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.