07/09/2012 06:34 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2012

Growing Up, Not Getting Older

Growing up, not getting older, is how I explain adult to my children, one of whom is four-and-a-half going on 14. He slams doors went sent to his bedroom, and he manipulates his mother -- my ex-wife -- and he cries to get his way. My daughter is nearly 19 months. The extent of her manipulation includes crying when she wakes up and refusing to walk on her own.
Growing up, not getting older, and my quarter-life crisis was neither sports car nor flashy makeover, but a man with whom I enjoyed -- until I didn't enjoy it -- an affair, which is hard to execute when straddling two lives.

You don't think about the things you probably should think about, when you think about having an affair. Like how many times you may have to eat dinner twice, because you want to have dinner with both people. Or where you'll hide your wedding ring. I put my wedding ring in the ashtray of my car, when the man and I were together.

You don't think about how the one lie -- I'm single and would like to date you -- is a multi-headed hydra of lies. No unlying once you've lied.

You stop sleeping, or I stopped sleeping. Out late with him, or up early with my son -- then, an only child -- or up early enough to get to the man's apartment before he went to work and before I needed to be at work.

You don't think about how difficult not introducing the person with whom you're having an affair to your friends will be, for you, and for the person with whom you're having an affair.

And the guilt, if you're prone to guilt, or the not-guilt, if you're not prone to guilt. Not sure which is worse: the guilt, if you're prone to guilt, or the not-guilt, if you're not prone to guilt.

I was not prone to guilt; I convinced myself that I had worked and worked and worked and sacrificed and put on hold -- or simply given up -- long-dreamed dreams and the life I envisioned when I was young enough to envision what my life would include was so far afield from that envisioned life that nothing I did would right the ship and put everything back on course.

I suppose I gave up, easier to go under than to keep swimming -- and I don't even know how to swim -- and I suppose I expected nothing much to change, regardless of the swelling and rapid changes happening all around me. I deserved what I was doing, and I deserved what happened when the affair ended. Flip sides of the same coin, the word deserved.

The flashy sports car, embodied in a man who is now dead, but the circuitous path riding in that car took me got me where I needed to go, dead ends be damned.

My quarter-life crisis, taking place largely in bedrooms and in restaurants where people who didn't know my then-wife would be. Not holding hands in public and not kissing in public and not doing anything inappropriate in public. Seismic, these changes, bridging growing up and getting older. A decade or so beyond when quarter-life crises allegedly take places. More than a few years out of college, settled -- albeit uncomfortably -- in a career that looks nothing like the career for which I trained during my undergraduate and graduate education.

I tell my son, and I will tell my daughter, that playing dress up begins when you're five and never truly ends. You slip into costumes and you slip into marriages and you slip in and out of jobs that are less career and more how you spend your time between 9 and 5. These often ill-fitting costumes stretched out of shape, until you admit that shape is not something you control, but something that can be undone, once you admit that the doing is not the same as the living.

Too long I was afraid of failure and of fucking up and of flying, but failure can only defeat you if you let failure defeat you. Often, these so-called failures are simple ways your life is telling you that something isn't right. No need to trade-in sensible for flashy. And no need to sacrifice what is for what should be. Subtle shifts, until you are where you want to be, until that where is no longer where you want to be, and you shift again, growing up, not getting older.

Read other Quarter-life Crisis posts here and on The Good Men Project.