Definition - When or what is middle age?
When does middle age begin? 35? 40? 45? 50? Looking at it
in this manner is a mistake, pure and simple. What people
dislike about middle age has nothing to do with a number,
it's a situation. Picking an age range, when we all know
how much variety there is to be found in every age range,
just doesn't work. But we like to use age ranges for things
like youth, old age, the teen years, toddlers, and so forth,
so it's perfectly understandable why we try to do the same
for middle age.
If I had to pick numbers, then I'd probably choose the range
from 25 to 75. Why? Thinking in terms of myself and others
I've known, I'd say most of us are truly independent of our
families and on our own at least by 25 and most of us are
dealing with the infirmities of old age by 75. Everything
in-between would be middle age.
That may make some sense, but it's unsatisfying. Why is
it so many people dislike the term "middle age"? Why do
they get depressed when they finally accept that they
are middle-aged? Most people don't get depressed about their
age when they're 28. Most people who are 50 aren't infirm.
Obviously, middle age is something other then being between
25 and 75. We can't deal with it realistically until we
know what it is.
This subject began to interest me in my 30's and I began my own study
of the aging process. By 40, I felt I had no choice but to accept
myself as being middle-aged. That was supposed to depress
me, or so I thought, but I couldn't put my finger on a good
reason to be depressed. Still, I had heard so many negative
things about middle age, I thought I ought to get a clearer
understanding of what it was I had to fear.
So I started talking to people of all ages, from the very
young to the very old and everywhere in-between. I didn't
just ask them for their opinion, I asked them if they were
happy or not with their lives and why. I wanted to hear
what it was that made the negative difference between 25
and 45, between 45 and 65, and so on. Slowly, over a long
time, a new definition of middle age began to form in my
What's so great about being a kid? What's so exciting about
it? In a word, potential.
Kids see few limits to their potential. She wants to be
an astronaut, or a nurse, or a lawyer, and on and on. She
changes her mind every few days or weeks when she discovers
something new. It's amusing, but it's exciting to see such
enthusiasm and willingness to try something new.
What so bad about being old? What's so depressing about
it? In a word, limitations.
He's too old, he can't do that any more. He used to be able
to, but no more. There's no real future in trying to start
a new career at his age. He doesn't have the time. He's
"paid his dues" and he didn't get what he expected. He doesn't
like it, but it's his lot in life. He gets tired quickly,
doesn't have the energy he used to have, but he "can't expect
it" at his age. It may seem logical, but it's depressing
to hear such negativism.
If middle age is the period between these two states, then
what more is it? I've decided that middle
age is that point in your life when you shift from seeing
the future in terms of your potential and begin to see it
in terms of your limitations. It's a shift that's
so slow, so incremental, that we don't even notice it on
a day-to-day basis. But we start at one end and end up at
the other. It doesn't happen overnight.
Looked at with any objectivity, it doesn't make sense. Once
we're in our 40's, or 50's, or 60's, we ought to think that
we finally have enough experience and enough freedom to
really begin to grow, not begin to decline. I know people
who are 85 or older, but who still look forward to tomorrow.
Unfortunately, I know people 15 or younger who've already
given up. But they're rare, most of us slide down the hill
from youth to old age, instead of climbing the hill. Sure,
it's a matter of perspective and "all we have to do" is
change our perspective. But we make it very hard on ourselves
when we associate a perspective with a specific age group
and treat it as inevitable because aging is inevitable.
As the old saying goes, we dig our own grave. We don't have
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