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.


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