11/30/2010 04:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Midlife Madness

Midlife crisis is a cliché, unless you're living through it.  And midlife divorce is also a cliché, though I don't know that we automatically think of it that way.

For my midlife crisis I quit my job, moved my family to Newport, and then ultimately separated from my wife.

The emotional and financial costs of these events are very much with me today.  Is it madness to throw everything up in the air in midlife?  From a helicopter view, sure.  But since I spend so much time on talking about divorce, instead I'm going to take a few steps backward to question the answers on marriage itself (not knowing the answers myself, mind you).  A couple of threshold questions:

  • Marriage should be forever- T or F?  True of course.  That is, if we end up on the right side of the damning divorce statistics, the successful 50%.  In other words, marriage works forever if the coin flip goes in our favor.  The case for F?  When it doesn't work, the consequences are dire.  Lives ripped apart, lawyers enriched, kids put in a world of pain and uncertainty, surgery conducted on people's lives with the butter knife of a cumbersome, outdated, antagonistic and self-interested legal system.
  • Alternative?  Isn't there a movie where at the end they have a not-getting-married ceremony?  Is it possible to have and expect, even plan for, different committed relationships for different times of your life, to admit it's not one size fits all seasons, the same way career changes can be made to accommodate life or economic changes? 

As a child of the afterglow of the 60s, I fully recognize that "free love" and all that is mostly silly and counter to human nature. It was great to be revolutionary as long as my parents were paying for the accessories.  But to every wrongheaded ideology there is sometimes a seed of truth.  And really good music.  Here's a quote from Jefferson Airplane: Life is change, how it differs from the rocks.

As a child of that 60s afterglow, I am old enough (sigh) to know that many of our most critical decisions are made under the influence, if not of drugs (weddings in Vegas anyone?), then their emotional equivalent i.e. love, and dreams about marriage.  Long after the death of the 60s I have been made aware through the wrenching, heartbreaking, nearly bankrupting experiences of my not one but two midlives (I'm sparing you the second), that our waking-dream expectations of marriage often do not bear out in the harsh light of day. 

The concept that with the donning of the rings a couple is branded as each-other's permanent exclusive property- that concept is belied by the infidelities and divorces emblazoned on the front pages of the rags lining every supermarket checkout counter.  Yet, in love we cannot imagine nor tolerate anything but forever.  To me now, love is an evolutionary imperative, a Darwinian addiction which went just a little overboard.