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Tag Archive 'midlife'

Sep 24 2009

Single at Midlife and What That Means

By Philip Belove, Ed.D.

This is a site for midlife single adults. Their needs are different than those of younger people. Here is a short overview of the unique situation of the midlife single. If you are under 25 and single, you are single simply. If you are over 40 and single, you are single with an explanation. You have a story to tell about it.

There are two important points here. First, maturing means learning to live with your own story. Second, reconciling yourself to your story is easier when you see how it is also the story of your times. You are not alone, even in how you construct your private relationships you follow the social rules of your time – and those social rules are changing. I want to expand on both these points starting with the connection between your story and the story of your times.

We live in unusual times as far as intimate relationships are concerned. We live in a culture that supports leaving them.

According to 1995 census figures, of the adults between 45 and 65, roughly 30% are not married. Most are not married because of divorce. A significant portion has been divorced more than once.

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Jul 04 2009

A Relationship has a Mind of Its Own

Published by under Advice,Miscellaneous

  • A relationship is a shared mental process.
  • A relationship has a presence, a personality and an emotional impact.  It can and will make demands on both partners. It shapes how partners see each other.  It is a lens through which partners understand each other.
  • It has a mind and a heart of its own but it doesn’t have a body. Instead of flesh and blood, a relationship is formed by the constant flow of the ten thousand messages, and reactions to those messages, that flow constantly between the two minds of the two partners.
  • In other words, a relationship is a spiritual entity.  Like an Angel?  Maybe Except its presence can be seen with scientific instruments. Brain imaging can observe how the neural activity in one partner is mirrored by similar neural activity in the same brain areas in the other partner, a visible marker of empathetic resonance. If it’s an angel, it is one that you can see on a computer monitor.
  • Despite the hard science evidence, a relationship doesn’t live in the concrete world. A relationship lives in the world of stories. Stories register in our brains and make us think and feel in various ways.  We humans are, maybe more than anything else, creatures who tell stories. We live stories and will even die for stories. The deeper, more intimate the relationship, further it sends its roots into both partners’ stories – into the heart of their lives.
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Apr 25 2009

When All Else Fails, Tell the Truth

Published by under Advice

The premise of the Dating at Midlife research project is that as people go through a midlife transformation, they change the way they create intimate relationships.

It’s hard to catalogue all the changes. One of the big changes is that people become more honest with themselves. When I was younger, in a moment of supremely naïve arrogance I complained that I couldn’t understand why people found it so difficult to be honest with themselves. That was before I began my own midlife project.

Lying is a strange business. Many animals use deception for survival. A momma bird will pretend to have a broken wing to draw predators away from a nest. Many predators use camouflage to capture prey. Wild female birds will mate with one male but bond with another for child rearing. Among humans, there is no necessary connection between what is said and what is done. To deceive is natural.

And then there is television. Almost everyone you see on television including news people are actors. The more hours you watch television the fewer hours you are interacting with real people, people who aren’t always performing for you. Our infotainment culture has dulled our talent for truth detecting.

When we get honesty and fearless self-disclosure, we often aren’t sure how to handle it. We aren’t even sure we want it.

Most relationships are a cocktail of truth and lies. For example, less mature, and less honest people often perform a strange mental trick with their intimate relationships. They divide them into two opposing categories. Category one: predictable, but maybe dull. Category two: fascinating and romantic, but dangerous.

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Apr 25 2009

What Happens in the Midlife Transformation

Published by under Advice

I have a friend, 72, who said, last week, “I’ve just realized that I’m going to die. I always pretended it was only something that happened to others.” At seventy-two he finally could handle the full impact of the challenge that drives us all through the midlife transformation.

Some of us never get that strong. For most of us, it takes years. I remember when the beginning edge of that awareness struck me. I was thirty five. I had been living a life designed more to make other people happy than to make me happy. Somewhere in my inner shadows I was sustaining myself on the thought that next time I would live life for me. I began to understand that depending on my next life to give spiritual justification to this one was a poor strategy, but I wasn’t sure of the alternative.

What was a better idea? I didn’t know and then I had a dream. In the dream I was in an office in an advertising agency visiting an important person, who I referred to in my dream as “the person in the advertising business I admired most.” In the dream I realized that that person was me. Even in the dream I felt sheepish about giving myself such importance. I had a lot to learn.

In my waking life I was not yet a psychologist. I was an associate creative director making television commercials for shampoo, soap, cereal, frozen pizza and dog food. In my dream I walked into my office and found this important person, “me,” on the window ledge about to jump.

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Apr 25 2009

Measures of Maturity: The “Why Did Your Last Relationship End?” Test

Published by under Advice

This is the central fact of dating at midlife: if you are single at 20, you are just single. If you are single at 40, you have a story about it.

No one gets to be forty years old without having been hurt or having hurt. How a person deals with this unfortunate truth shapes their expectations about new relationships, and the way someone tells you their story tells you what they are expecting from you in the coming relationship.

There is a lot you can learn by listening to how they tell their stories. But you have to know what you are listening for. One of the things I listen for is how they deal with the fact that they have been hurt, or that they’ve hurt someone.

In my experience, if you have not reconciled yourself to this dark side of life, you will put certain specific and unreasonable pressures on your next relationship. In this short article, I want you to think about how this works.

I am going to start with the story of the Troubles Tree, an old Jewish folk tale.

One day in a small town in rural Poland an angel appeared and told everyone that, because of the piety of certain people the town’s people would be given a gift. For one day, everyone could walk around freed from the burden of their life’s troubles. A tree would appear in the center of the town and each person could hang their troubles on it.

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Apr 25 2009

What Harry Sanborn can Teach us about Some Single Midlife Men.

Published by under Culture

By the end of Nancy Meyer’s movie. Something’s Gotta Give, the lead character, Harry Sanborn, Jack Nicholson’s character, shows promise of finally being a mensch, a man of honor who can be trusted. We don’t know if he’s there yet, but he’s there enough that when Erica opens up to him again, at the end, we aren’t afraid for her.

When I was in Rome I saw the statues of Greek Heroes. Seven feet tall. Enough larger than life to be heroic, but close enough to human scale that I could relate and feel cowed. Harry is like that, just bigger enough than life to carry a movie, but close enough to people I’ve known, including, me.
Before the midlife wake-up call, a charming, and immature guy.

When we meet Harry, he’s a sixty year old guy who has perfected an adolescent male’s dream. He’s got the money, the power, the fame, the car, the pad and the impossibly gorgeous trophy women. The fact that he’s as much a trophy screw for the women as they are for him doesn’t bother him. It’s how he likes it.

I had a chance to see a pre-shooting script of the movie and the planned opening had him speaking about being afraid to grow old and a cruel fantasy about him being seen with a woman his own age. I liked the final cut better. It opens with him musing about mature young women at the height of their sexual powers and him uniquely positioned (to coin a phrase) to sample the batch of them.

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Apr 25 2009

Creating a Wise Conversation: The Mother of All Communication Skills

Published by under Advice

I have this all worked out. The next Messiah will not be an individual. The next Messiah will be a couple. Al and Betty. The message they will bring is this: “We can all have wise conversations with each other but we have to practice.”

Al and Betty will teach by example. We’ll watch them get tangled up in some passionate and profoundly important misunderstanding. Then we’ll see how they work their way out of it.

I think it would be fascinating to see them go back and forth, get frustrated, get sad, have hurt feelings, apologize, finally think they understand, and then be dead wrong.

The most instructive part will be watching them hang, go at it again, until finally, like a miracle, they come up with something neither one of them could have imagined before.

I’ve seen this happen and it’s always profoundly gratifying. I think it a holy act. It is certainly a creative act. Couples who are good at this process say that it is one of the most erotic forms of foreplay.

I think it’s really important to see how people reach dead ends, and feel it’s hopeless, and then still go on.
There is no right answer that better, more decent, smarter people than you already know. If you are looking for a really new understanding you don’t know where the process is going to end.

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Apr 25 2009

Dating and Mating Dances at Midlife

Published by under Miscellaneous

It’s Spring and you know what happens. For the next few weeks, in the fields and forests, the birds and the beasts are doing their mating dances. We too, by instinct, perform a mating dance. The human mating dance is called dating.

A mating dance is a way for two creatures to work out whether they are going to have a certain, special relationship, which includes sex; it also includes certain understandings, expectations and obligations. A mating dance is not just matter of whether or not they are agreeing to do The Big It, it is also a matter of how they are going to get along, the Big How. This is the fundamental dynamic in dating.
Mating Dating Negotiating
In the Ken Burns 12 part documentary on jazz, Wynton Marsalis opens the series with this statement: “The real power of jazz and the innovation of jazz was that a group of people could come together and improvise art and can negotiate their agendas and that negotiation is the art.” I was struck by that last phrase, that the negotiation itself is the art. There it is again, the Big How.

In dating also, negotiation itself is the art. It’s not some specific goal or event dinner, sex, vacation plans — that really matters; the goal is to create a process, an ongoing relationship. It’s not what you get, it’s how you get there. Everything is foreplay.

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Apr 25 2009

The Capacity for Commitment: The Fourth Stage Of The Midlife Transformation In Midlife Singles

Published by under Advice

I’m going to claim that the mark of maturity in couples is their ability to communicate. I’m going to borrow a phrase from Bill W., founder of AA, and talk about how mature couples engage in something I’ll call “A Searching and Fearless Intimate Conversation.”
Is it really so desirable that men and women share deeply about their lives?

Let me tell you a story. I was invited to a “salon.” That’s what it was called. It was an evening of culture, conversation and pot-luck at a the house of a wealthy widow. Before dinner and conversation a man who played classical piano gave a small recital. He played one of Satie’s pieces and before he played he gave us a little lecture on the piece. He said, “The composer said that this piece should be still, steady, and reliable, like the ticking of a clock in an empty room.” And then our hostess, the widow, who was certainly a mature woman, said, “Yes. That’s exactly how I like my men to be.”

So there are couples who would rather not have a lot of sensitive communication.

I realize that my own view of maturity comes from psychology. And I do wonder about that. Is it possible that psychologists are just describing themselves and setting themselves up as a model of maturity? I find their case persuasive and grounded in research. You’ll have to make up your own mind. That is the condition of being an elder. You have to think for yourself.

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Apr 25 2009

What is a Midlife Crisis?

Published by under Advice

“Midlife crisis” is a phrase made for comedy routines, something women say about men when the guys start acting like teenagers. There is truth in the accusation. At midlife people do go through a change, one as profound as adolescence. They become “Elders,” people with enough adult experience and judgment to become sources of wisdom for the rest of us.

This process of becoming wise is the midlife transformation. Some people make it smoothly and some resist it with all their might. They need wisdom forced upon them. Such people are the ones who have midlife crises.

Do you ask, “Why would anyone resist maturity?” If you can sympathize with people who resist maturity, you can understand the midlife crisis.

When I have resisted maturity it has always been because of my pride. It can be excruciating to see how wrong I have been about certain things. My experiences in this regard are very common.

Fortunately, God (or whatever you want to call the Deep Force Which Shapes Our Lives) wants us to mature and get wise. And to the common, garden variety of person like me, and many of you, there is the Gift of the Midlife Crisis.

If the way of wisdom is humility, the stuff of midlife crises is humiliation having humility forced upon you. As horrible as that is, it’s still better than the alternative.

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