By Bunmi Sofola
At an 18-year-old birthday party recently, Gabriel, a 54-year-old father of five told me he got a mild shock. A friend had taken his daughter because he was due to attend a very urgent meeting.File: Cartoon display
He promised to pick up his daughter on his way back when he was sure the party would be in its dying minutes. Donning a well-cut safari suit he was bound to hold his own amongst all the young men he was bound to run into at the party.
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“As soon as I got to the venue of the party”, he continued, “I couldn’t believe the number of cars I saw. Obviously, most of the boys had come in their dads’ cars. Oozing a lot of confidence, I let myself into the party and gawped. The kids looked extremely more grown up than we did even when we were in our twenties. The clothes they had on made my outfit look like a gangster’s. Undeterred, I joined them on the dance floor.
Better put, a friend’s daughter dragged me onto the dance floor. I was all right there, I said as I quite prided myself on being a good mover. Then the music hot up and all hell was let loose. The kids snapped their fingers, wriggled their hips and made slow-motion dance moves as if they’d been shot through the hearts. You wouldn’t catch me dancing like that even if I could! But their dance steps fascinated me. The rapturous look on their faces as they moved to the music made me realise that my youth was well and truly gone. No way would I ever move as fast and as intricate as those firecrackers on the floors!
“Unfortunately, not all men take the loss of their youth with such a wry amusement as Gabriel. They’re likely to be in a panic, sometimes dumping their wives for a young version. “When they do”, said a 48-year-old whose hubby is now making a fool of himself with an undergraduate, “they are not actually rejecting the wives they’d been married to over the years, but the fact that such wives have aged. What does this have to say about such an average man and his age? Does he want to regain his wife’s lost youth, energy and fun – and his own? He’s obviously looking for the girl he married. His wife might have changed and aged, yet he’s panicking about the stage he’s reached in life.
“Men like this often throw away all they’ve worked for, all the investment in heart, hearth and home, for a pair of pert breasts and long legs. And often, they soon regret it.”
So are women just hapless observers sitting on the sidelines? Or can they spot the symptoms of ‘male menopause’ and intervene early enough to prevent relationship breakdown? In other words, can middle-age-man syndrome ever be cured?
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“I’d like to think it can”, she assured. “Yes, it is selfish and destructive behaviour, and it’s tempting to turn into a man-hater. But with nearly one in three marriages ending in divorce, we women must try to understand what it is that makes some men behave this way. We cannot simply call them sad or pathetic – instead we should try to find ways to prevent it.
“Perhaps, we should start by asking why so many men are so scared of growing old. We live in a world where a lot of men already confess they feel emasculated by the drive and power of women in the home and work-place. Society worships youth and fails to value age and experience. So all men have got left is testosterone. If they lose that, they lose everything. So, it isn’t surprising they’ll do anything to hang on to their youth – even if it costs them their marriage. I have male friends who are very depressed and they’re losing their hair and pilling on pounds. I have female friends who worry about aging too. But unlike a lot of men, we women talk about it, consider face-lifts if we can afford them and are obsessed about dieting. The men just seem to live in dread – and if they do bring the subject up, it’s always a cause of hilarity and jokes about Viagra.”
So what is a wife who suspects her husband is grappling with middle-life crises to do?
“Apart from middle-life crises”, she said, “her man could also be exhibiting signs of relationship problems which, if ignored, may have far more devastating consequences. Whatever it is, she should not nag. She should reassure him that she loves him and still finds him attractive; revel in her own age and make him see that middle age is just the middle of life, not the end of it. She should also get him to talk about his feelings; give him plenty of time and space; encourage him to eat healthily and exercise, suggest he takes up a new hobby and teach him to live for today, not tomorrow”.