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Listen to English podcasts are written and produced by Peter Carter, Birmingham, England.
Listen to English podcasts are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial-no-derivatives licence.

Mid-life Crisis

Do you know what I mean when I say that someone is “middle-aged”? If you are “middle-aged” you are probably 40 years old or older. You have stopped being interested in pop music. You don’t go to night clubs any more. You have sold the motor-bike which you drove all around Europe a few years ago. You no longer share a flat with six of your student friends.

Instead, you are married, with children. You have bought a house in the suburbs. You lie awake at night worrying about the mortgage. You own a boring but practical car – a Ford Focus perhaps. The car is full of the children’s things. They have left sticky sweets on the seats and empty crisp packets on the floor. You now play golf instead of going to football matches. Worst of all, your hair is going grey, and you have started to put on weight. (To put on weight” is a polite way of saying that you are getting fat!) Welcome to middle age!

Now, please don’t confuse “middle age” with the expression “the Middle Ages”. “The Middle Ages” means the period of European history from roughly the 11th century to the 15th century. In those times most people died before they were 40, so they never became middle-aged. Or perhaps they became middle-aged earlier than people do today.

Some people, particularly men, reach middle age and become unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. The years seem to go by more and more quickly. Life has become boring. Yes, you have a well-paid job, but it does not feel like an exciting or worthwhile job. You have too many responsibilities. You want to be young and free again.

If you feel like that when you are middle-aged, we say that you are suffering from a “mid-life crisis”.

So, our imaginary man with a mid-life crisis sells his Ford Focus and buys a sports car. He uses hair-dye to hide his grey hairs. He starts to wear the sort of clothes that teenagers wear, and he goes to clubs and dances Gangnam Style (If you don’t know what Gangnam Style is, you really are middle-aged!) He leaves his wife and children and moves in with his secretary. After a few weeks, his secretary is fed up with him. She chucks him out, and he moves back with his wife and children.

Or perhaps our mid-life crisis man deals with his mid-life crisis in a more constructive way. He finds a new job which pays less but which is more useful to society and which gives him more free time. He loses weight by jogging and going to the gym. He decides that grey hair is a good thing, because it make him look mature and interesting. He says to himself that “middle age” is all in the mind. If you have a young mind, you are still a young man.

Recently, scientists have discovered that it is not just people who suffer from a mid-life crisis. Apes such as chimpanzees and orang-utans are among our closest biological relatives, and they too tend to feel depressed and dissatisfied in their middle years. The scientists sent a questionnaire to people who look after chimpanzees and orang-utans in zoos. The questionnaires asked about how happy the apes seemed at different stages of their lives. Altogether, the scientists collected information on about 500 apes. They found that, very like humans, apes are happiest when they are young and when they are old, and less happy in their middle years.

So now you know that, if you see a chimpanzee driving a sports car, or dancing Gangnam Style, he is probably just having a mid-life crisis.