Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The male mid-life crisis at midnight

My odyssey round the studios of the BBC continued yesterday when I was the guest on Richard Bacon’s great little late night show on Radio 5 Live. The subject was mid-life crisis.

Of course, the desire to hang around television centre at midnight getting excited about the prospect of seeing the guests on Later might be a sign of a mid-life crisis in itself but we’ll let that pass. The advantage of a programme going out live is that no editor will cut you for not saying the right thing as happened with the vasectomy programme I posted about yesterday. The disadvantage is that you come out thinking of all the things you should have said but didn't.

I was debating with a comedy writer from New York who thought that mid-life crisis didn’t exist. I said that the mountains of very similar emails from women to malehealth proved that it did. He argued that it was just an excuse for a lot of men to behave badly. Now I can’t disagree with that, but just as swine flu is an excuse for a lot of people to skive off work for a week doesn’t mean that many other people don’t have it and that, for a minority, it may be very serious.

Clearly there is something going on at the mid point in many men’s lives. (The French date it a bit more precisely than we do by calling it la crise de quarantaine – the crisis of the 40s.) Even if a lot of these guys are just swinging the lead or refusing to face up to responsibility, it’s still interesting to ask why. But, because of the argument about whether it existed or not, we never really got onto. My take on it is that, handled properly (ie. not denied), a mid-life crisis could be one of the best things that has ever happened to you because you’ll come out of it knowing yourself better.

I don’t believe you can make yourself happy – although you can make a major mid life mess if you don't understand this point – but you can be happy. And that involves being content and comfortable with who you really are – not who you or someone else would like you to be. In some men it takes a crisis - doing something stupid - to realise this. But I never quite managed to say this during the programme.

I must admit I still find going on the radio exciting and get really nervous beforehand even though I’ve done it a fair few times now. You get caught up in the roll of the show and don’t always manage to get your point over. So was it worth traipsing up to Shepherd’s Bush at the witching hour? You bet. The sight of Jeremy Paxman running out of the Newsnight studio closely followed by a fat man with a clipboard and the Archbishop of Canterbury is not something you see everyday. The perfect image for radio, it was funny to witness but probably even funnier in your mind’s eye. Next stop: Radio 4's Case Notes and online drugs.

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