My husband has grown a beard. I've known him for 30 years and he has not once, not ever, tried to grow any type of facial hair at all.
Our 20-year-old daughter became concerned when she saw it. She said that surely he would shave soon; it is so unlike him to grow a beard.
And then she asked me if this could be his midlife crisis.
"Why, yes," I told her, trying to contain my excitement, "actually, I think it is."
"Well," she said, "if this is the extent of it, then that is good news."
I know that she said this with great relief, even though she said it by text, because she witnessed my own midlife adjustment. She was often in the room as the hormones shifted, the tears spilled and the mood changed.
I agreed with my daughter that her Dad's beard was benign midlife angst. But I was also secretly thrilled. For years, I had been hoping that he would exhibit some mild hysteria so that I didn't look so bad.
My husband is a rock. He is calm and patient and kind and level-headed. And although I love and appreciate these qualities, they made him seem like a saint as he sailed through midlife while I turned into Medusa.
He and I have been together for the majority of our adult lives.
We carved out our careers and moved into full adulthood together in our twenties.
We created a family and built a home together in our thirties.
We entered our forties together, and after a few years, I fell apart. But he did not and it didn't seem fair. I thought we were in this together.
I began to toss and turn at night and wake up in sweat while he peacefully snored beside me.
I began to face the reality that I had to let go of my babies because somehow, they grew up. It was not easy letting go and I struggled. And since my husband was just as involved in raising our children as I was, I assumed that he was struggling too.
"Aren't you sad that the kids aren't little anymore?" I would ask.
"Not all all," he would say. "Those were great times but now they are older and these are good times too."
I was sure he was in denial, so I found old photos of the kids when they were small and adorable and held them up close to his face.
"Look," I'd plead, "doesn't it just kill you that those days are gone?" But he would only smile and say, "Nah, those were fun days but now we've just moved on to different days. You know, circle of life and all that stuff." He was taking it all in stride and it was maddening.
I began to count the number of grey hairs on my head and I noticed that my husband didn't have any. Not one. As I increased the number of highlights in my hair, he combed through the same thick, dark hair he's had since he was 21.
I didn't like this solo trip. But things are looking up now that we are in our fifties.
My husband has grown a beard. A crazy, woolly, middle-aged, grey beard.
Thank you, honey. I'm so glad we are in this together.
Research shows the midlife crisis is largely fiction. People in their 20s and 30s are more likely to experience the kind of "crisis" associated with middle age. Only an estimated 10% of middle-aged people have the classic midlife crisis.
Researchers have found no evidence of the so-called empty nest syndrome. Many parents relish and enjoy the transition, taking pride in the fact that all their child-rearing efforts have paid off, and their offspring are on the road to accomplishing their goals.
Men don't abandon their middle-aged partners for younger trophy wives as the stereotype suggests. Most marriages break up in the first eight years. The recent rise in divorce among the middle-aged is because second unions are breaking up (usually within the first eight years of marriage).
Hot flashes aside, nearly 62% of women in one survey said they felt "only relief" when their periods stopped, while fewer than 2% said they felt "only regret."
Despite the latest hype about testosterone supplements, low sex drive, depression and sagging energy levels were more likely to be caused by stress, poor eating habits and laziness in midlife than lower hormone levels. Meanwhile, many researchers think that warnings about female sexual dysfunction in middle age are highly exaggerated. What may account for women's flagging sexual life is that they are less likely to have a regular partner than men.
It turns out age really is about attitude: Research has found that believing that you can improve your health in middle age actually improves it. A sense of control in midlife can dramatically reduce disability and preserve one's health and independence later in life.
The truth is just the opposite: Many people view midlife as their happiest period. Several surveys have found that while happiness dips in the 40s, people start to feel more content with life after the age of 50.
Follow Amy Ruhlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AmyRuhlin