(Telegraph) Why do so many middle-aged men feel so lost?
By Lucy Cavendish 7:00AM GMT 27 Feb 2015
Caught between baby-boomers and Generation Y, today’s middle-aged men increasingly see themselves as lost souls. Lucy Cavendish lends an ear
There is 45-year-old Lee, who has just “gotten divorced” and has, in the course of a month, slept with 15 women. “I don’t see myself as that type of man,” he says, “but I feel so lonely and I don’t know what to do with my life.” There is Ryan, aged 53, who has never married and is in crisis about why he hasn’t. Then there is Steve, 49, a travel agent, long-time married, who has hit a midlife crisis. He says he really does want to buy a Harley-Davidson and head off down Route 66. “Is that wrong?” he asks. “I just don’t know what I want in my life anymore.”
They are all part of a “sandwich generation”: they sit between the baby boomers and the digital natives. And they are a group who have, according to recent statistics, lost their way. The Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report for 2014 shows that men aged 40-44 are the demographic group with the highest rate of suicide, nearly four times that of women the same age; for those aged 45-54, the rate is roughly three times higher for men than women. New data from the Office of National Statistics confirm those findings. And although the statistics aren’t always straightforward (there may be under-reporting of female suicides), things aren’t getting better: while the male rate fell for most of the past decade, since 2012 it has been back on the rise.
In the Samaritans report about the data, Professor Rory O’Connor, then the head of the suicidal behaviour research group at Stirling University, said that the focus had shifted over recent decades from younger men being more at risk of suicide to middle-aged men.
“Men currently in their midyears are caught between their traditional silent, strong and austere fathers who went to work and provided for their families, and the more progressive, open and individualistic generation of their sons. They do not know which of these two very different ways of life and masculine culture they should follow.”
The pressure to live up to what the report describes as a “masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility” can turn personal troubles such as losing a job into a crisis in a way that it might not for women. The sense of suffering “defeat as a man” can be more acute in middle age, when the responsibilities are greatest.
The result? Men of this generation are in crisis. We often focus on teenage boys and their problems, ranging from depression to delinquency, or on women and their role in society, from young and single to working mother to stay-at-home woman. Yet we rarely look at the role of men, especially middle-aged men – and the problem does not only apply to those who have suffered from the familiar seismic shifts in their lives, such as divorce or the loss of a job.
As my friend Tom, a counsellor, says, “Whereas women stride forwards and get themselves together, [in general] men just don’t do that. They like things to remain as they were. They don’t like change. They like women to support them, really, so they are emotionally or spiritually or physically lazy. Some are all three and this laziness is very prevalent in the sandwich generation men, and it often leaves them lost, lonely and drifting towards an uncertain future when they should be at an age whereby everything is settled.”