A Midnights Crisis
How Taylor Swift's new album inspired me to rethink the midlife crisis
I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s song “Anti-Hero” from her new album Midnights, and I wonder how the 32-year-old pop star can see inside my middle-aged head.
It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.
Cue that refrain every time I’ve fretted about who I am, who I was, and who I want to become. I’ve been singing that self-deprecating tune since long before T.Swift had her first hit. (I’ll save you the trouble—the song was “Tim McGraw.” The year was 2006. She was sixteen.)
The “Anti-Hero” video vibes with 1970s avocado-green and harvest-gold, triggering my teenage anxieties. Taylor describes it as a “guided tour” through her insecurities, and I get it. Even now—post-career, post-menopausal—self-doubt still hangs in the room like so many macrame plant holders.
Tay Tay is at least a few years from perimenopause. And yet, as I listened to the song on repeat, I felt seen.
I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser
Midnights become my afternoons
I haven’t slept well in ten years. At first, it was the hourly blankets-on-blankets-off gyrations, then the sound of passing time—tick-tick-tick—turned up to eleven.
It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.
Maybe you’ve sung this tune too—pointing the finger at the mirror while whistling a “woulda-coulda-shoulda” refrain. But, as Taylor makes clear, these moments of reflection and uncertainty are not specific to midlife.
And while we’re on the subject, when did midlife become a crisis? I’ll tell you when. It was 1965. Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques, then 48, coined the term “midlife crisis” and defined it as a period of emotional turmoil between the ages of 40 and 60 when we confront our limitations and our mortality.
Since then, we’ve seen both tragic and comedic portrayals of midlife crises in movies and memes—he’s driving a new Maserati, and she’s fixing up an old house, quitting her job, and getting a dog. HA, Ha, ha… No. Seriously.
Forbes ran a piece this summer titled “Midlife Crisis: Signs and Symptoms,” highlighting “unhealthy behaviors” and “drastic changes” to look out for as though merely reaching age 50 or so was cause for concern rather than celebration. I am not discounting any mental health or physical challenges for which people should seek professional help. What I object to is the dramatic language linking the two concepts—midlife and crisis.
Even Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep, has picked up the Boomer urgency and applied it to Gen X, subtitling her book Women’s New Midlife Crisis. I highly recommend reading the well-researched work, but there’s that word again—crisis. We need to calm down.
I prefer Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s more poetic version from her classic, Gift from the Sea, published in 1955.
“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego.”
Even if those shells are as comfortable as an old cardigan, we need to shake them off to keep growing.
Midlife is not a crisis. It’s a time for reflection, and—like midnights mark a new day—a time to begin again.
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I offer these prompts to help spur reflection and (re)inspiration as you head into your next chapter. Try writing for at least five minutes on the first prompt before moving on to the second.
Drop a few lines of writing in the comments, and I’ll share mine too. There is only one rule. Be kind to yourself as you write and to others as they trust this community with their words.
1, Reflect: Write a letter TO your 16-year-old self. Knowing what you know now, start it this way. Dear ____, You are not the problem…
2, Inspire: Write another letter FROM your 16-year-old self. Dear _____, It must be exhausting…