I’m in my forties.
It’s an age where you can really no longer consider yourself young by any honest stretch of the imagination. You can fudge the “I’m a young woman!” for a bit while you’re in your thirties but once you read your forties…. nope. You’re middle-aged.
When does it hit a woman that she’s truly middle-aged? When she starts having perimenopause symptoms? When she sees that wattle starting under her chin? When she sees her son shave for the first time in the bathroom? When she sees that actor who is the same age as her who she had a huge crush on is, well, middle-aged?
Maybe. In my opinion though, a woman doesn’t realize she is truly middle-aged until she sees the men she has known for decades start dying.
It’s a very harsh and sad reality that I was unprepared for when I entered my forties.
I have now lost four male friends in the past four years, and they were all my age when they passed. My female friends are still alive and despite multiple posts about mental health and exhaustion they are thriving to various degrees.
The men though….
My first male friend suddenly passed when I was 39. He was 40. I had no idea until I saw an update on his Facebook page from a family member. He had passed away suddenly from an apparent suicide.
I was shocked. The last time we had talked (well, texted) he seemed quite happy. He messaged me out of the blue and asked how I was. He said he was about to marry the “love of my life.” He and his fiancee already had two kids together and he had posted their pics all over his social media.
I don’t know why he decided to unalive himself. It was a massive blow.
Since then, every year another male friend of mine has died. One was a heart attack. Another was an intestinal bleed. And two weeks ago, a fourth friend and former work colleague of mine dropped dead suddenly. People still don’t know why. He had brought his wife to the hospital because she was suffering pre-term labor. As they were waiting for the doctor, my friend suddenly collapsed. He was transported to the ER but there was nothing they could do. He was gone.
He had been a paramedic. He was one of those medics who would always work overtime and would work your shift if you needed a day off for whatever reason. He constantly overstretched himself and ran himself into the ground. A lot of men who work in EMS and other first responder capacities act in the same way. They see pushing their bodies to the limit on a daily basis as proof of some form of masculine virtue.
And now my friend is dead. Gone from this Earth before he was even 45 years old.
There has been a lot of ink spilled in the last few years about the sudden diminishing lifespan of American men in the 21st century. This isn’t coming from far right “feminists are ruining this country” publications either. Even the New Yorker has noticed that men are not doing well. What’s the matter with men? The magazine asked in its January issue, They’re floundering at school and in the workplace.
They’re also dying.
I have written before about how American men have not been doing well recently. I admit that women may be feeling a certain lack of sympathy here. After all, we have just endured Roe v. Wade being overturned, a “shecession” caused by the pandemic that ended hundreds of thousands of women’s careers, and an incredibly toxic turn in American politics where poisonous misogyny is applauded on the far right and the very definition of “woman” is being erased on the far left.
It’s easy, as a woman, to say “Men still rule the world. We have our own problems here.” To that, I respond that there is literally NO period in history where women thrive while the male population suffers. None. (Well, okay, except for World War II in the US)
Schadenfreude is an easy reflex for a woman but we are all in this together.
It could be argued that throughout human history it is normal for men to hit a “wall” once they reach middle age. In earlier times women died in their teens and twenties, usually from childbirth. If women survived childbirth (or just didn’t have children) they tended to live longer than men.
Once you hit the big 4–0 your body starts telling you to cash all those checks you wrote in your twenties. When you’re a woman, your body allows a payment plan. When you’re a man, your body demands a lump sum up front. Or so it seems to me.
There’s a reason why nursing homes are 80% women.
After my third friend died I posted a message to Facebook. “IF YOU’RE A GUY CAN YOU PLEASE CHECK IN AND LET ME KNOW YOU’RE OKAY?!! SORRY, I’M FEELING NERVOUS ABOUT MY FRIENDS EVER SINCE ( — — -) DIED!”
Fortunately a lot of my friends did check in. “We’re good.” “Yeah, it was tough to hear about ( — — ). We’re doing okay over here though.” “Doing okay :-)” “I’m good, so’s the kids.”
It was comforting.