Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
There’s a small retail development in Ballymount, in south west Dublin that always strikes me as “Mid-Life Crisis Central”. At one end is a store that sells expensive electric guitars. At the other end there’s a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership. Every time I pass it, I have visions of mid-fifties south Dublin solicitors pulling out onto the road, their shiny new ax on their backs, their new hogs roaring under them, their bellies straining at the Harley jacket, squeaking in its leathery newness.
You know what? Why not? Why wouldn’t you? From a distance, it looks like a desperate attempt to reverse the aging process, and it often is, but not always. Sometimes a man always wanted a Porsche and has reached a point in life when he can afford it and thinks “why not?” Leave the money for his spoiled kids to squander?
He’s not the fellow to worry about. It’s the other guy, who is trying to reverse the clock. The motorbike is just a thing. It’s when lust rears its ugly head that you have a problem.
Straight men go through a cycle in life. As a teenager, it’s very simple. Your hormones dictate that you what to touch, kiss, seduce the most beautiful women you can. Personality doesn’t really matter. It’s all flesh viewed through a haze of hormones.
As you get older, you wise up. You realise that sex, great and all as it is, doesn’t work on its own. You actually have to like the person too. That’s a big moment of realisation, and many men never reach it. It matters: a marriage can just as easily be destroyed by a partner’s blood slowly simmering as they watch their other half fluting around in Ikea. Irritation is as damaging to a marriage as adultery, if not more. Making someone laugh is the gold standard.
The problem is that the male mid-life crisis, in its lustiest form, can throw all that on its head. It’s a big deal when a man realises that not only are young women now out of his league, but that they can’t even see him. They see someone’s dad, some aul fella, or worse still, some dirty aul fella leering at them. You cannot underestimate the impact that has on that gossamer fragile thing that is the Irish male ego.
The sensible thing to do is to accept it as nature’s unending Ferris wheel and remember that you had your fun when it was your turn. Or, failing that, at least stick to women your own age. Irish women in the forties and beyond are actually one of the nation’s great untapped resources, primarily because they’re a match for Irish men. They have their measure, and in a country where men were raised under the rule of the mammy, that matters.
For some men, surrender is not an option. You see them in Dundrum, dressed three decades too young, often with a surreal belief in the youth-enhancing power of suede.
Then you see her. Not quite young enough to be his daughter, but certainly his daughter’s best friend’s older sister. Occasionally, what we used to call in Old Dublinese, “bet into her jeans”. The hair long and often blonde, the cheekbones chiselled.
Of course, even with the help of that revolutionary blue pill, the mist of lust eventually clears for most men, and he discovers he’s in a nightclub at 2am, his ears throbbing with what is allegedly music wondering if he having a stroke?
His brain starts to reboot, and reminds him of reality.
That he actually likes being in bed by ten with Antony Beevor’s “Stalingrad” and a mug of tea and two chocolate digestives.
That he stops seeing her wandering around the apartment in her high heels and underwear as a source of arousal but instead feels tired, and terrified when she talks about babies.
That his kids, older by a year than his girlfriend, roll their eyes every time they see him wearing something she bought him.
Then his mates start talking about the prostate exams and statins and are able to reel off consultant names as if they’re talking about racehorses or Premiership footballers. “You want to see Haggerty in the Mater Private about that. He’s the best waterworks man in the country.”
The girlfriend doesn’t know who Peter Sellers or Robert Mitchum was, and he doesn’t know what a Ryan Gosling is. He finally accepts that he’s not a young man anymore when, as people recommend boxsets to him, the length of them is a deciding factor. He’s not sure how much of rest of the rest of his life he’s willing to give over to “The Wire” or “The Good Wife”.
What seals the deal is news of an acquaintance, one younger than him, dropping dead from the proverbial Irish “massive heart attack”. Sitting in the church with the girlfriend, her dolled up like she’s the baddy’s girlfriend in a James Bond, her Melania scowl permanently in place, he looks around. He sees his wife, his friends, the sea of silver, grey and shiny domes. These, he realises, are his people. They get his references, his stories, and don’t know what a Ryan Gosling is either.
If he has any sense, he’ll go home. Although he might still keep the Harley for weekends.