Should I Settle for an Ex While I’m Going Through a Mid-life Crisis?

Ask Deb,

I am 41 years old, never married, great career, and for the most part, happy with life. That being said, I am very lonely while midlife crisis is hitting me pretty hard lately. The last two women I dated had everything a person could want. They we’re kind, smart, funny, highly educated, very attractive, and they both wanted (I didn’t date both at the same time) to take our relationship to the next level (Marriage/Living together) but I just wasn’t in love with them. I have always compared every girl I have dated to my first love, which I dated 17 years ago, only for a one year and have not seen her since we broke up. I googled her recently and found she belonged to a networking website (not a dating site) that I happen to be a member. I tried to contact her through this site, thinking it was a safe way to contact her considering that no email addresses are exchanged unless the person agrees to exchange addresses but no response. We we’re pretty good friends when we dated and only broke up because we both moved to pursue our dreams. That’s why I am a little surprise that I got no response. I thought I would have gotten something from her? Thanks for the email but I am married or get lost, you we’re a jerk but no response is killing me.

Here’s my question; why does this bother me so much? Should I settle and get back with one of the girls I mentioned? All the men I know think I am crazy for not marrying one those girls and that they would do anything just to date them.

– Reader

Dear Reader,

First of all, there’s a lot to cover in this question: mid-life crisis, lost girlfriends, commitment and the idea of being in love. So I’ll start with your question and move on from there.

It sounds like you never moved on and you never got closure with the old girlfriend. It’s always good to have closure in these situations, but if that doesn’t happen naturally, you have to do it yourself. The two of you moved to pursue your dreams, suggesting you might have been leaving college and were certainly leaving for careers in two different places. I’m guessing you must have not wanted it to end, or you had basic regrets about letting it end at the time. Whatever the case, the fact that she doesn’t reply should tell you all you need to know.

People do things because they want to. Your ex didn’t reply to your social message because she doesn’t want you in her life. If people don’t answer their telephone when you call or don’t accept your invitations to dinner, they are telling you they don’t want you around. It’s the same when they don’t take the two seconds to accept you as a friend on a social media website. There are a hundred different reasons for this, but there’s no reason to go down the list. You have to realise that she doesn’t owe you an explanation why. Her obligations to that relationship ended 17 years ago. Maybe she’s happily married and isn’t comfortable renewing a friendship with an old boyfriend. Maybe her memories of your parting aren’t as happy. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want to renew your friendship and has every right not to. Take her silence as a chance for closure,

Besides, the woman you knew doesn’t exist anymore. You’ve probably changed a lot in the past 17 years. While you probably don’t have a lot of the cares and responsibilities of your standard “married with 2.3 kids” 41-year old male, you’re still probably a lot different from the carefree college (or just out of college) kid you were when you were 24. The fact that you’re having a mid-life crisis is testament to that. You have to worry about your health. The aches and pains come more often and stay around longer. You have a lot more job responsibilities. The stress of living 41 years and the baggage of 20 years of failed relationships probably weigh a little heavier than they did back in the day. Long story short, you aren’t the same guy you were 17 years ago.

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She isn’t either. A lot of the favorite things you remember about her are probably gone, too. You have to remember that she’s lived 17 years of life, too. She’s gone through a lot of living since then. I’m guessing that involves virtually half her life and most of her adult life. The memories you have of your relationship are probably of a carefree time when “being in love” was newer and affected you greater. The two of you were young and full of life and had the world in the palm of your hands. It sounds like a magical time, but that particular magic was gone as soon as you split to pursue your dreams. Most of us have one of those relationships in our life and those memories will be something we cherish when we’re in our dotage. But there are other magical relationships in this world, too.

So remember with the women you date these days, you’ve been comparing them to a girl that doesn’t exist anymore. You’re comparing women that are closer to your age to a woman in her early 20’s, I imagine. That’s a large part of having a mid-life crisis. You are transitioning to a time when you’re no longer a kid and you’re more a part of the older generation. That’s hard to stomach. That’s one reason a lot of 40-something men end up dating a 20 year old, or wanting to. It helps them feel young again or capture some of the magic of their youth. But that’s seldom going to work. In your case, the 20-year old you want to date just so happens to be a woman from your past.

Why Settle for an Ex?

Finally, to answer your question about settling. If you feel like you’re settling, that’s not a good way to start a marriage. So if you feel life you’re settling, certainly don’t get married to the woman. That’s not fair to her, because you go in with reservations that shouldn’t be there. You and not your buddies have to be content with the relationship.

That doesn’t mean you should entirely forget the notion of rekindling your romances with one of these more recent dating partners, but only if you want to. Once you sort through your old feelings with the ex from so long ago and you sort through your midlife crisis, you might start to see life from a different light.

For instance, I mentioned that there are other kinds of magic in the world. One of those is the magic of the next generation. Children are a renewal of life. You see something of your own youth in your children and it helps you to recapture some of the magic that was your childhood. Also, you share a bond with a woman, because the two of you made this child. And you’ll never love another person more than you love your children.

That being said, marriage and children isn’t for everybody. You might be one of those men who simply never marries. That’s perfectly valid, too. If you don’t feel like marriage and children is for you, then the worst thing you can do is to jump into something where you negatively affect the lives of so many others.

And what about “being in love”? Well, that comes in a lot of different forms. If by being in love you mean the kind of intense and euphoric love that kids often experience, that might never happen again, either (though it might). The thing is, romances are like snowflakes: each one is different. Once you embrace that idea, you won’t be comparing your current girlfriend to all the other girlfriends you’ve had – and especially your first love. There’s only one first love. So with the women you date now, embrace the fact that she’s different and love her on her own terms. It still might not work out, but at least your relationship is succeeding or failing on its own merits.

– John Clifton