Simon Kelner: I'm feeling fair to middling about my middle years

Thursday 01 March 2012 11:00

I have the great good fortune of being able to walk to work through one of London's most beautiful parks. And at this time of the year, when the stirrings of spring are visible and tangible, it is a commute that can lift one's spirits, even if you're irritated that your iPhone has run out of battery again and you've just been ripped off by your builder/dentist/dry cleaner and your bank has mysteriously put a stop on your credit card and you can't get through to a human being to explain.

No matter. The daffodils are emboldened enough to reveal themselves, the snowdrops and the crocuses are putting on a show and, yesterday, I watched mesmerised as a soldier put a sheepdog, possibly a regimental mascot, through its paces. I arrived at work with... well, not exactly a song in my heart, but at least the faintest trace of a ditty. I was therefore in a good mood to receive the news, communicated by this headline in a rival publication: "Why middle-aged men are most miserable."

This was a report of the findings from the ONS survey into national well-being which concluded that men between the ages of 45 and 49 are the least satisfied with their lives.

Now, I fall slightly outside this narrow age band (I'm afraid you'll have to guess on which side), but immediately my seasonally adjusted delight was dissipated.

I have long believed the idea of mid-life crisis for men – anyone who knows me will understand that I am not qualified to talk about women – to be anything but a myth. Our best years are behind us, but we can't allow ourselves to acknowledge that. We're too young to retire and too old to get the good jobs. (Not that long ago, it would be highly unlikely that a new Prime Minister of Britain would be under 50; these days, it is impossible to believe someone could be PM for the first time over the age of 50.)

We feel saddled with the weight of financial responsibilities but have job insecurity. We never had the benefit of a gap year and have that unsettling feeling that we've not experienced enough of the world. We have to reconcile the fact that professional sport is beyond us (although I haven't quite given up on the European golf tour). We can't drink like we used to. We don't carouse like we once did. Women don't find us attractive any more (although I accept that perhaps they never did). We don't sleep as well and we can't eat curries after dark for digestive reasons.

Not only all that, but, according to Cancer Research figures, cancer incidence among the middle-aged – of both sexes – have jumped by 20 per cent over the past decade.

It is small wonder, also, that suicide rates among middle-aged men continue to rise, in contrast to other age groups.

But there is solace in the ONS findings. The happiest demographic group is men between 65 and 69. We only have to get through middle-aged angst to reach a time when we don't have to worry about never playing for Manchester City or dating Kate Bosworth or proving that you can do your job just as well as someone half your age or railing against your declining powers.

You're an old geezer: just enjoy it.

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