We all know what the male version looks like; it involves an expensive car, a younger mistress, and other manifestations of selfish decision-making. It also usually evokes pity for the image of a woman and her children who have been abandoned and betrayed. Yet where are the cultural examples of women going through the same confusion and causing similar turmoil? The answer may be related to the discrepancy in having no gender-equivalent term for “mistress.” (There is also no female version of emasculate, although there is certainly a parallel feeling.)
Yet many women right now are undergoing a legitimate mid-life crisis, taking manstresses, or just leaving everything familiar to work on an organic farm, teach English in a foreign land, or otherwise escape their stagnant reality in hopes of finding their true path to enlightenment or love. Even Juila Roberts left her husband and indulged on a journey of personal discovery through Italy, India and Bali to learn to eat, pray and love.
What are we searching for? Is it an attempt to capture the ease and freedom of our 20’s when we thought that we were just waiting for happily ever to start and each new adventure held promise and intrigue? Are we chasing dreams that may be hiding in exotic places? What are we running from? Is it boredom; unfulfilled expectations of ourselves, our partners, or society?
Or is it more similar to the well-documented male mid-life crisis, where the prospect that the rest of your life will consist of mundane chores, cubicles, obligations, bills, and worry drives women to run off in search of adventure and their lost youth? As women assume roles and responsibilities that used to be the purview of men, it is not surprising that our mid-life crises manifest in more stereotypically male ways.
Women confront their mortality differently (for instance, it rarely involves buying a sports car), and for some it is less about the fear of dying, but more about the fear of dying alone or with regret for unfulfilled fantasies and goals. Sometimes it is about taking the power back and focusing her energy on herself after giving too much of it away in the care of others. Sometimes it is to satiate the nagging lust that there is something better waiting for her over the horizon.
The consequences of the female mid-life crisis can be just as self-serving and destructive as the male version, or the outcome can be new opportunities, epiphanies, and ecstasies. Often it merely leads to a different set of problems and questions, but however it plays out, as traditional gender roles morph, society will need to update our paradigms and our language to accommodate for a variation on the old theme.