes are hidden very deep in our psyche. Perhaps it’s partially spurred on by the fact that most women outlive men. Often, I feel, when a guy reaches the big 50, he realizes, “I may have only 20 more years or less—and if I should drop dead right now was could I say about my life?”

Women get hot flashes, sometimes lose muscle mass, and endure brittle bones; men buy a new car, leave their old life, find a younger woman, or begin harmful life choices.

A divorced female friend of mine whose husband followed the all-too-common pattern said, “He kept saying, ‘You don’t know how hard this is for me.’ The funny thing was that I did, and I even sympathized with his struggle of accepting his own behavior.”

When I was going through my struggles, I found little literature to help me or my wife. And over the years, I see example and example of the same behaviors. All I can wonder is whether these traits indicate a genetic disposition that many of us men experience. Certainly my sympathy for Don Draper in Mad Men comes from my empathy for his clearly recognizable struggles.

1 comment:

Steve S. said...

I was thinking about something pretty different than this post but in the end the two seemed to be related.

A few months ago I watched the movie "There Will Be Blood" and was really moved by it. The main character in the movie is an oil man who at the beginning of the story takes guardianship of his dead business partner's infant son and raises the child as his own. Throughout the story one sees what a horrible person the main character is yet he still loves his adopted son very much. This made me think as to why he raised this child when all he really did was get in the way of the business. I realized that the reason he adopted the boy was because he viewed the child as a way to redemption. This same theme is quite prominent throughout other movies like Star Wars and is really the basis for Christianity.

Next I started thinking about other literature where you see this theme and I thought of the Illiad. Before one particular battle, Hector was in all of his armor when his small son came up to him. The child did not recognize Hector because of his helmet, so Hector removed his helmet and picked the child up. He then starts talking about even though he is a great warrior, his son will be even more successful when he is a man. So it now seems that redemption is not based solely on raising a child but on how successful they are when they eventually grow up.

As a parent, I expect a lot out of my sons. I don't have specific goals for them but I know that I want them to be better than I am. This is where men believe their redemption comes from. I may have screwed some things up in my life but if my sons turn out better, then it will all be worth it.

I remember, when I was child knowing the expectations that my father had for me and trying to live up to those goals. I never thought of it before but, as men, our fathers determine our aspirations for the first part of our lives. We want to please our father and they want us to be better than they were.

About the age of 25, a man's priorities change from pleasing his father to taking care of his son. That is when the whole cycle begins again.This is where this post came to mind for me. The man that is 50 no longer lives for his son because his son has moved on. The man no longer lives to please his father because his father is deceased and he has long moved on from that time in his life. What then? For the first time, we are faced with developing our role in the world defined solely on our own merits. For most men, this can be pretty daunting and our place in the world seems to be without definition.

Some men may try to fill that void with things like new cars or hot young girlfriends. I think when all of that dulls what we are left with is our biggest concern...our own obsolescence.

Hopefully this all makes some sense.