Probably the hardest part of coming to grips with oneself at midlife, is the realisation that one is essentially alone. Regardless of how filled one’s life is with people, there is a sense of aloneness. Though others may share the same house, or even the same bed, the space between self and other widens the more one becomes conscious. This is a very difficult time for relationships including marriages. As James Hollis points out what we already know, “Marriages often end at midlife.” And if the marriage doesn’t end, it becomes more of a shell as both parties invest in diversions that keep the truth at bay.
When my wife and I got married, we both believed that it was forever, that we had found the one person in the world who would complete us and meet every unspoken need, every unconscious need. Since then, we have both felt betrayed by the other for ceasing to be the person we had imagined we had married. The person we had married was a flawed human. We had to learn to take responsibility for our individual selves once we realised, painfully, that the other couldn’t.
Naturism is one of those things that define the self that is evolving within me. I am a naturist, she is not. I have dug through the ruins of my early years in order to make peace with the past. There I found a young man who had discovered a healing space outdoors in nature where he hid without clothing. That young man has aged over many decades and now finds himself again in nature without clothing in order to feel the same sense of sanctuary and well-being that had rescued him as a young man.
Couples can agree to disagree yet still find enough in common to be willing to remain together. Those points in common are vital and need to be given the space needed for a relationship to survive the differences that would otherwise overwhelm the relationship. Yet, those differences need to be honoured as well. We need to learn to take care of our own separate needs rather than expect the other to take care of them for us, and we need to allow space and time for the other to do the same. James Hollis tells us:
“There is no one out there to save us, to take care of us, to heal the hurt. But there is a very important person within, one we barely know, ready and willing to be our constant companion.”
If one thinks about it, the journey at midlife is similar to the transition one has to endure when passing from childhood to adulthood. A child loses the Magical Other of parent and is confronted with his or her smallness in the world. Then, as if a miracle, the young adult who emerges from childhood finds someone who then takes on the mantle of Magical Other.Then in midlife, an older and wiser adult is forced to realise that in spite of a career, family, and societal connections, one is alone, a stranger to themselves and to the Magical Other who has vanished only to be replaced with a complexed stranger. It’s a wonder that any marriage could survive the losses of certainties about other and self.
“What is so difficult is to trust that one’s own psyche will prove sufficient to heal itself.”
The task then at midlife is to give up the idea that someone else will take on the responsibility of healing the broken and bruised parts of who we are. We need to let go of those infantile magical thinking beliefs and find an inner and perhaps an outer place of solitude in order to take responsibility for self. For me, that place of solitude is in naturism. Where is your place of solitude where you can take ownership of your own complexes and become a more conscious person who can have a conscious relationship with other?