How can you tell the difference between a midlife crisis and shaking the dust from your feet?

by The Duchess, of Duchess Omnium

I guess my bare details look like a classic case of the former. Two years ago I put my house in rural Oxfordshire, my home for 23 years, on the market. Returning from a consolatory weekend in Paris (oh poor, poor pitiful me), I wept when I saw the For Sale sign that first time.

The next day I took it into my head to buy a boat. That way, I reasoned, I would have somewhere to live once the house sold while I made up my mind about returning to the US, something I had been considering for awhile. It would also be somewhere to come back to if I left the UK. I couldn’t afford to keep a flat, but I thought I could afford a canal boat.

I told my two sons and they both said, But you don’t know anything about boats. I told my friends and they said the same thing. I told my elder daughter and she said, That’s cool. Can I have it when you die? I told my younger daughter and she said, And exactly how long do you intend to be homeless, Mother?

I wasn’t homeless, though, because the house didn’t sell – or rather sold and then the sale fell through when the credit crunch hit last autumn. Nevertheless, it was becoming clear to me that I couldn’t carry on living the way I was. The kids were mostly grown up and gone and my youngest increasingly preferred her father’s house in town, where all her friends were once she started high school.

I had a job, but it wasn’t a career. Most of the people at my level were half my age. I had brought up children and worked at the same time doing admin to support my husband’s business – a good choice to maximize family income and keep flexible (this boss was going to understand if I needed the day off to look after a sick child because the sick child was his), but it was not a good personal choice, it turned out, when the marriage failed.

Though even the wildly optimistic would agree I have had more than half my days on earth – maybe a lot more than half – I am hanging on to the term “midlife”, because it is so redolent of possibility. The flip side of accepting your own mortality is realising you can choose to make good use of the time left. Midlife implies life to come; it means you still have the chance to make changes, achieve something, love somebody, have fun. (Don’t underestimate fun.)

I also have the wonderful example of my mother. She’s 76. Two years ago she married a guy she met on an internet dating site. They’d known each other six weeks and decided to take a trip to his native Alaska, and while they were there they thought they might just as well get hitched. I asked her, tentatively, did she not think it was a bit sudden and she answered, We’re both 74, what are we waiting for?

In the spring I stopped waiting for my house to sell, waiting for a job I had been chasing for a year to come up, for my daughter to finish high school, for my son to finish college, for my inappropriate boyfriend to make up his mind, for my ship to come in and for pigs to fly. I quit my job and left home.

My mother is in Alaska all summer fixing up the cabin she and her internet husband bought (these two guys don’t mess around), so I get a free place to live. I get to eat up all their frozen food. I also get time to garden, to walk, to think about what I do next, and to write.

I’m not totally nuts, though. I bought a round trip ticket.

  • Karen


    What an amazing post!! I feel like I’ve virtually met a kindred spirit. Love what you wrote about “midlife”. I’ve hung my proverbial hat on exactly the premise that for many of us, midlife is only halftime and thus filled with endless possibilities. It’s the gateway to the better half of life instead of the path to old age. Or so I say — all the time over at Midlife’s A Trip. As a veteran of chucking it all (this phrase has special meaning to me because I married 2, yes 2 men named Charles!!! ) to take the journey towards happier, I’m always glad to hear of other brave souls who decide to create themselves in midlife. Go girl!! Karen

  • Verite

    “She’s 76. Two years ago she married a guy she met on an internet dating site. They’d known each other six weeks and decided to take a trip to his native Alaska, and while they were there they thought they might just as well get hitched. I asked her, tentatively, did she not think it was a bit sudden and she answered, We’re both 74, what are we waiting for?”

    Amazing! I’m not sure if I find it hopeful or whether it scares the dickens out of me.

    Enjoyed your post. It makes me realize that there are others out working on their balance the same way I am.

  • Duchess

    Allison, that kind of change is exactly what I was hoping for. I have the luxury of being able to take it as a five month “break”. But everyday it seems clearer to me that I really don’t want to go back to giving the majority of making waking hours to some job — following someone else’s rules to work towards someone else’s values. It is selfish in the sense that now I want to do stuff for myself. Unfortunately that includes a lot of unprofitable activities like weeding my own garden (and that’s not a metaphor). Do you hope to make a living with WomenBloom?

    I know a few people make money out of blogs, but it’s a very tiny fraction of what’s out there…

  • byjane

    oh wow! Allison, I’m where you were last summer (sans the job). Every morning I lie in bed thinking, “how can I do this?” It helps to know you’ve done it already.

  • Allison Allen


    YOU GO GIRL! I quit my job last summer, rented out my house, got rid of as much stuff as I could, put the rest in storage and began sharing a house with someone who is now a dear friend. All that so I could pursue creating WomenBloom.

    It’s a little, no MORE than a little scary for me, with the economy the way it is and just the world in general, but I think doing that kind of thing opens up so much space for new things: new friends, new activities, and meeting all the women in forums like this one who are forging off in new directions. It’s inspiring and something great is come out of it!

  • Denise

    Oh, Dutchess you go for it! I love your attitude! and your mom sounds cool too!

  • Duchess

    Hi, Janie, you are right. Sometimes when I get really whiney I think I need a big slap because I have so much. Counting your blessings is old fashioned, but not such a bad idea.

    Besides hanging in, I think we need to hang on to our sense of humour (and judging by your blog, you have).

  • byjane

    Hey, Janie…you hang in there too. I’m so glad you found us!

  • Janie

    Your post made me laugh, cry and also be thankful for the husband I’m so mad at right now, we haven’t spoken all day. Sharing helps us all to realize we should be thankful for what we have…..and haven’t. I’m in real estate and the crunch is killing me AND I divide my time between two states because of a husband who has to be in one and a chronically ill daughter with two small children who lives in the other………and I feel homeless too. I guess there are worse things and this is a great place to connect with others just like us. Hang in there, girl……and be thankful you are loved.

  • Duchess

    Rhea, Email Jane of byJane at and she can add you to links on the right.

    And Happy Birthday!

  • Duchess

    Well, I am being ridiculously cagey about that in case I get the urge to say anything improper in my blog… It’s ridiculous because anyone who didn’t live there wouldn’t know or care, and anyone who does would find the fact that I didn’t actually name my location laughable, since it would be totally obvious to them.

    I am on a small island in Washington State. Been here since mid April and I am due to fly back late September. After that, dunno.

  • Becky Lane

    So where is it that you are hanging out this summer, while Mom is in Alaska?

  • Duchess

    Might be, but I’m not in Alaska. That’s my mother. And she’s got a fella.

  • rhea

    I’ve been having midlife crises all my life. Now that I turned 50 last week, I supposed they are official midlife crises. Hey, midlifers, let’s trade links!

  • msmeta

    You are a brave soul. I expect that the economy is keeping a lot of people from pursuing their dreams or changing their lives. Here’s hoping your house sells, your family is understanding and that this becomes a rich adventure for you.

    I’m also curious: I have several midlife friends who are post-divorce and trying to get back into the dating scene, and I’ve been told that the male-to-female ratio in Alaska actually favors women. Is that worth a post?

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