As a 53-year-old, apparently unemployable woman who once traveled all over the country and world to write about sports and later became a political writer who rubbed elbows with Ed Rendell, Arlen Specter, Sen. Bob Casey and had worked in cities like Baltimore, Seattle and capital cities like Harrisburg, PA and Albany, NY, the perfect article showed up this month in The Atlantic called "The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis."
The piece airs extensive research and anecdotes about this thing called the U-Curve, a documented swing into unhappiness, or dissatisfaction about life, sometime between 39 and 57. It's a story with a happy ending, of sorts, in that emerging from the U-Curve shows how people settle into lesser expectations about life and therefore find their satisfaction levels rise. Family, friends, more centered and wise choices make for a more realistic and rich experience going forth in the later years.
That was good news, considering that one researcher found that the U-Curve showed how much more difficult it was to feel satisfaction during the middle years of your life, and another found that the U-Curve brought on feelings equivalent to about one-third the feelings brought on by involuntary job loss. For a 53-year-old with no prospects for ever working again in journalism, I could more than relate to what this article was presenting. It also made me realize more clearly why, somewhat unexpectedly, we have just moved from Seattle back home to my home state of New York.
Seattle is a great place to be older, with its easy day-to-day living, accessibility, walkability, low-key access to theater and the arts, a great university, low taxes and an array of cheap and not-so-cheap eats. But it wasn't a good place for us to get older, for a few reasons, mostly the fact that our families are all back in the Northeast and, more glaringly, the tech business boom via Amazon and Google and Facebook and Microsoft and several other new-era startups (Zillow) that has flooded the city with more and more younger people. Millenials, I think they're called. Or, as they say in Brooklyn, hipsters.
Was it a midlife crisis that drove us from Seattle? That notion, in itself, would seem to be the ultimate admission of such a predictable and lonesome human condition. But at age 53 and 58, me and my partner had grown increasingly aware of our middle age, especially in a city brewing with 20 and 30-somethings, many of whom make no bones broadcasting their belief that us oldsters should just move out of their way. What we see as experience, caution, historic or at least institutional knowledge that helps stake out a broader view, especially in the workforce, is seen by the new generation as millstones of time hanging around their line-less necks. The new generation, blessed with good brains stuffed with all kinds of Information Age input, wants a clear lane to exercise their free will unencumbered by anyone who might protest grammatical errors or lack of historical context.
While a job opportunity was the impetus for the move, the underlying sense that a shift was taking place for us had been brewing for a few months, if not years. Our relationships with friends -- many of the primary ones based on the fact that we all had had young kids in school together -- changed. So did our sense that the city and the world was a great, unopened oyster. In recent years, the generation gap between us and the newcomers to Seattle widened. We went out to restaurants or music clubs and felt not so much like we were out of touch, but that these younger people were out of touch, and yet they seemed to rule the world with their styles, attitudes, trends and habits.
Perhaps the epiphany took place when we dined with a friend of ours, a beloved 77-year-old neighbor with hearing loss, in a very popular restaurant. As cool and welcoming as Seattle had always seemed, and really IS at the heart, the new breed and greater density of young people had done its part to push us to the margins. At least that's how we felt.
In an act of defiance, the last tickets we bought to events in Seattle were to the play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" at Seattle Rep and a concert by James Taylor at Key Arena. In the crowd among the other 50- and 60- and 70-somethings there was a palpable and victorious air that we the oldsters had won the night. This in the city of Mud Honey. In the city of Grunge. In the city of too cool for school and best places to live and ...
So what if Albee's play is dated and nowhere near worth watching without Dick Burton and Liz Taylor! So what if James Taylor presents his great American songbook in rather dull and predictable fashion. The U-Curvers were out on the town, trying to get through this difficult passage of life, free of the reminders that our time has allegedly passed.
The new lesson is not how to keep up. The new lesson is how to scale back, settle down, settle in.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.