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Have Your Midlife Crisis Together

There comes a point in every marriage when that feeling slips away.

Your heart does not skip a beat when he enters the room. He does not smile knowingly when he hears your voice. The things you used to love about each other start to grate — his naps and mismatched socks, your refusal to vacuum on even a semi-regular basis. Your jammies morph from silk to flannel, and the magic you pocketed from those early days just…runs…out.

Part of the problem is comfort. When we date, we look for a person who takes an awkward situation, an outing with a relative stranger, and makes it seem natural. We seek out the individual with whom we feel most at ease. I married my husband because of his intellect, spontaneity, and zest for life. He made complicated undertakings seem manageable. He married me because I was his emotional center and his closest friend. Also, he says, because of my boobs. But the point is, I made him feel comfortable.

Comfort can be awesome. He knows the music I like, and whether I want my steak rare or well done. I know which seat he prefers on an airplane, and what kind of books he enjoys. Being known is nice.

Except when it isn’t. I only have about 3 ½ decent stories to tell at a cocktail party. Which means my husband has heard them 272 times. He only has 2 ½ good stories, so now I am as sick of his anecdotes as he is of mine. We have come to the point in our marriage when we feel like we know all there is to know about one another.

I have never cheated on my husband. But if I was going to, now is about the time it might make sense. Because falling in love is fun. Ninety-three percent of the greatest movies ever made pay homage to it. But staying in love…well, that’s something altogether different.

The truth is that being married to someone for a lot of years can be kind of boring. And boredom can be scary. What if the magic is gone for good? What if I don’t love him any more? Which is, of course, the scariest thought of all.

But boredom is not a reason to leave. It is not a reason to cheat or settle or eat ice cream straight from the carton.

If you play it right, boredom is the moment when the real magic begins.

I had a prof in college who always told us to “make the familiar strange.” He asked us to consider age-old questions in academia with new eyes and a fresh perspective. I think this holds true for marriage, too. We call it a midlife crisis when a man buys a red convertible or a woman pierces her navel after the age of thirty-five. But relationships need triage from time to time. If the two of you are in a rut, maybe it is time to take a risk, and do something you might regret. Just do it together.

As part of our shared midlife crisis, my husband and I remodeled a bathroom, quit jobs, sold our dream house, built a website, moved across the country, joined a choir, formed our own book club (of two people), and auditioned for community theater. We have taken surfing lessons, yoga classes, and piano. We have eaten ostrich, eel, cow’s tongue and bull testicles, and washed it all down with absinthe.

At least half of these adventures, we have come close to regretting. Especially the balls. But the point was that we undertook them together, and shared new experiences that have changed how we look at each other. I will never forget my husband’s jitters as he went to audition for the part of “Man in Pink Pants.” It was a side of him I had never seen before. Thankfully, they cast someone else, but now we have a new story to tell at parties, and new fondness for one another.

So the next time boredom creeps in, go watch a horror movie, take salsa lessons, join a dodge ball league. Let ennui nudge you towards new adventures. You don’t have to climb Kilimanjaro to find them. Go hiking and have a long talk. Have the kind of wandering, rambling, full-of-possibility conversation that led you to fall in love in the first place. What dream do you still want to pursue? What parts of yourselves do you value, but never take the time to share? What steps can you take together to make some of these aspirations a reality?

My husband and I have taken a few of these walks lately. We laugh about the mini-regrets we have shared over the past fifteen years, and plot and scheme about the next fifteen. The next thirty. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable together. And dare to believe that the best years are yet to come.

New DadvMom on New York Observer today.

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