What Does a Modern Midlife Crisis Look Like?

No, the midlife crisis isn't an actual phenomenon that strikes everyone. But that doesn't mean 40 comes with a whisper.

by Adam Bulger

When a baby boomer man hit the ripe age of 40 and began to feel fenced in, the ensuing crisis followed a pattern. He’d buy flashy clothes, start driving a sports car, chase after his secretary. Sometimes he’d get an earring. It was a funny sight: Old, out of touch guys always seem ridiculous when they stop being their boring and responsible selves and use cash to awkwardly chase a youth culture they didn’t understand.

At least that’s what it seemed like. But in actuality, the midlife crisis is more of an exercise in good branding than an actual phenomenon. “Yes, there are middle-aged men who do have problems, who do not feel satisfied with their lives,” Alexandra M. Freund, a professor of psychology at the University of Zurich who has studied the midlife crisis debate extensively, told us. “Is there a midlife crisis — a normative crisis that everybody goes through? No, there’s no empirical evidence for that.”

Midlife, seen as the 40 year mark, is often a time for self-reflection, yes. But it actually hasn’t really been defined by fast cars, infidelity, and flashy clothes. These are cliches and also luxuries of wealthy, mostly white, men who have money to flaunt and time for crisis. Now, there are certainly men who experience a general restlessness and make rash, sometimes reckless decisions. But that is not the standard by any means.

But for modern men who are crossing 40 and experience pangs of a life outside their own, what does mid-life bring on? With our culture encouraging men to act like they’re in their 20s well into their 30s, hitting 40 can be ugly and confusing. And there’s still, in some cases, the desire to make a change, big or small. To get an idea of what has defined some modern mid-life crisis-havers, we asked seven men in their late 30s and early 40s explain what it’s like to cross life’s 50-yard line in 2019.

Trading the Office For a Farm

For 15 years or so I worked in financial services. I was doing really well for myself but I realized my heart wasn’t in it. The further my career went on, the less creative it became. It sparked a lot of reflection about what I wanted to do with my life. I was in a depression mode. My wife started researching where food comes from and I fell into a research hole about regenerative agriculture. That got me on this track to want to be a farmer. I’m one of those people that when I start something, I’m all in. So, we bought an abandoned farm in Northern Vermont, 50 miles south of the Canadian border. We sold our rowhouse in DC and gradually moved up here to a town of 700 people. I’ve had successes and failures with farming. I killed 13 ducklings right out of the gate. I was practically in tears. But I was talking to a local farmer and he said “sometimes animals just die.” And that’s true. —Morgan Gold, Vermont

Building a Recording Studio

In the past three years I’ve bought about $2,000 worth of musical equipment. I have a guitar, two drum machines, three keyboards, microphones and I’ve turned a corner of my basement into a recording studio. I call it my model train set as a joke. It’s next to my kid’s playroom. When she’s playing dolls I’ll be there with my headphones on, pretending to be Daft Punk. I love it but I’m a little embarrassed about being in my 40s and recording music no one’s going to care about. —Bob, New Jersey

Getting Back to Basics

On a slow afternoon at work I watched a YouTube video of the train level of [Nintendo 64 video game] Goldeneye. It flashed me back to my 20s. I went out to a video game store that sold refurbished old video game systems and bought an N64 and about a half dozen games. I spent weeks smoking weed and staying up all night playing Goldeneye and Ocarina of Time. It took me a while to realize it was a midlife crisis but, oh well, I guess it’s better than a convertible. —Jeremy, Pennsylvania

Who Has The Money For a Crisis?

Everyone says “Wow, you’re turning 40? Are you going to buy a convertible?” which creates a set of expectations for some men, like we’re all supposed to have a crisis at 40. I couldn’t afford a convertible and didn’t have a place to park one anyway. Still, those sorts of conversations did make me ask if I was happy with where I was at mid-life. What was my dad doing at 40? Are there paths or options in life that are now closed? That was certainly on my mind. —Kurt, Minnesota

Infidelity That Didn’t Happen

I was going to cheat on my wife but I didn’t. I’d had a crush on this girl for months. Then #MeToo happened and I never went through with it. I saw the girl walking across the office right after I read the story about Charlie Rose standing in front of women in a bathrobe. I wanted to throw up. I wasn’t a kid with a crush. I was an old creep setting himself up for a sexual harassment scandal and a divorce. It felt really shitty but going through with it would have been much worse. –name and location withheld

Going to Coachella

I don’t think it really was a mid -ife crisis, but Coachella is an awesome thing to do when you are in your 40s with money. I’m over 50 and went to Coachella with one of my teenage kids, my brother, and one of his teenage kids. None of us do or did drugs. All you need to do is drink water, wear sunscreen, and enjoy the weekend. —Bob, Ontario Canada

Beating the Drums

I didn’t feel unhappy or unfulfilled, but with two young kids at 40 I did feel like I had little time for myself and other than work/family didn’t spend time doing things with others much. I’d played with drummers in high school and college. Drums are cool. But they’re also expensive and require space, so I’d never thought about owning a set. But at 40 I had a house with a basement that nobody but me ever entered with plenty of room for drums and my guitars. So I bought a set on Ebay (partial set) and then slowly sought out pieces to fill it out. I literally put on Live at Leeds and started trying to learn Keith Moon parts. After that stumbled a bit I got some DVDs and watched some videos online, but it wasn’t very hard to get to the point that I could play enough to entertain myself. I loved the physicality as well and the sheer volume I could generate. —Kris, Wisconsin