Well it isn’t just in your head anymore. An international study of two million people from over 70 countries confirms what is a remarkably common experience, yet little recognized as the life stage that it is. It turns out that the happiest times in our life span make a “U” and are situated at our early and late adulthood.
Researchers from Dartmouth and Warwick found this true across cultures and irregardless of income, marital status, family size or job satisfaction. Middle age consistently makes up the bottom of the curve, a time where happiness and satisfaction are hard to come by. Unexplainable except as something deeply human, this challenging time of coming to terms and making peace with life is as basic to our life cycle as the uniformly tumultuous adolescent years that pull us down or push us forward on a trajectory that becomes our life.
Relationships, which are ultimately the truest mirror of our life, reflect this life cycle. Early love relationships carry an urgency and immediacy that supersedes all else in life and regardless of the outcome, the experience is nothing, if not life lived to its fullest. We invest ourselves completely in these first forays into love and, in both its height and depth; we allow these relationships to transform us. Love teaches us through brute force to believe in what is most lovely and human in us.
The mid-life dip is real and it takes a serious toll on our primary relationships. All the competing agendas, the exhausting joy of raising progeny whilst trying to be our own personal best, the cost of things, and our tired aging bodies all converging on hours that just aren’t quite long enough to fit it all in. Sign me up, I am in the mid life dip club- big time and yet struggling everyday to give voice to the reasons to stay, to keep loving, to not let the bad moods that are so easy to over take, dictate our life choices. Bailing out of love feels easier in this time, maybe it is easier, and yet I know leaving the foundation that you invest in doesn’t get you any closer to the peace in ourselves that we so long for.
This becomes clearer too, both in the study statistics and in life itself as we move towards the latter part of our life. Finally given up the struggle and the tension of defining who is right or less imperfect, nothing is left to be taken for granted, least of all the time or comfort of sharing a history with someone. A companion through the years that has come to accept our foibles and weaknesses, holding them along side the most loveable parts of us is a gift beyond measure. Loving someone long term and being loved is the proof of the single most significant predictor of longevity. We know finally what this life is for- the slower we go, the more that love is the only balance worth striving for, the only paths with enough heart to help the rest of life make sense.
So wherever you are in your life cycle, this Valentine’s Day recognize your relationship as the perfect mirror for this time in your life. If you are in the wild throws of falling in love, thank your lucky stars and spread the love in the constant smile that only that state can embody. Feel the intensity in every cell of your body so that you can create the visceral memories that can get you through a mid life dip. If you are still lucky enough to be loving someone who has seen you through the highs and lows, treasure it and share it. Love and gentleness are as contagious as its opposite.
If, like me, you are knee deep in the mid-life dip – Imagine your relationship and your capacity to love as tools to stretch out the curve and soften the bottom of this bumpy life transition. Remember the intensity of the love you invested in easier times and bank on it now, even if you can?t always feel it. The initial investment is still there. Take the time out of the busy schedule to listen, take a walk, or have a physical conversation. Reach forward in time and realize how golden this will all feel when looking backwards. Admittedly sometimes I can?t imagine it ever feeling golden, but I do know that there is a tenderness and connection that replaces and restores the bruises of moving through hard times.
Whether this Valentine’s Day is romantic or routine for you, commit yourself to finding the love that surrounds you.