The midlife crisis has long belonged to men. The revelation that life is finite is apparently so startling to 40- and 50-something males that many behave badly, often by trading in their wives and cars for flashier models with more curb appeal. But as Ada Calhoun writes in “Why We Can’t Sleep,” middle-aged women are busily closing this angst gap.
I am no longer in the 40-50 year old age bracket, and I have a hard time remembering whether or not I was ever assailed by a specific "midlife crisis" mentality. I certainly didn't get a "flashier car," or a "flashier wife." Maybe I wasn't afflicted. However, if one of the key features of a midlife crisis is a growing recognition that "life is finite," I can say that I have known this from my early days, and that I am increasingly aware of this bedrock truth. I doubt, frankly, that men have any different understanding of this fact than women do.
The observation that midlife crises appear to affect people in a gender neutral manner is backed up in a pretty good 2017 article published on a Wealth Advisor website. Until proven otherwise, I will continue to think that the phenomenon is a "human" one, affecting all of us, and that gender identification is not a significant factor.
The essence of the midlife crisis experience, whenever it appears, and to whomever it afflicts, might best be phrased this way: "Where did I go wrong?"
I do think that all of us come to points in our life at which we ask ourselves that question: "Where did I go wrong?" If we do find ourselves asking that question, driven by some feeling that we have not achieved or accomplished something that we were "supposed" to have achieved or accomplished, we are making a mistake. At least, that's what I think.
If we are trying to base a self-evaluation on a self-created hypothetical about what we were "supposed" to do, we are almost always going to come up short. That is because "possibility," my favorite category, is literally infinite, and our personal capacities, of course, are not. Within the world we most immediately inhabit, everything is "possible," though not simultaneously, and if our freedom to choose has led us to do and accomplish some things, and not others, we have not "failed" to do the things we have not done, we have just not done those things, and have done other things, instead. I don't much like the expression, but it does have some applicability in this context: "It's all good."
To me, at least, an inclination to be grateful for the life we have lived is a very potent antidote to the "angst" about all the things we haven't done, or didn't do. That antidote to a sense of personal angst and crisis works for both men and women, and it works in late and middle age, and it even works for young people, too.