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Dumped for a Diva – Dealing with Midlife Crisis


Everyone is familiar with the concept of the mid-life meltdown. Males are particularly susceptible and we all seem to know someone who has dumped an adoring wife and family to start life anew with a twenty-year-old diva. Being dumped from a long-term relationship for a younger woman is an excrutiatingly painful breakup process. Generally, the dumped spouse is taken entirely by surprise. And the husband finds fault with minor character traits in his spouse in order to justify his choices and his behavior. The abandoned spouse suffers shock, damaged self-worth, abandonment, and fear—made all the worse by the daily reminder that she was so quickly and easily replaced by someone that, ironically, she once was—a vital, youthful, twenty-something babe.

Dr. Debra Mandel, author of Dump That Chump and Healing the Sensitive Heart, addresses some of the causes and symptoms of an approaching male mid-life crisis.

“For men, mid-life is often a time of self-reflection and re-evaluation of successes and failures,” says Dr. Mandel. “It’s often a time of crisis because they base their entire self-worth on whether or not they believe they have made mark in the world. Those who are secure within themselves and have healthy self-esteem will pass through this developmental milestone without too much stress or chaos. However, those who feel they have fallen short of their own expectations or projections may go through what’s commonly known as a mid-life crisis.”

“During this stage, it’s imperative for a man to take an honest inventory of himself and re-create his goals for the future, hopefully to include more time with his wife and family and to make room for new activities that create physical and emotional closeness. However, more commonly a man in this crisis will distract himself from the task at hand and focus more on making himself feel younger instead of embracing the aging process. Sometimes these distractions are relatively benign, as in the guy who decides to get in the best shape he’s ever been in and climb Mt. Whitney, but for others these distractions can add insult to injury, as in the guy who cheats on his wife with a woman half his age so that he can feel like a stud once again.”

While it is possible to feel younger and more vital at any age, it is almost impossible to achieve that state if one is in a state of denial. “Sadly, those who don’t face the crisis head-on and deal with the internal work will often end up dumping their intimate partners on a perpetual quest for reversing the aging process.”

“Women who’ve been dumped by a guy in a mid-life crisis would do best to avoid personalizing what isn’t personal. In other words, unless she’s been a poor relationship partner in the marriage (if she’s been emotionally unavailable, has been excessively critical or judgmental, has been withholding), then she must recognize that she is not responsible for his decisions or choices. She should hold her head high and allow him to look like the fool. She can be forgiving and encouraging of him to find his way but not allow herself to get trampled on or treated like a doormat.”

“Sometimes, if he’s really worth it, a try at couples therapy may be useful, to help him find his path back to actually healing the crisis rather than giving in to it.”

When asked how to avoid the trap of anger in this situation, Dr. Mandel advises, “Anger is essentially a secondary emotion used to protect ourselves from the primary and more vulnerable feelings of hurt and sadness. Anger is only useful in the moment that we are being offended or assaulted to serve our fight-and-flight reactions when there is real danger. Otherwise, it’s wasted energy and it’s like swallowing poison and waiting for the other guy to die.”

“We can avoid anger traps by taking a deep breath, exhaling the anger and asking ourselves what other feelings are going on and then dealing with those feelings. Of course it hurts to be dumped, but it hurts a lot worse to stay angry and not move on. Do the grieving, recognize what you have responsibility for and make changes in yourself when necessary to prepare for a better relationship in the future.”

“Also,” she warns, “keep in mind that a mid-life crisis rarely comes out of the blue. Usually there are a few warning signs along the way and these are opportune times to try to prevent disaster before ending up in divorce court.”

Here are some of the warning signs:

  • He starts spending more time with his friends.
  • He starts making new friends and doesn’t include you.
  • He takes up a new hobby, often a riskier one than usual.
  • He starts obsessing about his appearance and doing things to make himself younger.
  • He seeks more attention from the opposite sex.
  • He becomes less interested in your opinion and more interested in the opinions of his juniors.

“If you see any of these signs, try to have a conversation with him letting him know that you’d like to be there with him through this time and how you can make your relationship stronger. Offer to try new things with him, tell him how sexy and vibrant he his, and make him feel special.”

The Healing Power of Food and Friends

In the aftermath of a divorce or loss it is tempting to retreat from the world in order to hide one’s sorrow from our friends and family. And after a separation, a couple’s friends tend to split up according to their loyalties.

“In my case, my ex-spouse kept the house and business, and since most of our friends were also industry associates they have gravitated to him, and I stopped seeing or hearing from friends just when I needed comfort the most,” says Marta in San Francisco, California (US). “Fortunately a few acquaintances had decided to start a monthly dinner group. They insisted I attend, and although I was reluctant at first, I am very glad I did. I have met some interesting people, been offered wonderful opportunities, and I had the chance to unload some woes on kind ears.”

Cooking and sharing meals as a form of emotional communion is a two-way street; it benefits both the giver and receiver. People enjoy turning to food as a way to connect with friends and neighbors after a divorce, separation or loss. One does not need to be an accomplished cook to use food as a healing connection—even sharing a simple meal of take-out Chinese can be therapeutic.

But if you can cook—or you have always wanted to learn how—conjuring up a warm meal can be very healing because it fills a void; because it employs the mind; and because it is a way of recreating past memories and experiences.

Linda in Brooklyn, New York (US) says, “I was awake at 3:00 in the morning trying to be with my grief when I turned on the television and saw an old rerun of Julia Child. I have been obsessed ever since. I’ve always found baking to be very meditative and calming. I enjoyed being able to create happiness for myself and my friends, and have a focus.”

Abby in Exton, Pennsylvania (US) said, “Everyone thought I was nuts, but were it not for the ritual of weighing ingredients, creaming butter with sugar, cutting parchment paper, and hovering near the oven to make sure I turned things around halfway through, I would have had a nervous breakdown.”

Irma Rombauer self-published the first Joy of Cooking in 1931 with the small insurance payout she received after her husband committed suicide during the Great Depression.

In her book, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, New York Times food writer Kim Severson reveals her professional and personal struggles, which included failed relationships and alcohol addiction.   The only thing she could always rely on was her “ability to go to the kitchen, turn on the stove and feed someone.”

Even if you are a hopeless cook, allowing your friends to feed you can be a boon for them as well. It lets them offer support and sympathy without being intrusive, and it reassures them that you are going to be all right.

Ken in Seattle, Washington (US) says, “We’ve kept our friend going. I don’t think he’d eat anything at all if it weren’t for dinners at our place. That’s how we knew there was something wrong, in fact—we hadn’t seen either of them in a while and then he showed up at our door, alarmingly thin. Making sure he gets fed has been good for all three of us.”

In her book The Relaxed Kitchen, author Brigit Binns talks about discovering that her husband was cheating on her, her subsequent flight (literally and emotionally) from Spain to Los Angeles, and the difficulty of starting a new life in a strange place, alone. “I attacked the chore of fitting into a culture I’d left behind ten years before. Bagged salad greens and cordless phones seemed like magic. I hadn’t been on a date in ten years.” Binns set about turning her back patio, a simple concrete block and cement space, into a shady venue surrounded by potted bougainvillea and tomatoes where she could entertain and cook for friends.

But one need not be a gourmet cook to enjoy the preparation and communion of food. Keep the menu simple. Choose dishes that can be prepared well ahead of time and served cold, or gently warmed. Buy prepared dishes from the market to supplement one or two homemade dishes. Then relax and enjoy the company of your friends. And remember, they need you as much as you need them.