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Jewish Journal

The Early Midlife Crisis

by J.D. Smith

August 22, 2002 | 8:00 pm

My 29-year-old cousin, "Barry," is having his first "midlife" crisis. By simple math, this would put his entire life span at a scant 58 years, well shy of the actuarial tables' prediction. His midlife crisis should be about 10 years hence. It's been a slow week over here at my place, so let's take a look at his misery, shall we?

Barry falls short of the $1 million he'd counted on having in the bank by, oh, about $1 million and change. He could live with that, but now his car lease is up and it looks like he'll be downsizing out of the go-go '90s-era "starter" Lexus into something more in line with his new budget -- something with really great mileage. His sense of entitlement is badly bruised by something called "reality." He checks his cholesterol. He wears sunscreen. He takes Viagra. He's a little old man.

Much of Barry's pain arises from his relationship, with an emphasis on the lack thereof. He's getting more than his share of barfly action, but he can't seem to string three dates together without supervision. I get a call almost every Monday morning about some girl he met over the weekend that he "thinks" he likes. That's what he says: "I think I like this girl." He's not sure. It sounds as if he's leaving the door open. By Wednesday, he's already out that door and making plans to go trawling for fresh trouble on Friday night.

My cousin basically acts like the standard man: he's in hot pursuit, then running as fast as he can in the other direction when he realizes that by catching up with his quarry, she has caught up with him, too. Nothing new there, but he seems to think he's doing something wrong. Usually it takes several years of this kind of bad behavior (and a change of therapists) before a fellow starts to think seriously about settling down to a life that has a bit of normalcy to it.

The problem is that he's just now got his "game" on. Despite being tall and handsome, Barry struggled with girls for years. He seemed to attract a particular species of very dramatic, pretty young ladies. He's got a scar on his left cheek from where a broken bottle cut him in a bar fight. (I would love to have a scar from a bar fight.)

I'm afraid Barry is becoming a little too comfortable with his bachelor life, buying frozen dinners or stopping for takeout on the way home. To his mind, he's getting that much closer to spending his life alone in a squalid apartment. Less nights out, more TiVo. When he does get out, it's easier to justify drinking and carrying on all night because he knows that there may not be another opportunity to feel good for a while. Something called "work" seems to be getting in his way.

Meanwhile, he's going to a wedding every month as he watches his college friends tie the knot. He's keeping himself busy with bridesmaids, but by the time the happy couple returns from their honeymoon, he's certain that none of those crinoline-clad aisle-walkers are for him -- until he hears that one of them is altar-bound. Then he has second thoughts about all the good ones who got away. Their numbers are growing, while he busily attends to the sowing of his oats. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it seems the less he knows these gals, the more he mourns their loss.

Suddenly, on the cusp of his 30th birthday, he wants to be married. The only problem is that he doesn't want to be married to anyone in particular. He's probably got a little while before he's ready for anything as serious as going steady, but I don't think men who live in cities should consider marriage until they're over 30. I hate to sound like a little old man myself, but when I was his age it never even occurred to me that I would wind up with any of the women I knew. What's his hurry? These days, the notion of marrying your college sweetheart seems so quaintly anachronistic, and so terribly, terribly wrong. He's still got work to do.

And now that he's run the table at the United Nations of Babes, he's decided the lucky girl of his dreams ought to be Jewish. "Mazel Tov!" I say to Jewish girls everywhere.

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