What We Can Learn from Midlife Men

Break the skydiving record like Felix Baumgartner? Nah. Here are the goals we’d set to avoid commitment

by Linda Yellin
felix baumgartner skydiving image
Photograph: Red Bull Stratos

Over the course of history, men have come up with ingenious reasons to avoid settling down. “I’ve gotta go fight the Crusades.” “My pirate ship leaves at noon.” Whether these men were immersed in Middle Ages midlife crises or were the original commitment-phobes, while your knight in rusty armor was running off acting all macho-virile-manly-man, you had to sit home, work on your tapestry and invest your dowry in wheat crops until the guy finally came around. Well, hooray for us. Nowadays, unless your pirate boyfriend looks like—or is—Johnny Depp, you don’t need to accept his delaying tactics; instead, you can wave him good-bye at the dock and head straight for Match.com to search for his replacement. But some macho-virile-manly-men are still cooking up excuses.

Which brings us to 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner, who last week willingly stepped out of a hot-air balloon, 24 miles into space, to break the record for the highest jump ever. It would never occur to me to attempt such a thing. On my list of Amazing Feats I’d Like to Accomplish, crashing through sound barriers would rate several slots behind Win the Pillsbury Bake-Off and way behind finally learning to do a cheerleading split. But Felix—known as Fearless Felix, and why not?—was making his girlfriend, who should be known as Faithful Fiancée, put their marriage on hold until after his skydive escapade. I wish she and I were friends so I could call her up and ask, “Hey, Faithful, did you ever have doubts about a guy who says he can’t marry you until he breaks the sound barrier?” Imagine, a man who fears nuptials more than he fears plummeting through space, hoping he won’t spin so far out of control that he never makes it to Earth. I’m rooting for Faithful, but I’m not holding my breath until I see her wedding announcement in the newspaper.

While Felix was hurtling through the stratosphere, magician David Blaine was wrapping up three days of standing on a platform being bombarded by a million volts of electricity. So far, Blaine has been buried alive and been frozen alive. Like Felix, he is fearless. And like Felix, he has a fiancée. I wonder if he said, “Honey, don’t register for the china quite yet. I need to stand on a magnetized platform before I stand at an altar.”

Former Brat Pack–er Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink! St. Elmo’s Fire!) has written a new book called The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. Kindly read that subtitle one more time. Apparently Andy needed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and hike around a few Costa Rican rain forests before he could marry his fiancée of four years, the mother of his child.

Maybe getting blasted by electrical volts or hiring a Sherpa is the new way for men in midlife to feel that last hurrah of youth before getting out the slippers and slipping into the La-Z-Boy. They seem to need to put commitment on hold while they whip up the testosterone. But our reasons for delaying commitment are more grounded. Literally. Instead of breaking a sound barrier, we’re breaking glass ceilings and becoming CEOs. While you’re climbing mountains, we’re moving mountains. You’re standing on platforms? I’m building a platform. You got a mistress? I’m getting a master’s. We’ll settle down, but we won’t settle.

And meanwhile, we need to thank you. You’ve taught us to be direct. If we don’t want to commit, you won’t hear us saying, “Geez, sweetie, I’d love to plan our future together, but first I need to land on Mars.” We’ll keep it simple. In words you’ll understand.

I’m holding out for someone better.

Linda Yellin is the author of The Last Blind Date, a very funny memoir about moving to New York City for love and marriage after 40. http://www.lindayellin.com/books

Related: A Field Guide to the Mature Male

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First Published Tue, 2012-10-16 14:43

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