there’s only you and me, and we just disagree


Pretty much from the time you’re born, you can be categorized as being in some crisis state or another. In chronological order:

• The Screaming Newborn Thing that Ends at 6 Weeks

• The “Terrible Twos”

• or if you’re a late bloomer, the “Terrible Threes”

• the 7-10 year-old Obsessive Years


• Post-Puberty Metabolism Change

• the “Saturn Returns” thing around 28-30


• Existential “What Does It All Mean” Quandary

…and so on. Admittedly, it’s an awful large brush to paint with, but I’ll say this: there should be a category between Saturn Returns and the Midlife Crisis for the craziness my particular cohort is going through right now. For the sake of argument, I’ll go ahead and call it the Early 40s Reboot (E4R).


Extrémité thermorétractable

Yes, I know back in the Reader’s Digest era, they would’ve called it the Midlife Crisis, but we’re living a lot longer now, and besides, I always think of the Midlife Crisis having to do with valium and Porsches.

I would not have considered the E4R, were it not for overwhelming evidence that something is going on in my general sphere of friends. Unless it’s a remarkable coincidence (which is totally possible), many people I know are finding themselves in VASTLY different positions than they were three years ago.

Let’s take a look at the subset of folks who have visited us at the farm since June. I have changed everyone’s names for the obvious reasons, so don’t jump to any conclusions.

– 3 years ago, James G. was in an unhappy marriage fraught with guilt and turbulence. He remarried, had a baby, and visited with his wife who is pregnant again(!), which is awesome, but has thrown open the doors to untold amounts of anxiety.

– Sally H. and Tom A. came here together in July, which is amazing, since they were both married to other people nine months ago. They are ravenously in love, but have to tiptoe carefully.

– Patricia L. was an investment banker making high 6-figures, in a relationship with another woman. Now the woman is gone, she had a baby alone by choice, left her job, and she broke down at our kitchen table sensing that she was reaching the end of her money and her clarity.

– Clay K. was in a stable marriage a year ago; since then, he was in a car accident, and he is separating from his wife. It is all going amicably, but it has thrown open a scary world full of new possibilities.

– Violet M.’s partner died, in dire fashion, a few months ago. She visited with her daughter, and is considering leaving her community, and the state where she has spent all of her life.

– A couple of years ago at the age of 40, Tara Y. discovered a new art form that she has become world-renown for. She has broken things off with her former mentor, and has begun her own teaching course, traveling around the entire country.

– Brad B. thought he was going to marry the girl he was dating in March. When he was here in July, they had broken up, and he was devastated. He is at the top of his career game in a high-stakes business, and he still feels like a failure somehow.

OKAY. As I was writing this, I realized I could put at least four more people on here, but some of the circumstances are too specific, and I don’t want to venture into the salacious or the macabre. But there’s definitely something afoot.

Is it the general depressive zeitgeist of the USA right now? Is the polarized, agitated nature of things not giving people enough normalcy to draw upon? Or is it the economy, which seems like it will never get better, dragging people into toxic mindsets?

Or is it truly a new phase, the E4R, where people are coming off the highs of their first career phase, and having revelations about themselves personally, insights they can’t hide from themselves anymore? Is the E4R where you realize who you really are all along – and now, so much of your past world doesn’t fit anymore?

Remember, we all thought we were doing it right, at any given time. We all swore we wouldn’t be like our parents, that we would wait for the right relationship and the right job, and we’d always have our irony and sarcasm to protect us. Everyone’s wedding day was full of hope; nobody was faking, and everyone knew the pitfalls.

And yet, the smartest of our hundred-wide circle, the ones who did everything right and had it all together, ended up where they swore they wouldn’t. Even those of us who are still deliriously in love after all this time – yes, we can say the things you say – “it’s all about communication” or “you have to laugh with one another” or “it’s the little things”. But as much as we find ourselves unwavering in our dedication to one another, we watch our loved ones in crisis, and we’re forced to admit that we have almost no idea how any of it works.

13 thoughts on “there’s only you and me, and we just disagree

  1. litlnemo

    I thought everything was wonderful. I was happy and in love, after almost 20 years. And then it all fell apart.
    I don’t like calling it a “reboot,” though. That’s way too lighthearted for how I feel about it right now. It’s been devastating, and I go through large parts of every day terrified of what comes next.
    I don’t know. I guess it would help if the economy was better, because a lot of my fear comes from the worry that I can’t support myself. If I could at least be certain of that, I could have that knowledge as an anchor of sorts.

  2. Amy S.

    Yeah, I don’t know, but something is definitely afoot. I’m going to be 37 next month, so I’ve been calling my particular… what? breakdown? is what I’m having a breakdown?… anyway, I’ve been calling it my 3/8-life crisis. Like litlnemo, I don’t know if I’d call it a reboot because I’m not sure I ever booted. I feel like I’ve been flailing at the switch, trying to get my life started.

  3. Megan

    Yes, I’m going through an E4R, although I’m OK with calling it a Midlife Crisis. I was actually talking about this with my therapist last week. It has to do with realizing that I have a limited number of years left to do certain things, like enjoy a healthy sex life before my body starts drying up and falling apart for real. I don’t feel like I can keep putting off all those things I’ve always wanted to do, or have.
    Yes, I thought I did everything right and was going to avoid my parents mistakes. I’ve built a good career and I waited for who I thought was the right person. But it’s not working and I reached the point a year ago when the pain exceeded the fear of change. He’s seeing a therapist about the ED, and it’s helping, but it may be too late for us. It’s painful and lonely and I’m grateful for my own kind and brilliant therapist. He makes me feel like it all may turn out OK, even if I end up living in a van down by the river with my cats.

  4. Bingo

    You’re right on the money with this one Ian.
    I’ll be 38 soon and being hit over the head that Large Changes ought to be made…and the answers I’m coming up with don’t mesh with the reality I’ve created. Like what litlnemo said, the poor economy and general uncertainty of the world tips the scale to the “Devil you Know” side, out of fear and duty to your established life. I feel the urge to make sweeping change yet weigh consequences and tread water while I figure out what direction to swim full-on.
    In the mean time, my energy is waning and drowning where I am becomes a another considered option.
    Media images of “live your best life” and “do what you love and the rest will follow” conflict with “pay your mortgage & student loan” and “provide for your family & save for your 401(k)”. Emotional happiness is traded for social and financial security. If only the mind and heart could agree!

  5. kevin from NC

    Ian and Tessa,
    You guys are great to open your home and lives to those going through such bad times.
    In the last three years, I lost my career, wife and home and everything I had ever worked for as an adult (I am 55). However I was able to keep my friends and family and they have all provided so much support and perspective to help me get through these changes. I could have never imagined I would be where I am today.
    At the end of the day all any of us have is our friends and family and sense of self worth. Keep your friends and family close. Support people that are going through bad times. The impressions that are made are imprinted for a lifetime.
    Have a great weekend everyone! k

  6. JB

    An extreme: Yesterday I found out the husband of a dear friend of mine killed himself by driving his car off the Angeles Crest Highway. A seemingly perfect life – successful career, two small boys, great wife (really, one of the best), beautiful house. He left a note, but his reasons will probably remain hidden to the rest of us forever. He was 41.

  7. CM

    A very provocative entry. I wonder if it just takes longer these days for people to get enough footing to realize what they want, seeing as we’re not pushed to get married at 21 anymore.
    To the woman who had the baby on her own and is nearing the end of her money – she may know this already, but you are so lucky, considering the people I know who are ending their reproductive years and may (may, not definitely) always regret not having had kids. It’s hard to be facing pennilessness, but it is better than facing a potential lifelong regret if being a mom is what you really wanted. I’ve found that there are ways to cut costs with babies if you look around and use all the local resources. Some people have way too much money and give away their barely used & sometimes completely unused baby clothes/items for free. (My community is full of those people.) Also, if you are using day care, sometimes they will drop their rate if you are having hard times, as they’re losing clients in this economy; it never hurts to ask. Email me if I can somehow help, esp if you are in the NYC area.
    On another note: It seems like a lot of people at the Jartacular are suddenly single and scared. Sounds like fertile grounds for them to meet each other….

  8. Megan

    Yes, except I can’t relate to the Boomers in that movie. We need a Gen-X version dripping with sarcasm and irony that explores what happens when sarcasm and irony fail to help us negotiate life’s emotional pitfalls.

  9. Annie

    I’m 42, and yes, still single (I AM TARA Y!) and, no, I’m not particularly wishing I weren’t. I have no children of my own. I am happier than ever. And yes, I am not who I thought I would be–which would have been a lower-profile person, more blended into a family unit, doing more serious and more writerly and a good bit less public things with my life.
    All this change has been, for me, unquestionably for the better. But there was a big, sad turning point that came around in my late 30s, when I realized that by pursuing what I love most, what truly nourishes me (discovering and teaching a new dance form), I was effectively giving up the opportunity to bear biological children.
    Since my movement journey involves a great deal of deliberate reaching down into the mucky recesses of my unconscious, I have had many chances to review what this decision-by-default means, at least for me. At the risk of sounding (fill in the blank), what I come back to over and over again is hat the source of my suffering tends to erupt out of the gap that exists between who I am and some idea I have had about who I am.
    These ideas are pernicious beasts, but my experience has been–again, through the unique prism of dance, which allows me to simply *move with* what I find–that being honest with myself about everything…everything…I find in that unconscious horror-stew, allows me to remain human and compassionate towards all of us stuck, for now, in this form. Trying to remain standing in the storm of ideas. Even the right-wingers we love to hate are engaged in this uniquely human struggle. So then, the question becomes, do I really choose to believe these ideas that seem to have possessed me? Or can I take the simpler step of feeling what my need is in the moment (be it physical or psychic), acknowledging that, and understanding that no one–not even my partner of many years–is obligated to address that need? Now, or ever?
    I know this is much easier to say *outside* of partnership, but upon extensive reflection I would say that the vast majority of problems that vexe my last partnership issued directly from a very deep and unacknowledged but primary belief that he *did* owe me–and he owed me a lot.
    I have also found, of course, a lot of goop having to do with the belief/idea that I was worth less and my life of less consequence if I did not have a husband or a child to prove my significance. Understanding that all this is just ideas and goop has saved me from driving off a cliff myself.
    I thank the gods for dance and the hoop, which have allowed me to discover the present moment, and how to live within it.

  10. SWF

    I’m puzzled by this post – maybe a bit alarmed.
    My immediate response is that none of what you are describing seems to be happening in my circle of friends. But, I just turned 40 – so maybe I’m in the “before” frame of the situations that Ian described. Boy, I sure hope not.
    It’s easy to not let things work – really, really easy. It’s much harder to make situations work. It’s beyond perseverance – it’s a bucket of luck as well.
    I’m happy. Could I be happier? Maybe – but I’m not sure the sacrifices necessary would leave me “net” happier.
    Ian – I think you have a statistical anomaly happening. The farm is a sanctuary where the troubled souls in your life can come to seek solace and the “reboot.” As a result, you find those encountering the turmoil of change, rather than those whose lives are filled with stability.
    But, I’ll check back in with ya’ll in three years to see how things are then!

  11. miserableducky

    It’s like you are spying on me! My only objection is that I’m 39, and I’m still pretending that’s V E R Y D I F F E R E N T from “early 40s.”
    Recently I actually wondered if I was going completely batshit insane and briefly wondered if my family would forcibly commit me to a mental health facility. (Phew! They didn’t!)
    I expect my life is going to look pretty different in a year from now. It better. As it is now, I’m completely exhausted and often miserable.

  12. Salem

    I have never seen a spouse who so fully accepted and embraced their partners passions the way that Tessa and Ian do for each other. I think Ian would agree, that his passions came in bulk, from all over, and liked to live in their homes for a few weeks a year.
    Due to circumstances I created and those I did not, every leg of support that informed my self worth; my role as a father, charitable role in my community, and my business, we’re swept out from under me. Each morning I would wake up to the sensation of a high powered vacuum nozzle picking me up by my soul, trying to shore up the last few drops. For an annoyingly enthusiastic guy, this fucking sucked.
    So Ian, Tessa, and our Jartacular family gave me the strength that unconditional love and a connection to the extraordinary can provide. My kids smiling was my oxygen. For better or worse, a good dose of fear, a small dose of anger, and a little spark of ego, completed the recipe.
    I really like topics that let me say Thank You to Ian and Tessa.
    Thank You. Ian and Tessa

  13. litlnemo

    The thing is, I think a midlife crisis is an internal crisis, something that comes from your soul and emotions. The crisis in my life is an external crisis, coming from every bit of stability in my life being destroyed at once. But until the day that happened (and it really did happen overnight) I was happy, emotionally stable and secure, and not really feeling a crisis in any way. I think I would still be that way if my husband hadn’t decided suddenly he’d rather be with someone else.
    (This is the first time I’ve written about this with any identifiable name attached — even if it’s only the fake online name I’ve been using for 20 years. I’ve been trying to be above it all, not posting about the situation, not generating any drama, pretending that nothing happened and I am getting along OK. And I just can’t do it any more. Doing that is not protecting me. It’s breaking me apart. I probably shouldn’t be posting at all, especially here where I only occasionally post, but I have to do something.)

  14. litlnemo

    Oh, and I’m 47 now, so I guess I can’t call it an early-40s anything. Though *he* is only 39, so I guess if you split the difference…

  15. tregen

    We often are faced with reaility versus our delusions. Our parents are not infalliable, ourselves are not indestructable, life is in fact random, unsafe, unfair, and unstable, Shit happens.
    Nothing new to see here… keep moving.

  16. amy a

    Annie, your comments were spot on for me. Thank you for posting them.
    I’ll be 37 in a couple of weeks. I dramatically changed the course of my life about three years ago (moved coasts, broke up with long-term boyfriend, changed careers), and it’s been a murky, haunting journey to figure out what my next chapter will be. I have begun to mold it, and I am excited about what it’s becoming. But along with it has come the mourning of the loss of the life I thought I’d have, and the slow embracing of the fact that what makes me happy is not in the regular playbook. And that’s ok.

  17. Piglet

    My experience is, it isn’t age-specific. It’s the times we live in. I’m seeing reboots happen to people 20 years younger than me and 10 years older.
    Two separate teenagers I know are now living in the households of other people I know, having run away from home because of abuse in their families.
    One friend of mine went to prison.
    three couples in their 20s, with relationships of 4 years or more duration, none married, one couple having bought a house together, have split up.
    One same-sex couple in their 30s split up due to domestic violence.
    Two couples in their 40s, stunned everyone with their parting of the ways. One of these had been a role model to me as to how couples should behave.
    One couple in their 50s, another role model, suddenly the woman had an operation, became a man, paired up with a woman, the former husband went nuclear about the breakup, they’re on the verge of losing their farm in a lose/lose way because of former husband’s refusal to cooperate re: dividing the property.
    Single woman in her 50s, fired from a good job at the hospital for stealing drugs from the dispensary for her own use; now living in a van.
    I can’t even count the number of people I know with weird new illnesses, crippling medical debt, sudden job losses and long term unemploymment.
    We live in interesting times.

  18. Carolina Squirrel

    Having some sense of who you are and how life will look when you accept that reality seems well on the path to peacefulness. Losing and mourning what you thought you had or wanted without this sense is the crisis and where I now live. I recall an occasional feeling of elation when my family of four was in the car together. Husband driving, me in the passenger seat, two adorable little kids buckled in the back. Happy family. What I always dreamed of. What I gave up investment in my career for. Now I’m faced with knowing I can only have something that “looks” like that. It’s not really. He’s still eager to fill that role, but I realize I can’t trust him and he has never really known me.

  19. Ian

    litlnemo, you are welcome to convalesce at our residence on either coast. Folks, she is completely awesome – crazy smart, fantastic skater, and gave me the best recipe I’ve ever learned.
    That goes for any of you, actually – the one thing I learned from my own freakout was that any misery is amplified geometrically by living with it in anaerobic silence.

  20. kmeelyon

    I was also thinking as I read this post that Ian should host a singles night for all these fabulous single people who are moving into different life stages.
    I’m 44 and not moving out of any crisis. No major heartbreaks in a very long time (but then I’m single, bwa ha ha ha!). Just slow, steady contentment with my life, my work, my friends, and my creativity. Actually, the past several years have been striking to me in that I moved from someone who was always so focused on finding “the one” and being so immersed in sex and romance to just finding myself and realizing how settled and complete I feel. No, I haven’t lost my sex drive. But it’s just all not that big of a deal any longer.
    I imagine that will get shaken up again when the time is right, but for now, I’m pleased as punch most days and definitely not missing the fireworks or drama. I’m okay with not being in hot pursuit of anyone. Although it does sometimes surprise me that nobody is pursuing me. Go figure!

  21. jje

    This post was singlehandedly responsible for me turning to my husband after the kids were down and asking him on a “date night” out on our front porch last night. Side by side in rocking chairs, drinks in hand, we sat there and talked for hours about everything and nothing. We have a happy, solid relationship after 21 years of being together, but our days fly by in the hustle and bustle of life with little kids and work/volunteer obligations. Reading these bittersweet stories made me want to stop the world and let him know how much I love and appreciate him. I fell asleep just after midnight feeling pretty darn grateful to be so blessed with such a life partner.

  22. block

    James Hollis calls it the “Middle Passage” – and it’s amazing. Getting to the Second Adulthood is wrenching though. Most don’t even attempt it. But the shedding of the strait-jacket construction of First Adulthood for the loose garment of the second is worth any dislocation, Enjoy all.

  23. chip

    I am Clay K. and I’m amazed by the both the initial post and the responses.
    @litlnemo…thanks for having the courage to admit you are completely at sea and it’s not okay on here. That’s actually really helpful. I’ve been in denial about the wrenching change my separation has wrought.
    @Jamie, Kevin in NC and Salem. You guys are my inspirations as I begin down the path of separation because it sounds like you’ll all ended up in better places.
    I’ve really been trying to reflect on what I “did wrong” to bring about the end of my marriage because as I’ve said to several people “There’s no country music song to be written here”. Neither I or my wife cheated, embezzled, lied, etc.
    Instead, I thing my biggest failings were two. One, entering into the marriage out of feelings of fear and loneliness, and two, being “too nice” in the marriage. When I say too nice, I don’t mean in the cliched women want bad boys way. I mean that I was so happy to be married I wasn’t willing to own my preferences and wants and so I basically wasn’t a fully participating partner. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense when written. I’m still trying to process what I mean and how to notice and change it going forward.
    Anyway, this has been an especially helpful post and set of comments. Love to you all and maybe we can all gather at the farm next year.

  24. Carolina Squirrel

    Those who have shared, I’m wondering . . . Have antidepressants helped you find clarity in these crises?

  25. Annie

    I too wish to applaud litlnemo for having the balls…excuse me…the PUSSY it takes to say what’s really the hell going on. We Americans feel such intense pressure to be “OK!” (accompanied by a thumbs-up and a big, well-nourished smile) Leaving us feeling alone a lot of the time.
    I might be about to take a controversial position, or a position-let (not a staunch position), on anti-depressants. First I would like to say that I am not categorically against them. However, their sudden prevalence bothers me. My friend, who has just arrived from Berlin, says this: of her American friends, almost everyone has taken or is taking some kind of SSRI. Of her German/European friends, not a single one is taking them (at least, that she knows about). She also observes that being here she is struck by the “drowning” feeling that pervades this country–people feeling like they need to fight really hard to just stay on top of basic responsibilities–while in Germany, where health care and educations are givens, she viscerally feels the absence of that panic.
    I think we can all agree that forces in this country are bearing down and stripping stability from, now, people we know (as is so poignantly reflected in this entry and comment thread). My experience in Occupy awoke me more vividly to this phenomenon, and to the act that instead of coming together in community to change our collective destiny (to put it in a rather exalted way), we feel that there is something wrong with each of us, individually, and believe that there is a pathology to the sense of despair that has a firm hold on our collective psyche–a despair which, to be sure, is not a simple thing to understand and is rooted not only in our god-given (for lack of another term) human form (we are built to seek meaning) but also–deeply, I believe–rooted in how we are taught to see ourselves in this culture–purely individually responsible for our moods and thoughts. Which is never actually the case–we exist in relationship to one another, always.
    I say all this while fully believing that we DO have the faculty of choice, and that it CAN be brought to bear in our emotional and spiritual lives. I don’t see the emotional and the spiritual as walled-off, separate entities. I feel increasingly that they are intrinsically linked. I have been fortunate enough in recent years to find an edge where that choice is possible. But I didn’t find it through anti-depressants.
    I did take SSRIs once, several years ago, for about three months. And they did help to stop one self-defeating cycle of thought and feeling I was on, and restore some kind of perspective. But I did not want to remain in that particular state.
    The thing that really changed my life was finding dance. I also feel compelled to disclose that sacred plants were involved in that discovery process. But through that process, however controversial it may be, I have found what I need to survive, and perhaps even thrive. It led me *into* my unconscious, which is where the problems seem to lie. And it gave me a way to see, experience and release that which is haunting that secret place. Which is much, much more than SSRIs ever did for me. My movement practice has become the place where I wrestle with the horrors of existing in human form, which are legion. But the engagement somehow makes it all bearable, and human.
    Whew! Ok, I guess I’m really for the axe to fall…


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