My Partner Is Going Through A Midlife Crisis: What Should I Do?
How to Deal with a Mid-Life Breakup Like a Boss
Six weeks before my 50th birthday, my longtime, live-in boyfriend dumped me. Wayne came home one afternoon from the part-time security guard job he'd taken to supplement what he earned as a freelance journalist, walked into the small bedroom we shared in my parents' house, where I was working on an article, and, instead of kissing me hello like he always did, sat stiffly at the end of the bed, as far away from me as possible. He didn't look at me. I knew in that minute what was going to happen, though I couldn't believe it.
"Jill," he said, sighing a little, the way he did when I'd frustrated him. "This isn't working."
That was seven months ago. But when I think about that day my stomach still flutters and flip-flops, an approximation of the butterflies I used to feel seeing him, only far less pleasant. I get cold, a little shaky. The moment Wayne ended our relationship was one of the most painful of my life, made only worse because it came at the tail end of a run of years filled with such moments.
Almost three years ago, my brother overdosed on heroin at age 43. Just a few days earlier he had graduated from the University of Colorado with a philosophy degree. Until he died I'd never lost a member of my immediate family; I now understand the adage that you never really get over the death of someone you loved deeply, the way I loved my brother. You just learn to live with the pain. You endure it as best you can, hoping it becomes a little less sharp over time.
Even now I'm not really sure I understand that Gunnar's gone. I feel him with me almost all the time. I guess I need to, because his death seemed to hasten my parents' decline and there's no one left to help care for them but me. It's lonely. I spend every day feeling like I'm failing them, wondering how we're going to get through tomorrow, the day after, with no resources to pay for home health-care or a place in assisted living. My mom, who is 79, has emphysema and a spine that is slowly disintegrating—conditions that keep her almost entirely bedridden. My 84-year-old dad fell and broke the C-1 and C-2 vertebrae in his neck two days after Christmas the year before last, which should have killed him but didn't.
"I remember thinking during the worst of it, when my dad was in ICU, that at least I had Wayne."
Wayne and I had moved up north from Tennessee and into my parent's home in central Pennsylvania by that point, so I was able to devote myself to tending to my father during the three months he needed it. I remember thinking during the worst of it — when my dad was in ICU and I couldn't fall asleep at night, terrified that I'd be awakened by a caller telling me he had died — that at least I had Wayne. My life was coming apart, unspooling with great speed, like kite string on a gusty day. But at least seeing me through it was the great love of my life, the man who called me the great love of his.
And then he left. Packed up a moving truck and moved back down south. All with barely a word of explanation, only a question: "Didn't you see this coming?"
The thing is I didn't. During the five years of our painfully passionate, on-again, off-again relationship Wayne had always kept the deeper parts of himself from me, hidden like treasure, like bits of gold and glinting emeralds I could only dream of uncovering. When he retreated further it felt a little like it was more of the same. Mostly, though, I simply believed that we loved each other so much we would make it through the hard times. I told myself it didn't matter that the hard times were so much more common than the easy, that the happy times were so much more rare than the unhappy. It didn't matter because we loved each other.
He didn't leave me a farewell note. He didn't even leave me a forwarding address.
And then, six weeks later, I turned 50 years old. It occurred to me that it was entirely possible that my best days were long gone.
I knew that I was in a dangerous place, where the thought of giving up was seductive, even soothing, the equivalent of slipping into a hot bubble bath after a long day. I needed to do something to shake up my life, to energize it. I needed a dream to pursue — something so big and concrete and immediate that it would distract me from the way my heart had been splintered into shards so sharp and unrecognizable that sometimes it hurt to draw breath. I decided I was going to scale two of the world's Seven Summits, as the tallest peaks on each continent are collectively called.
"I needed a dream to pursue — something so big it would distract me from the way my heart had been splintered into shards."
I'm not a climber. I've never summited a big mountain. But I've long had a vague obsession with the pursuit, which seems to me about the grandest possible. There is a mad, desperate beauty to the act of dragging your body up an unforgiving and ridiculously steep incline of rock and ice, miles into the frozen, almost oxygen-less air, for the sole purpose of stroking the sky. If I can do it, do it twice in a single year, I'll prove to myself that not only did my life not end the day Wayne left, it actually began. Maybe I'll even stop being so afraid so much of the time.
My intent is to climb Tanzania's Kilimanjaro in late July, when I turn 51. Five months or so after that, I'll summit Aconcagua in Argentina. It's not quite all as crazy as it sounds. Kilimanjaro is 19,341feet high. Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside of Asia, is 22,834 feet above sea level. But they aren't technical climbs. I don't have to be an expert mountaineer. They more akin to spectacularly difficult hikes and I'm a hiker. I've hired a trainer who's climbed Kili to help get me into shape and I've been challenging myself in other ways: whitewater rafting, trekking the Appalachian Trail — doing things to test my nerve, my body. This spring I plan to ascend a few 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado with some of my brother's friends. I hope to scatter some of his ashes with them over the land he loved so much.
I'll be documenting my progress – physically, emotionally, spiritually even – twice a month, here on theWoman's Daywebsite, as well as on my own blog. I hope you'll join my journey. I'm an average woman who's been knocked around a bit by life, just like everybody else. But I'm trying to do something extraordinary, and succeed or fail, I'm pretty sure I'll be learning some lessons worth sharing along the way.
Video: How To Deal With Midlife Crisis | Rebuilding The Relationship When He's Going Through It
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