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My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis (image: Pixabay) My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis (image: Pixabay)

Life

My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis

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Sometimes it can feel difficult to make your voice heard, to have an impact, to feel like you’re making a difference to the people and the world around you.

You can feel lost, overwhelmed and a little powerless as the millions of people around you busily go about their daily lives, politicians bluster about things that seem important but remote, and the media constantly reminds us how bleak the outlook for everything is.

I was recently on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland, watching the movie Step Up 4 (surprisingly good), and in a small but powerful cameo, contemporary dance choreographer Mia Michaels said to one of the main characters:

‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio — take control.’

Wise words, and it is important to try and take some control of some of the key pillars of your life — it may not be possible to control everything, but even the process of beginning to take control of those things that you can will be an empowering first step.

This is what I’m telling myself anyway.

Turning 40 was a time of real change for me — I was single for the first time in many years, and I took a voluntary redundancy from a company where I’d worked for ten years. None of those were necessarily negative developments in my life, but it definitely felt as if some of the major things that used to be stable and constant were now no longer quite so certain.

I’m now approaching my 45th birthday, and if anything I’m feeling less certain about everything, but also somehow less worried about what happens next. However there’s some days when I do feel like a leaf, being blown around a dance studio.

Here’s the five step plan that I’m following to try to help me cope with those days when it’s tempting to succumb to a mid-life crisis. I’m making no assurances that it will be right for anyone else, but take from it what you will.

Step 1: Work

My career path has never been particularly defined, but right now the direction that I’m heading in is to specialise in digital publishing and marketing. I’ve taught myself about analytics, programmatic advertising, changing audience trends, emerging technologies, and the evolving distribution landscape. I’m not earning a fortune, but I’m enjoying the work. I like working in a field that is changing so rapidly that there’s not really any experts – everyone is muddling through with trial and error, and every day is a school day.

Step 2: Relationship

When I was younger I struggled a bit with what a successful gay relationship would look like — if I’m honest, I’m probably still struggling with that. It’s hard to escape that background concern about what happens as you get older — the fear of growing old alone.

I’m living with my boyfriend Liviu. I first met him in 2012, but it’s only since I’ve been back in London from the start of 2015 that things got serious.

I’m no expert on relationships, but I think that feeling a bit more self-content is making being in a relationship a bit easier. Things are going well.

I have a number of friends who are single, and to some extent I live vicariously through their dating adventures and escapades. The genius of location-based dating apps is that it seems easier than ever before to meet guys — guys that want to have sex. Inevitably there will be good dates and bad dates — some guys you really like but they never call you again; some guys that you have a few dates and a bit of fun with; and some guys that you never want to see again. The good thing about dating (apart from getting some regular sex) is that it does make you realise that there are plenty of guys out there — finding a boyfriend isn’t actually that difficult. Finding the right boyfriend though continues to be a numbers game.

Step 3: Health

I’ve really fallen off the regime in terms of my health, and it’s probably the key pillar that I need to prioritise and focus on. When I turned 40 I was probably the healthiest I’ve ever been — I spent a lot of time at the gym, I had a personal trainer, I was eating right, and looking good.

However the uncertainty around my work, and the financial fragility that seems to bring with it, means that I’ve been finding lots of excuses to avoid exercise, drink too much, and make poor food choices.

So, here we are, five years later and I’m probably the unhealthiest that I have ever been. That needs to change.

Step 4: Family

My family are a bit spread out, so contact can be a bit sporadic. I recently spent five days with my parents who live in the town of Echuca in South Eastern Australia.

My mother is concerned that none of her children live close enough to visit regularly (my younger brother is the closest — three hours away in Melbourne; my sister is in Perth — a four hour flight; and I’m in London — the other side of the world).

I tried to explain that this was actually a credit to them both as parents — that they’d given us the confidence and sense of empowerment to make our own way in the world, secure that we had the love and support of our parents.

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My mother didn’t see it like that.

‘I want you home for Sunday lunch — not half-way around the world!’ she declared.

Step 5: Community

Possibly the most intangible of the pillars of your life, ‘community’ is important in the sense that you need to feel some sense of engagement or connection with the world around you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘good morning’ to all of your neighbours, or volunteering at the local cat shelter, but it’s important to find something that’s meaningful for you — that you can commit to, invest in, and feel part of.

I went through a phase of being a bit obsessed with gay sports. It started with a tentative attempt to play water polo with London’s gay water polo team. I quickly realised that I’m not much good at water polo but I loved being part of a team, hanging out with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, feeling a real sense of camaraderie.

‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio — take control.’

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Life

Wednesday Wisdom: Heteronormativity

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Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash
Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

I find it hard to shake my perception that dating is ultimately about finding ‘the one’ — that you may have to kiss a lot of frogs in the process, but ultimately you’re hoping to find someone that you really connect with, that you have amazing sex with, that you want to move in together and do domestic things with, that you want to introduce to your family, that you want to go on vacation with, that you want to grow old with and live happily ever after.

That’s pretty much what I’ve seen in my family, that’s what I’ve seen in movies. For some gay couples that I know, that’s exactly how it works.

It’s not difficult to understand that from all of our cultural and environmental influences, we’re being conditioned to aspire to a ‘good’ relationship that roughly fits that Hollywood ideal. This is heteronormativity in action.

One of the foundations of much of queer theory, ‘heteronormative’ is a term first coined by academic Michael Warner in 1991. Heteronormativity is the belief that the binary genders of male and female are required for people to perform the natural roles in life — assuming that heterosexuality is the default and preferable sexual orientation.

I’m not making any moral judgements about anyone’s relationship. If it works for you, then that’s great. If you want to settle down with a husband and live happily ever after, then all power to you — that’s what equality is all about.

But it is helpful to occasionally challenge ourselves by asking if our thoughts or actions are being influenced in some way by the heteronormativity that we’re all exposed to every day.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine has been with his boyfriend for years. They live together, they bought a flat together, they decided to get married. They’ve always had an open relationship — that’s worked for them. The weekend before the wedding, he was in the toilets of XXL — a club in London — getting worked over by two muscle-bears.

My instinctive reaction was — “That’s not right…” It’s the heteronormativity talking. In my head, marriage is about monogamy, and that if you were continuing to enjoy an active and open sex life then maybe marriage is not for you. But clearly I’m applying made-up rules to situations that don’t fit the heternomative model.

Obviously, an open relationship isn’t incompatible with marriage. Neither is a monogamous relationship. But this is an illustration of the complexity that we’re all navigating as marriage equality offers additional options for how we define our relationships.

It’s too easy to apply a Hollywood-happily-ever filter to our view of a marriage between two guys. But gay guys are different, we’ve been told that all of our lives, and in that difference there’s power — just because we can get married doesn’t mean that our marriages have to look like anyone else’s, the only rules that need to apply are the ones that make sense to us.

It’s important that we don’t perpetuate the perception that ‘good gays get married’ or that marriage is only meaningful if it looks like something out of a mid-career Sandra Bullock movie.

It’s not easy to find someone that you want to spend time with, to make compromises for, and perhaps it would be a lot easier if there was a black and white set of rules that all relationships had to follow. But whatever your sexuality, relationships are messy and complicated things that really only ever make sense to the people that are in them.

Embrace love, forget heteronormativity.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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