Some of you may have noticed it’s been a while since I last published a blog. It’s been nearly two months, and while I have been silent, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to say. I just have finally come to the point where I have the words to express what has been going on in my mind and heart.
We’ve all heard the phrase “mid-life crisis,” and most would use stereotypes to describe it:The man who dyes his hair (or gets hair plugs), buys a sports car and/or a motorcycle, and finds some young girl to feed his ego. Maybe it’s the woman who gets a boob job and starts hitting on her personal trainer.
In reality, those stereotypes do sometimes happen, but it usually is a lot more subtle; a chipping away of respect in our marriages, a dissatisfaction with our lives as they have played out, focusing on what we thought our lives would look like, and resenting the turns and twists that have led us to where we are. If we aren’t careful, a midlife crisis can undo a lifetime of good things in pursuit of unsatisfied dreams and desires. It can make us forget what we have, and ignite a search for what we think we are missing.
For me, it started with a stupid Facebook question that had me questioning everything I have ever believed about myself, about my life, my marriage, about the world I live in.
DO YOU PUMP YOUR OWN GAS?
That wasn’t the actual question, but the gist of it was, a woman was asking if it was unreasonable to expect her future husband to take care of all of her car maintenance, take her car to get the oil changed, and pump her gas for her.
My initial response was, “Pump your own gas, lady!” After all, it’s 2014, women can do for themselves. Right? I’ve never asked or expected any man to do those things for me- I’m perfectly capable of doing it.
Then I began reading the responses from men, most of whom were claiming that of course they do these things for their woman. That’s what a man is supposed to do.
Now, in my house growing up, my mom didn’t drive, so my dad took car of the car stuff because a) he’s a car nut and b) he’s the only one with a car.
But there were other things I watched my mom handle without feigning helplessness. She mowed our lawn, she de-popcorned our asbestos ceiling, she hung wallpaper, she helped build our sunroom addition. She let my dad take on a lot of the DIY projects around the house, but there never was an expectation on her part that she would sit around protecting her manicure while my dad did all the “man stuff.” She modeled self- sufficiency.
In my relationships, no man had ever made a fuss about opening doors for me, pumping my gas, treating me like I was a delicate flower. And I had no expectation of that. I have always taken pride in my independence, my self-reliance. I am a “low-maintenance” kind of girl, I like sports, and I’m not afraid to squash a spider in the house. I know how to change a light bulb, solve a problem, fix what needs to be fixed and do what needs to be done.
And, I have very low expectations of everyone else. I try to make my relationships easy.
After all, who wants to be with a needy, demanding woman?
But these responses from these men had me puzzled, and a little off-kilter. I filed them away in the back of my brain and went on with my life.
A few days later, my husband invited me to lunch. I got to his office, and as we walked out I asked, “Which car do you want to take?”
He began walking to mine, and then I said, “Oh! I just remembered I’m low on gas.”
His response was to shift direction towards his car.
And in my mind I thought, “Hmmm.”
Later that night we took my car to dinner because there was a bigger group of us than would fit in his car. As we left dinner, I said, “Oh geez, I can’t believe I forgot to get gas this afternoon.”
My husband’s response was some sort of agreement that he couldn’t believe I had forgotten either.
And my mind thought, “Hmm.”
So I said, “You know, it’s funny…” And I began to relay the Facebook conversation.
He said, “Depends on how hot she is.”
He was joking, mostly. “Oh so I’m not hot enough for you to pump my gas for me?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you never had that expectation. And this chick better be pretty hot if she’s going to be that demanding.”
He wondered if I had been testing him all day with my “I need gas” statements, and I swore I had not.
I began to ask my guy friends what they thought of this question. Some said they do it because that’s how they were raised. Some said they DON’T do it because that’s how they were raised.
And it seemed it came down to one very important distinction in my mind: Is the gas pumping issue more about the pumper or the pumpee?
One friend said that all the women he’d dated were independent, and never asked, but recently his new girlfriend had asked him to do it. He said her expectation and annoyance at his response almost felt like she was questioning his manhood. She expected him to step up, and her having that expectation made him want to live up to it. He said that older men that he knew that were on second marriages were with women who expected MORE of them, and that made them feel more needed, more wanted, more essential.
And I thought, “Have I been thinking about this all wrong my entire life?”
This one stupid gas pumping question had spurred a thousand more…
I thought having low expectations was a good thing, but do men really want someone more demanding?
Would my husband respect me more if I relied on him more?
Why hasn’t anyone wanted to pump my gas for me?
Is it the way they were raised?
Is it that I’m just not the kind of girl that makes a man want to pump her gas?
Does that mean I’m not valuable?
Is it that they don’t see me as valuable, or that I don’t see myself as valuable?
How do I know when I’m being grateful or when I’m settling for less?
If you teach people how to treat you, has my approach to having low expectations of others led to them not respecting or valuing me?
What am I modeling to my children?
What am I showing my husband? What does he think of me? How does he see me?
What DO I deserve?
Am I a woman of value?
If I AM a woman of value, how do I prove that to myself and others?
I have to admit that this one question turned my head upside down and sideways.
I won’t go into all the details of what came next. Some are private, some are painful, some are a topic for another day.
But here’s what happened: In questioning my worth and my value and my attitude, and my relationship with my husband, my children, my friends and my God, I found my answer.
I thought back to 13 year old me, 17 year old me, 21 year old me. For a moment I reconnected with each of those girls. I viewed my life at 42 through the lens of who I was back then, the one with the dreams and what I had lately been viewing as unfulfilled potential.
I was surprised to discover that 13 year old me is thrilled with the life that 42 year old me has. 13 year old me wondered if I would ever find a boyfriend, and now sees that I’ve been with the same man for 21 years. She thinks my house is big and fancy, and loves that I live close to my parents and get to see them often. She thinks it’s cool that I’ve continued to sing, and now I get to share that with my own daughter.
17 year old me sees that certain struggles with my self-esteem have never gone away, but she’s amazed that I have such great supportive friendships, and loves that I have remained connected to those who were so integral to my spiritual growth in high school. She is impressed that I’ve figured out a way to live with straight hair instead of constantly perming it. Oh and she likes my boots. She is proud that I’m a part of a great church, and sees that I am finding ways to use my gifts to serve others. She also likes that my husband still thinks I’m hot.
21 year old me reminds me that when I got pregnant with my oldest daughter, I wasn’t sure what the future held. Unmarried, uncertain, frightened, but determined to make a family where there was none. And I did it. She likes that we’ve filled our home with tons of kids- our own and all of their friends. And she heard my husband say, “If I had known then what I know now, I would have married you sooner,” and she knows it all turns out okay.
The best part of a midlife crisis is the realization that for every mistake that you’ve made, you still have an entire half of your life to do better. For every unfulfilled dream, there is an unexpected blessing. For all the unfulfilled potential, there are opportunities. For every poor choice, there is wisdom gained.
A midlife crisis doesn’t have to destroy what you have been building for the first half of your life in order for your second half to be even better. A midlife crisis can remind you of what’s truly important. And it can be a fresh start without upending your family and your marriage.
My husband DID get a motorcycle, which is totally fine with me. I’m starting a new venture myself, a way to fulfill all the potential I believe I have within me, but it’s not going to look quite like what I thought. Turns out that God has a different idea of how he wants me to use all of that untapped potential than what I ever would have come up with on my own. I’m excited about this new “Second-half” phase of my life because I have all of my favorite people with me as I embark on this new journey.
You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what it will be…
Oh, and by the way, I’m still pumping my own gas. And I’m totally cool with that. I’ll save my requests for things that really matter.