Walking past Mullumbimby library recently I paused at the trolley they always have outside the front door with books and magazines for sale. It’s not often I find anything of interest… there seems to be an insatiable appetite for fantasy and science fiction today and I haven’t yet managed to cultivate an interest in that genre. This day, though, there was a gem worth buying, Peter O’Connor’s (1981) Understanding Mid-life Crisis published by Pan Macmillan.
O’Connor wrote a newspaper article where he talked about the way men can experience the years between 35 and 45, and he described this as a period ‘when feelings of frustration and personal inadequacy may surface and marital strains may be felt’. Although about men he suggests that the same could be felt by women, especially those who are/have been working. His article generated many letters from men feeling they had experienced the same issues he described and offering to take part in his research as interviewees. There are many interesting facts in the book but one I want to share today is where he talks about the four fantasies most commonly mentioned by his interviewees. I thought these worth passing on.
First, the farmer fantasy, the most prevalent one, O’Connor describes as ‘To own, run and live on a farm or farmlet, to belong to the land, to know the pace of nature and the rhythm of animals’ (1991;59). Secondly, the nurseryman fantasy, ‘more to do with nurturing and growth’ (1991;60). The helper fantasy frequently took the form of doing social work or similar, with the desire to give back’ but the irony being ‘that often these men have sacrificed the well-being of their own families in the pursuit of their materialistic goals. In such cases the fantasy has much to do with attempting reparation and meeting needs for warm, caring relationships as it has to do with a desire to help others (1991, 61).
The writer fantasy or being some form of creative person, was next. Those whose ‘lives were lived predominantly on the intellectual plane’ tended to predominate in his group. Here the fantasy was of writing ‘the great work” which mainly meant a novel. O’Connor says this fantasy ‘has to do with an inner demand, arising around the mid-life period, to give some time and space to the neglected sides of one’s psyche’ with this fantasy expressing ‘he inner drive to be creative and to experience an alternative mode to the rational, empirical, logical mode’ (1991; 62). O’Connor argues that one should not deny these urges as ‘the desire represents an inner prompting, a reminder of a needed growth, an inner direction for partly resolving, in a creative way, the mid-life crisis (1991;62). Men, he argues, should not deny these urges saying “I’m too old for that now” for ‘To deny such possibilities is..to sentence oneself to death and to allow oneself to be captured like an insect in a web of inertia’ (1991;62).