Men of a Certain Age
Volume I (of 3)
If you’re male and between the ages of 40 and 55, you are going through changes. You are in a phase of life called manopause. Yes, this is a thing. While not analogous, really, to what women go through in menopause, it is not without it’s true and genuine struggles.
Don’t go whining about it to your female friends. You’re not likely to get much sympathy. Women experiencing menopause go through hormonal changes that have emotional, psychological, and physical effects. This is a natural process and has even been called a “Second Spring” because it is the transition into a new phase of life untethered from the menstrual and reproductive cycles, which has defined women’s lives since puberty.
Another more widely recognized name for this phenomenon in men is Midlife Crisis. Finally, an explanation for why dad got a red Porsche and a girlfriend young enough to be your sister. This is real, people, and no laughing matter. Men really do go through profound changes in the middle years. Aside from cheap jokes and expensive therapists, there are not a lot of resources out there to help the common guy struggle through it.
Let’s look at what is going on physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually. Then we can examine ways to deal with the impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. We can also consider the changes we need to make to emerge from this transformation as better, more complete people.
Just as there are seasons in a year, there are archetypal stages of life. Birth and youth correspond to the sprouting of seeds in the spring – the tenuous grasp of new, green life taking root in fertile soil.
The summer corresponds to the flowering of youth, the growth of strong and vigorous young men and women, who mature and bear fruit in their time. It is a bountiful time full of joy and plenty and great productivity when your power is at its peak and your family is growing.
Then comes the harvest. The kids leave the nest and start their own families, and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is also a time when the leaves fall from the trees and the grasses of youth wither.
This is, generally, the time of manopause, although it is different for each individual based on his circumstances. Winter follows, a time of turning inward and of introspection. It is the time when we prepare to die and return to the source.
When we hit our middle years, we are confronted with the reality that the juiciness of youth has started to fade. We may not want to face or admit to the loss of our youthful prowess, but we don’t really have a choice.
Actually, we do have some choices: botox, viagra, plastic surgery, hair transplants, stomach stapling, crazy diets, and fitness regimes. These are really just ways to delay the inevitable. There’s something a little grotesque in the pursuit of some of these tactics, isn’t there? Haven’t we all seen the aging star who went one nose job too far? Or the man down the road trying to comb too little hair over too big a bald spot?
Diet changes along with mental and physical fitness practices are the best ways to adapt to the many changes men face at this time of life. With the proliferation of crazy ways people try to monetize health, though, it is hard to know who to trust and what types of changes make sense for you in your individual circumstance.
How can we know what we need to do unless we know what we’re facing?
The physical changes
Here are some interesting facts about testosterone levels and what they mean for men in their 40s and 50s. “Male pattern baldness has been linked to high levels of testosterone. The pharmacological treatments out there to counter the problem of male pattern baldness can lead to adverse side effects.”
The effects mentioned are indeed adverse. Since male pattern baldness can be tied to higher levels of testosterone in the body (here’s to all you virile baldies out there!), it’s not surprising that the drugs which counteract the loss of hair are also ones that reduce testosterone levels. This can lead to a host of unwanted side effects such as “swelling in the hands or feet, swelling or tenderness in the breasts, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, depression, confusion, cold sweats, and sexual dysfunction.”
This can lead to a host of unwanted side effects, such as “swelling in the hands or feet, swelling or tenderness in the breasts, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, depression, confusion, cold sweats, and sexual dysfunction.”
Hooboy, I’d rather be bald.
Loss of hair, though, is only one of the outer and more visible signs of Manopause. Men experience changes in their sexuality also, which, as we all know, is an important part of life. Much humor (and horror) can be found in the tales of middle-aged men and women trying to figure out how much is enough. All the physical, mental, and emotional changes intersect within our sexuality: lower testosterone, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido in ourselves or in our partners. These are real (and embarrassing) challenges that we need to muddle through.
Some of the other joys of Manopause
Think of some of the ignominious insults life assaults on our already fragile egos. While women get a second spring, we get a second puberty. Hair sprouts out of our noses and our ears in unsightly tufts. Our bodies no longer rebound the way they used to. Some men experience the onset of moobs – man boobs. We don’t lose the competitive instinct, only the ability to perform at our accustomed level. Nothing is more perilous to life and limb than a bunch of middle-aged men trying to get a ball.
Our metabolism changes. You don’t need as much protein or calories as you used to when you were 25 and building muscle and could metabolize that pulled-pork sandwich with fries and three pints of IPA. Yet the pulled pork still tastes just as good, and now, with the extra pounds, the IPA doesn’t have the same effect as it did back then.
Our bellies swell and our pecs sag. Intellect and acuity of mind slowly fade. You can still remember what years Jordan won the league MVP, but you can’t find your damn keys.
I think the hardest thing to accept about this life transition is that much of what we base our identities on as men have to do with our strength, our virility, our good looks, or our prowess. These all begin to fade as our bodies age. For men whose identities are defined by these traits – the same men who found it easy to attract mates when younger – this change can be particularly jarring.
What can be done about it? Stay tuned for “The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Manopause”.