I used to think that until I settled down and had a family I’d be incomplete. Of course as soon as I did, I realised I wasn’t complete, I was finished.
It’s something I’d rather forget, but every other week, another “life’s crap for the middle aged family man” ‘finding’ seems to come out forcing me, once again, to stare into the abyss.
Which is, partly, why I find myself sharing a table in a busy pub at lunchtime. The sun is hot and bright, making the darkness inside all the more black. A viscous smattering of partially dehydrated beer glistens on the table.
“You going to get that down you?” says the bloke next to me, nodding at the glass I’ve been staring at for the last half hour. It’s the very question I’ve been asking myself as I grip, the tiny pill in my hand: my first anti-depressant.
It’s Superman in reverse; there you are faster than a locomotive, more powerful than a tall building and so unfamiliar with your own underpants you’re not sure which way to put them on, then you pop into the phone booth of life to give someone a ring and when you come out you’re bespectacled, bumbling, mild mannered, Clark Kent, whose closest encounter with a speeding bullet is being stuck in traffic.
You spend the rest of your life looking for the damn phone booth, or somewhere to just change again, but it’s gone.
I look at the little pill with the big promise and try to remind myself that the disappointment of lost youth is so old as to be a cliché, prosaic rather than cause for Prozac, a trite of passage. But then why is everyone trying to remind me how miserable I’m supposed to be?
Hoards of academics, probably suffering from the Mabs (Middle Aged Bleakness Syndrome) themselves, seem determined to justify their misery.
Why am I not surprised that Professor Oswald, stuck in a midlands university with acres of research, describes life as a U-bend, “bottoming out in middle age”? What middle aged man doesn’t know he’s stuck between the first flush of youth and the blocked waste pipes of old age?
Last week, Relate counsellors revealed the shocking truth that middle aged men lose their libidos – as if the Bonapartes hadn’t already stuck that psychological post-it note on the pages of history – and if cancelling your bedroom activity wasn’t enough, Professor King of the Royal Free was quick to remind us “Men are most likely to suffer depression between the ages of 30 and 50”.
And now, when it’s far too late to do anything about my family, (short of the Austrian fine wine solution of laying them in the cellar for 24 years), Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert declared the happiest people were those married but without children.
But what do you know? All these weighty academics, leaders in their fields, top of their game; if they’re not between 30 and 50 then stick my hat in the oven and season to taste.
Perhaps then, it’s not that middle aged man’s melancholy is any more prevalent, but that he’s more likely to indulge this navel gazing with the time, resources, position and self absorption to explore it.
I just pity the poor research assistants and want to take them by the hand: yes middle aged men, just when then they should be feeling top of the pile, often feel shitty for a number of rather worn reasons. There, now they can use the time I saved them to get back to their all-lego re-make of Star Wars for YouTube.
Maybe depressed men seem more of a story because, unlike women, they’re less likely to admit it or go to a doctor for anti-depressants. The mid-life bloke stumbles through not daring, or conveniently forgetting, to tell his doctor or anybody else, that he no longer feels master of the universe.
I pick up my drink, “There we go”, I think, “bucked the trend and, like Moses, got my answer in a tablet.” I place the pill on my tongue, and lift my head, but looking up I get distracted.
She catches my eye for a hundredth of a second, a fraction of a girl, half my age, and an eighth my BMI. She sweeps past in a skirt which, from table height, appears to have risen above the bottom of a pair of piston driven impossibly firm, tanned, buttocks. I sit there staring and realise I have forgotten why I had put my head up in the first place.
So pity not the sad middle aged man, don’t tell him he’s repressing something, don’t advise him to “let the feelings out”. We come equipped with our very own inbuilt survival mechanism, a natural bad news cut out; the one that allows bills to lie unopened for a week, as if they had never arrived. Death, tax demands and an excess of nasal hair: all inevitable and all totally ignorable. We like to call it things like, “focus” but our one-track, multitasking-resistant, minds are also hard at work defending us from the credit crunch, the spreading gut and the interminable research: our all-natural anti-depressant.
Clutching my glass, I stare at the receding figure and realise I’m as happily capable of forgetting I’m never going back to Krypton as I am anniversaries, the names of in-law and children on buses.
I let out a low whistle and something I’d forgotten plops into my glass.