Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is.
–“Is That All There Is,” Jerry Lieber and Mike Stollar
I’ve always hated the song “Is That All There Is”— and I’m old enough to remember the Peggy Lee version that was popular in the late 1960s— not just the 2004 Chaka Khan cover. Both lyrics and tone present a whining complaint in which every life experience is found lacking; from the house burning down to the circus to a broken heart, everything is an excuse to “break out the booze and have a ball.” Given this perspective, even the moment of death will be a disappointment, because life is meaningless.
“Is That All There Is” might be a great theme song for cheaters who are diagnosed by self and others as suffering a “midlife crisis.” Elliott Jacques, a Canadian psychologist, coined the term “midlife crisis” in the mid-60s to describe why so many famous male artists stopped creating (or died) between 35 and 40. Jesse Bering, a research psychologist writing for Scientific American, traces the term from Jacques to a psychologist in the 1970s who popularized the term to describe a life stage in which people encounter life disappointment and mortality. Typical articles on midlife crisis are illustrated by a cliché´– a middle-aged smiling man (anywhere from 35 to 65) alone in a red convertible, sticking it to the specter of mortality with something sexier and more powerful than booze.
Other articles assume that women, too, experience midlfe crisis. Huffington Post sage Dr. Mona Ackerman counsels one woman having an affair:
You are at a point in your life where the future doesn’t seem as appealing as the past. It is much more fun to go back to adolescence, to feel the freedom of no responsibility, to once again experience total sexual freedom and experimentation…
Dr. Mona offers two resolutions: continue the affair in secret or accept the “reduced expectations, reduced vitality, reduced importance at work, and, yes, the nest that will, probably, soon empty.” Run that through the UBT: risk it all for cake or walk quietly into the sunset.
Jesse Bering, however, points out the flaw in our notions about midlife crisis: there is no empirical data to support that midlife (however defined) has a monopoly on life crisis:
Epidemiological studies reveal that midlife is no more or less likely to be associated with career disillusionment, divorce, anxiety, alcoholism, depression or suicide than any other life stage; in fact, the incidence rates of many of these problems peak at other periods of the lifespan.
Bering believes that midlife crisis as we know it — the desperation to hold onto youth and freedom in the face of aging — is a myth, whether applied to men or women, since similar life problems can “peak at other periods of the lifespan,” from adolescence to old age.
But that myth of the midlife crisis provides social spackle for cheaters. A midlife crisis explains how a seemingly nice person can be so unhappy as to carry on a secret affair or break up a family. And if everyone goes through a “midlife crisis,” then those who blow up their families without remorse are simply following a predictable life path. The damage they do can be as a “midlife crisis,” when what they actually have is a Crap Life Skills Crisis.
Middle-aged cheaters, whether 35 or 60, face the same problems as their partners. The highs and lows of raising children. Paying the mortgage. Problems at work. Dealing with aging or dying parents. Confronting gray hair and the need for bifocals. Admitting that they can’t dunk a basketball any more or have too much loose skin to wear a halter top.
Instead of facing problems and developing inner resources to deal with them, cheaters with crap life skills looks for escape: “Let’s hit on a high-school flame on Facebook. Maybe start an affair with that colleague. Or trade in the old family unit for a convertible or breast implants.” After all, as people with crap life skills, they see themselves as entitled to walk away from the difficulty of real life, commitment, and growing old. If that’s all there is, they prefer cake. And they rely on the myth of the midlife crisis to spackle over their lack of life skills.
Most people have crap life skills in some area, from having a broken picker to thinking (in my case) that being in a relationship will fix everything wrong in life. But chumps develop good life skills from confronting problems. We keep the family going when money is tight or the house is in foreclosure. We struggle through the sandwich years, when three generations rely on our unflagging effort. We hold on through real crisis — layoffs, cancer, Alzheimer’s, custody fights, traumatized kids — because we aren’t surprised that life is hard.
And even when we are betrayed and left with minimal resources, we see that life, with all its struggle, can be beautiful. We face our mistakes. We learn and change. We stand firm in our truth. We see that we are agents who can make meaning in our own lives. We don’t ask, “Is that all there is?” for very long. We pick up the pieces and begin again.