The new male midlife crisis – and how to tell if you (or your husband) are in one

Midlife crisis
Midlife crisis

Men, are you feeling trapped? Stuck in a rut? Do you sense youthful vigour ebbing away? Are you constantly thinking about the past and those unfulfilled dreams, or even feeling the cold hand of death on your shoulder? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are experiencing a midlife crisis. The causes of a midlife crisis remain the same as they were 30 or 40 years ago, but the world has changed a lot from the days when open shirts with medallions, naff sports cars and the cheap thrill of an affair with a younger woman were the ways desperate men expressed their desperation.

Unlike the menopause, the midlife crisis is not a biological reality. It’s a psychological phenomenon with a bit of cultural coercion thrown in. Midlife is usually the point at which you feel most burdened by responsibility: that often means managing children and elderly relatives at the same time as the most stressful point of your career, while the mortgage rules over you like a fascist dictator. It’s around this time – in a broad spread from late 30s to early 50s – that a coalition of dark thoughts trigger a state of mind we still consider at best a bit embarrassing, at worst dangerously selfish. This coincides with the unavoidable signs of ageing – hair loss, lines, weight gain. The cherry on the cake is the sense that the best years are behind you and that, no matter how much you resist, mortality is creeping ever closer.

Well, we can’t all be Matthew McConaughey, so in the meantime, here is a guide on how to navigate your new midlife crisis: the environmentally friendly, misogyny-free, age of austerity way to completely lose all sense of perspective in 2024.

Leather trousers vs Adidas Sambas

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

This is perhaps the most desperate of the midlifer affectations. No matter how lucky you are with hair loss, or how adept you have been at keeping your weight down, you are not and will never be Jim Morrison. Even the Lizard King piled on the pounds and copped it in the bath at 27 – there’s nothing to aspire to here. Yet, for the feebleminded, leather still has its sweaty pull, an expression of a rock ’n’ roll exuberance that you probably never experienced the first time around. It’s not so much reliving lost youth as a tribute act for a youth you never had.

In 2024, leather is generally too uncouth for even the most desperate midlifer, so for those needing to feel young again, it’s all about understated skater/sportswear instead, with supposedly casual chic such as a pair of new Adidas Sambas. When Rishi Sunak wore them with tight chinos and black socks, he was lambasted for ruining every cool bloke’s favourite trainer, with many devotees claiming they would sell their own pairs in protest. The truth is, Rishi was bang on brand for the frustrated midlifer. Think about it: if Sambas were really cool then he would never have known they existed in the first place.

Medallions vs Beads

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

There are few more ripe signifiers of middle-age nostalgia-sickness than a medallion. Let’s be honest, medallions have always been a niche pursuit and even in their heyday of the 1970s only the bravest men would dare to wear one. When shirts were habitually unbuttoned, medallions were supposed to signify masculine confidence, though even by the 1980s they were less Saturday Night Fever and more Kirk St Moritz from the BBC sitcom Dear John. That makes today’s medallions a hyperreal expression of nostalgia, since so few people actually wore them in the first place.

Despite medallions being revived every 10 years or so, beads have surpassed them as the acceptably naff male jewellery of choice. Beads say “I am free. I express myself. I’m in touch with my masculinity/femininity/spirituality/the earth (delete as appropriate)”. But beads – both around the neck and on the wrist – are a double bluff: nothing says “I am so insecure about my masculinity that I have to publicly assert my disregard for overt masculinity by wearing beads” quite like them. It’s no coincidence that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Prince Harry wear them in an attempt to be more like Jason Momoa. They’re a bit creepy, basically.

Harley-Davidson vs Top of the range bike

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

Motorbikes are a perennial Top Trumps pick in the “Eau Sauvage” demographic of fading masculinity, but in particular the deep, husky roar of a Harley-Davidson has long been a wannabe purchase for men yearning for “freedom”. Those who sense their metaphorical pelvic thrust is on the wane have been drawn to the American marque for generations and its mystique remains intact. There are faster and cheaper bikes, but it’s the association of Harley-Davidson with the open roads of America that gives the hog its cultural grunt.

The downside is that for anyone seeking the pretence of environmental awareness (an important factor given our newbie midlifer may also be in a dalliance with a younger – and potentially more environmentally conscious – woman) a Harley is a polluter. Nowadays you and the environment are better off with an absurdly priced road bicycle such as a Pinarello Dogma. This is very much an “all the gear and no idea” scenario. Race down country lanes with your Lycra-clad bros, as long as there is a pub to stop at for a while and somewhere to buy some calamari. Just make sure you have a secure space to store your summer purchase when you lose interest after a couple of months and the weather turns.

Affair with secretary vs Admitting you’re gay

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

In the past, the key for a straight man having a textbook affair is that it had to be with a younger woman. As one of the pillars of crisis psychology, feeling less attractive is the trigger for an often reckless search for physical affirmation. The theory goes that as a middle-aged man, you are both vulnerable to anxiety about a loss of potency (literally in that you may be concerned about erectile dysfunction, figuratively in that you simply feel less desirable) and the habituation of your long-standing relationship is making you feel old and hemmed in. The “remedy” used to be to flirt with a younger woman – usually a colleague – until it reached the point when a life-affirming affair could begin. This age difference has been portrayed on screen many times from 1970s BBC sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to pretty much every film Johnny Depp has ever made. For good reasons this sort of lopsided power dynamic is now frowned upon.

Discerning middle-aged men don’t want to be seen as predatory and exploitative (even if there’s still plenty of that about). The solution to not being attractive to women anymore is just not to bother with them altogether. It’s easier and seemingly more edgy and rebellious to tell your wife or partner that you are in fact gay. This does presuppose that men will find your shiny forehead, jowls and dodgy knees attractive when women don’t, but this is precisely the kind of fantastical, wishful thinking that guides middle-aged men suffering ever increasing levels of self-doubt. Changing your sexual orientation in middle age is at least genuinely life-changing, although if you are straight then it will only change your life for as long as it takes to admit you’re a superficial idiot.

Building a shed vs Building a mancave

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

The redoubt of middle-aged men who felt beleaguered and besieged (the truth and perception are usually somewhat different) was once to build a shed, or at least furnish and secure the existing one as a hideout worthy of the Fuhrer’s Wolf’s Lair. These fusty old dens seem rather unattractive now and itemising your tool collection, the piles of Haynes car manuals and a 60-year-old chair you saved from your grandparents’ skip doesn’t really cut it.

Where once careworn gentlemen sought peace and quiet, they now require entertainment. And anyway, you can get peace and quiet on a yoga retreat, an option not available to comrades before the 1990s. As thoughts of mortality multiply, today’s crisis requires something more concrete. The well-equipped man cave, built either in a dug-out basement or, better still, somewhere away from the house like the bottom of the garden, is a great way to regress to adolescence and banish those nasty thoughts about the coming abyss. That’s because you can fill your man cave with expensive tat from your youth, such as two turntables and a PA system from that year you pretended to be a DJ, a foosball table to remind you of all the hipster bars you frequented in 1999 and for that ultra kitsch touch – and in a nod to the old-school midlife crisis – posters of a Lamborghini Countach from your 1980s childhood, all purchased for way over the odds online.

Sports car vs Beekeeping

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

A defining feature of the midlife crisis is the sudden urge to act unpredictably, as if life has become so mundane that the only way to break the cycle of decline is to splurge your diligently accumulated savings on something selfish and unnecessary. The absolute classic of the genre is the sports car. In the past an entry-level Porsche was the crisis go-to, but a Ferrari was even better. Nowadays supercars are so expensive the man enduring the crisis needs to be seriously wealthy (either that or he has borrowed so much money that divorce is imminent) to afford an Audi R8 or Aston Martin. It’s harder to justify a big spend, even in the grip of some existential mania.

Although cars retain their appeal, today’s midlifer can consider something less obvious to express their need to splash some impulsive cash. Beekeeping is ideal, being fashionable and morally justifiable to your children and their whiny friends. A lot of prominent men are into beekeeping, most notably King Charles. His fellow high-profile apiarist David Beckham is a figure who men looked up to when they were young, and continues to set trends for those now experiencing fear and loathing. Beekeeping is good for the environment and, providing you have the space, it affords a splurge on the hives and the outfit that makes you look like a Cyberman from a 1975 episode of Doctor Who. What could be more nostalgic than that?

“Can I help you sir?”

“Yes, I’ll have 250,000 bees please.”

“That will be £2,000 sir.”

“Bargain.”

Growing thinning hair into ponytail vs Having a hair transplant in Turkey

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

One path for male midlifers is to really, really let themselves go. Some men may reach a point where their gut is too big, their personal hygiene too irrelevant and their feet too unpleasant to make any effort at all. This is less a midlife crisis and more the start of the tolling bell. But when vanity and anxiety get the better of us, the other option is to do almost anything to look younger: skin regimes, manicures and pedicures plus the push to lose weight by a combination of fad diets and contradictory exercise regimes. Along with the almighty stomach – the “derby kelly” in cockney rhyming slang – losing your hair is the biggest external problem men face in middle age. In the past this was countered, though usually producing the opposite effect, by growing your hair out. After the toupee, the most egregious iteration of this was the greying ponytail, with every strand of long hair expected to do its duty, pulled back from the forehead to expose the vast expanse of the temples.

The 2024 midlifer has more options, the most commonly favoured one being an unconvincing hair transplant obtained in Turkey. Unless you spend proper money, the Turkish look – an unnaturally straight stripe of tiny bleeding sores at the front of the head where your hairline used to be – carries the same whiff of futility as the ponytail it replaced. Plus you have to come back from Turkey on a plane full of other men who look as absurd as you, grumbling with the pain of a thousand needles to the head and sitting next to a woman with teeth brighter than a supernova. You might get a couple of years of fuzzy coverage out of this kind of investment, but pretty soon you’ll be back fighting a perma-war against your natural balding state. Wayne Rooney anyone?

Quitting your job to go travelling vs Quitting your job to open a barbecue street food stall

george chesterton midlife crisis
george chesterton midlife crisis

Nothing says “I’ve lost it” like an impulse resignation. Quitting your job is the crisis equivalent of the doner kebab – seems like a great idea when you’ve forgotten your senses, but quickly leaves you feeling anxious and guilty. It always “seems” like a good idea to spend three months in Vietnam and Laos, or to combine two crisis tropes in one and hop on a Harley for that trip through America’s Deep South you’ve always dreamed about. The urge to be irresponsible is among the strongest a midlifer can experience, since you’ve usually spent the past decade doing precisely the opposite, especially if you have children. Routine, habit and repetition are the great engines of a crisis – these manifest themselves at work (same people, same problems), at home (same after-school activities, same weekend obligations) and in the bedroom (same… well you get the idea). At their most extreme these frustrations are expressed in acts of  recklessness, and, as with having an affair, quitting your job is usually followed by buyer’s remorse.

Wild behaviour doesn’t suit today’s more constrained times, so why not combine your hatred of your current job with your love of smoked meat and open up a barbecue stall in a trendy food market? This is a great way to waste all that money you’ve saved, but in a crisis it’s the fantasy that matters, so the idea of dressing like a hipster and growing your beard while selling brisket and pulled pork in paper bowls will become more and more irresistible. Fun for a while, but you’ll probably be scouring LinkedIn for a new job in six months.