Understanding Men’s Passages

  Behold,what seems to be a lead on a wonderful book written by Gail Sheehy.
After reading the first few pages I was suddenly enlightened,and excited,there is a woman,at least somebody,who knows more about a mans  understand of themselves,and relish the thought of an end to tunnel vision.
A new light is shed on how I feel as a man throughout life,and Gail Sheehy starts strikes a spark on a winding pathway.
That’s my blurb,so read on and hope you enjoy her story.


Understanding Men’s Passages
Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives

Random House, Inc.

 Read the Review


It has traditionally been assumed that age is kinder to men than to women. My research over the past eight years has revealed a surprising reversal: many men 40 and over are having a harder time today making a satisfying passage into the second half of their lives than are most women. Why?

Women feel pangs over losing their youth.

Men feel dread.

“It’s the dread of losing potency!” says my friend Fitzgerald. “It’s imagining yourself as an actor onstage who has lost his voice.”

There are some inevitable changes as we tramp the journey of life. Men usually hit them as they would a brick wall–and then may fall apart. If they knew what to expect in advance, it could help them to master those changes and profit from them.

The point of this book is to help men and their partners to outwit the inevitable changes ahead. Today, particularly for men under 50, the timing of marker events–finishing school, first grown-up job, marriage, parenthood, empty nest, retirement, golden years–has turned out to be unpredictable. What a man is supposed to do, and when, is not clear. It is both exciting and disorienting, like sailing for a new world but wondering if you will drop off the edge of the old one first. The maps and charts are all out-of-date. Any man who feels a little lost is hardly alone.

The first step is to understand the passages that men go through after age 40, and then to discover, within the new map of men’s lives, how you can travel these new passages for yourself with greater awareness and a passport to renewal. Even on a subject as threatening as “male menopause,” the news is good and getting better. It is gradually becoming recognized as a mindbody syndrome that is perfectly normal, widespread, treatable, and often reversible. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to offer men perpetual virility–by popping a pill. As immediate and compelling as is the concern most men have with how their sexual performance might be affected by getting older, there is much more involved in restoring vitality and virility than putting more lead back in the pencil. Mind-set matters at least as much as bodily changes. The whole gamut of causes and the impressive armamentarium for fighting male menopause are spelled out later in the book.

Why single out men? It’s not as radical a departure as it might seem; I have been writing about the predictable and unpredictable changes of adult life for both sexes since the publication of Passages in 1976. But after twenty years of probing the psyche and interpreting the impact of cultural shifts on both sexes, I faced a humbling admission:

Men don’t understand women, but at least they know it. Women don’t understand men, but they don’t know it. Does the following dialogue sound at all familiar?

“What’s wrong?”


“Why won’t you talk to me?”

“What about?”

“About why you seem so down.”

“I’m just tired.”

“But you just sit around watching TV. Sometimes, you can get the most tired from doing nothing.”

“I’m not doing nothing! There are things I have to think about.”

“It seems like you’ve come to a point in your life where things are changing for you. How does that make you feel?”

“It’s just something you have to go through.”

“I’d like to help. Won’t you talk to me about it?”

“What is there to say?”

“What is it you want out of life? Just make up your mind and be straight with me.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

Most of us have had such conversations. I know I have survived a few of those trying-to-help-but-only-making-it-worse dialogues. The presumption among women is that they know what’s wrong with their men, and that they could fix it if only men would listen. But do many women really know what it’s like for a man today?

Milton Glaser, a legendary graphic artist and a wise and cherished friend, made this observation of the cultural lag between the genders: “Women are developing a new belief system; a new way of viewing life is coalescing. Most men don’t know what’s happening to them. They don’t have any idea what to believe in. For a lot of us, the values we grew up with have been subverted and changed. Men are astonished at this change; they haven’t formulated a response to it. It’s a time when men are very, very uncertain.”

Men may not equate change with growth. Generally speaking, they associate change with loss, giving up, being overtaken, failing. It is not seen as a positive part of inner growth and the road to a new kind of power. Particularly in the first half of their lives, men are rewarded for putting blinders on and pursuing their narrow career path: life seems straightforward.

“In my corporate life, I’m always telling company leaders how important it is to step back, look at trends, see what the future might bring, and plan ahead for it,” says a New York public relations man, “but in my personal and career life, forget it.” He expresses a male view as old as time: “I just keep moving forward in a kind of dumb-beast way, seeing the next opportunity and throwing my spear at it, taking my lumps and hoping everything will work out for me. Whether as men we are hardwired to think that way or it’s the steady process of socialization, we just don’t like to change.”

You may have been speeding along the route you set in your twenties when, suddenly, the road turns bumpy. Or you hit a washed-out patch and cannot move forward. Or the juice simply drains out of your batteries. How do you recharge yourself? Change gears? Who do you turn to for help?

It has become a cliche to say that men don’t like to ask questions. Obviously, this is not always true. (My husband has stopped at the nearest gas station to ask for directions at least once.) But men have not been taught to ask questions about their sexual life cycle or their health or psychological well-being. They don’t think they have the time or need for such consultations–unless disaster strikes. Studies show that men make far fewer visits to doctors than women, and when they do go, they generally don’t ask any questions. Beneath the silence and stoicism, however, most men over 40 sense that the playing field of life is radically different from the world of their fathers.

An economic revolution equivalent to the Industrial Revolution is pitting mature men against younger, computer-savvy digerati. Experience may no longer count for as much in marketplaces focused on the now. Not only are new skills demanded, for which several generations–older baby boomers, the “Silent Generation,” the World War II generation–are not prepared, but a different attitude is required. The rules of the game between employer and employee have changed. You used to be able to count on the corporate father–the farseeing, benevolent giver of rewards and reprimands. Now the corporation is a virtual father–amorphous, nonhierarchical–and you can never be clear where you stand.

The ground of relations between men and women has also undergone an earthquake of change. Men of the baby-boom and earlier generations were socialized, as boys, to assume a clearly prescribed role in the benign patriarchy portrayed in popular culture by shows such as Ozzie & Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. As young adults they were thrown off balance, ridiculed by the women’s movement, and later dismissed by some academic activists as belonging to a continuum of “dead white men.” In middle life they find themselves competing with a newly confident species of younger professional women. Add the pressure to remain youthful and demonstrate perpetual virility, and many of today’s men over 40 are in trouble. If a man keeps playing by the old scoreboard and the old timetable, he is likely to strike out.

In this climate of uncertainty, hundreds of men have talked to me candidly about all kinds of forbidden subjects: their concerns about aging, the ebbing of physical strength and athletic prowess, their fears of losing their jobs and their fathers, the meaning crisis they face at the midpoint of their lives, their envy of empowered working wives, their wish to be closer to their children before they lose them, their preretirement anxieties, and the whole question of potency in all areas of their lives.

Perhaps you never thought these questions would concern you. You’ve never thought about not being young. A well-known entertainer was shocked the first time lie went through the supermarket line and he checkout girl looked right through him. Still handsome, though his jawline is now somewhat softened, he is less cocky and less confrontational; he seems to have calmed down and warmed up–qualities that would presumably enhance his powers of attraction. Yet when we talked, he could focus only on the negative aspects of these changes: “You feel separated from youth at the same time you’re feeling diminished in physical strength and stamina; you start being passed over by younger men; the sex isn’t as great as it was; an incredible desire to be young again comes over you.”

When I ask men if they ever talk over these questions with their male friends, they almost always shake their heads: “No.”

Why not?

“It’s a guy thing.”

Most of the time they don’t even discuss these matters with their wives, who are often preoccupied with their own midlife changes. After a lecture in Pennsylvania, I was stopped by an energetic-looking woman with a book bag slung over her shoulder. I started back to school in my late thirties,” she said. “I’ll celebrate my forty-second birthday by getting my diploma as a clinical social worker. My husband kept complaining, ‘You’re changing. Why? I’m the same man you married twenty years ago.’ Bingo! That’s the reason we’re getting divorced.”

The husband probably thinks that remaining the same, and hiding his feelings and frustration, is being manly. He may feel stuck, even trapped, by his financial responsibilities. He expects himself to be the same provider, the same aggressive competitor he always was, expecting his body to take punishment and burn fat and attract women the way it always did. But beneath the bravado he probably doesn’t feel the same thrill of the chase he did in his twenties. His whole identity is tied up with the status he has achieved so far. If he lets go even a little, what else is there?

He cannot imagine how to change. Why should he?

When women in midlife go back to school, start new careers, or leave stifling marriages, for the most part they are exhilarated. Even if their salary and status is not as great as a man’s, they derive greater satisfaction–because they started with so much less. The men they leave behind are often resentful, even jealous, having likely helped to finance a former wife’s emergence into the status of “being my own person” at the expense of their own revamping.

Linear reasoning is likely to lead a man to think, “Once I achieve certain things, then I’ll be happy.” But it is not only titles and material accomplishments that matter. And when those external achievements fall to provide meaning and joyfulness on schedule, men become frustrated. Confused. Angry. And ashamed to admit it.

This male malaise has no name. It is a dark continent. Most men don’t recognize–or refuse to accept–that they continue to go through different stages throughout their adult lives. And few men I have studied are even aware that important new passages still lie ahead–after 40. These crossroads demand a full stop and a pause to look inward. They present a man with a chance to stretch and progress, or to lock in and regress. It is necessary to let go of a little control during these times of passage so that an old shell can be sloughed off and space made for a yeasty, multidimensional “new self” to grow.

Transitional periods are always unsettling, for anybody. But a lack of awareness makes it more likely that a man may slide into depression and do all sorts of self-destructive things. More often than not, men are not even conscious of being depressed. They begin slipping down the cliff, inch by inch, while clutching frantically for anything to hold on to or simply numbing themselves to what feels like an inevitable descent down the back side of life.

This book presents a brighter outlook, based on research with today’s new men. It is men in middle life who have the best chance to become masters of their fate–better lovers, better fathers, truer to themselves and their own values, freer to express their feelings and exercise their creativity, more influential, more collaborative, more spiritual. They need only knowledge and a mind open enough to receive it.

But time is running out! Not nearly as fast as you think. In fact, the middle years are the stage of potential highest well-being in the lives of healthy educated people today. You don’t believe it? Consider some facts:


We are living through the greatest miracle ‘in the history of our species–the doubling of life expectancy since the Industrial Revolution. Back when the United States was founded, life expectancy at birth stood at only about 35 years. By 1900, it reached 47 years. One of the most stunning developments of the twentieth century has been to stretch the life cycle by an average of thirty years–more than the total gained over five thousand years going back to the Bronze Age! Another shock of good news on life expectancy appeared ‘in September 1997 ‘in The New York Times:

In 1996 alone, American men added six months to their life
expectancy and reached a new high.

That was according to an analysis of U.S. vital statistics by the Centers for Disease Control. The average male life span is now 73 years. It is also catching up with the female life span (now an average of 79), as the number of AIDS deaths and the *incidence of heart disease and cancer decline. Between now and the year 2030, the proportion of people over age 65 will almost double. And this will be true, even sooner, all over Europe.

Fine, you may say, but if an extended life span means spending years with my bulb dimming and my body falling apart, forget it. We all look to our fathers and mothers as mirrors of our own aging. Those are miscues in many ways. When our parents turned 50, we thought they were old. They thought they were old. Since 1950, unimagined advances have been made in medicine; and, more pertinent, public health education through the mass media has prompted profound changes in personal behavior. People in middle life today have a very different life profile from that of their parents, who were expected to turn off their mental engines in their fifties. They didn’t dream of running marathons or gulping down hormones to keep them randy until their eighties.

People are maturing earlier, physically, but taking longer to grow up emotionally, and much, much longer to grow old. For the middle classes, adolescence is now prolonged until the end of the twenties. Our First Adulthood only begins at about age 30. Somewhere around the midforties we enter a major passage into what used to be a rather staid, if not stagnant, middle age.

Yet we seem to be more reluctant to grow up than ever before. Of the hundreds of men over 40 whom I have interviewed, most believe they are five to ten years younger than that imposter whose picture somehow slipped inside their passports. Today the midpoint of adulthood is no longer necessarily 40–it’s more like 50.

Fifty is what 40 used to be.

If you are a man now in his thirties, forties, or early fifties, you can adjust your lens on aging. Beneficiaries of the boom in men’s health, biotechnology, and brain research, you belong to a species unprecedented on the planet, a species whose life span will routinely extend into your eighties and nineties. This means you must prepare for the possibility of another life–beyond the traditional roles and responsibilities–because the years from 40 to 80 or 90 offer you a whole new playing field: what I call your “Second Adulthood.”

In Second Adulthood you begin to learn that fulfillment In life is not in a result of simply racking up points on a single scoreboard. Rather, there are a number of different scoreboards–as son, mate, father, friend, colleague, mentor, community wise man, benefactor. The crucial innings of Second Adulthood are neither played by the same rules nor scored in the same way as a young man’s game. But most men are so focused on winning in the first half, they usually miss the signals that can prepare them with a winning strategy for middle and later life.

Gary Markovitz, for example, was a good soldier. Having served in Vietnam and returned to college to train as a technocrat, he had defined himself for seventeen years totally within the context of his company. “When people asked me what I am, I was an IBMer,” he admits. “Not Gary who worked at IBM, but an IBMer.”

By his midforties he began to wonder if his batteries were wearing down, but it didn’t occur to him to wonder what else he might enjoy doing. He heard about his company’s buyout offer while on a business trip to San Francisco. At first he had no interest in it. But on the plane ride home he found himself thinking about a friend’s recent funeral. The man had come up through the ranks at IBM with Gary and had suddenly passed away from cancer.

Gary found himself ticking off, finger by finger, just how many people could be counted on to show up for his own funeral. He didn’t get very far. What value did he have outside IBM? He thought about his oldest son, who was already 25. Before long, there would be a grandson sitting on his knee. Innocent and adoring, the boy would ask him, “Grandpa, what did you do that meant something?”

I made money.

“It didn’t pass the grandfather test,” Gary decided. “I could be doing better things.”


A man in his late forties in a Minneapolis audience expressed a common concern of men: “Give it to me straight. Do I have to lose power as I grow older?”

On the contrary. The power of mind, rooted in experience, only increases as we meet the predictable crises and accidents of life and discover our resilience. A whole new stage has opened up in the middle of life: the “Age of Mastery,” a bonus stage from ages 45 to 65. The passage from First to Second Adulthood and into the Age of Mastery actually transforms the idea of power.

Baby boomers need a guide to their middle life. Theirs will be a brand-new journey, full of surprises. Four out of every ten American adults belong to the baby-boom generation, which, based on my research with the US. Census Bureau, must be divided into two subgenerations. The leading edge can be called the “Vietnam Generation” (born 1946-1955). This is President Bin Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s generation, which they describe as being strong in ideals but indifferent to the old ideologies. Boomers now in their early forties to early fifties came of age expecting that everything would always get better, and for most of them, it did. The spirit of the sixties formed their utopian consciousness, and vestiges of that spirit are still with them, tempered by the cynicism of the times.

The younger half of the boomers–the “Me Generation”–came of age in the 1970s (born 1956-1965) and missed much of the idealism of the Vietnam Generation, but focused more on personal development. They dreamed of achieving the perfectly balanced life and thus continue to postpone taking on many of the responsibilities of full adulthood. But they are far more tolerant of egalitarian marriages, gay partnerships, single parenthood, and other social experiments. Both halves of this dominant generation have always been highly individualistic and thus irreconcilably divided. But on one issue they seem to be in total agreement:

Boomers do not accept middle age.

Boomer men do not see themselves as getting older. And they certainly don’t anticipate any changes in their peak sexual performance–it may happen to other guys, but not to me. Yet secret doubts lurk, and a single episode of slackened sexual ardor can raise the question: Is this the beginning of the dreaded falling off?


In lectures based on my last book, New Passages, one question is always certain to come up: “Is there a male menopause?”

There is a need to know and an equally weighty fear of knowing. When I first became aware of the phenomenon, the evidence from men was mainly anecdotal. Six men sitting around a midtown Manhattan bar after work–virile sales managers and successful retailers–all of whom appear to be backing up the hill from their midforties toward the great divide at 50. They have a couple of drinks, and, within my earshot, one brassy boyo challenges the rest: “Tell the truth. How many times have you faked being asleep when your wife gets into bed with a glow in her eyes)”

Every man laughs. Then a crevice falls open in the conversation. The man in the power tie who posed the question reaches out for a lifeline: “I mean, doesn’t that happen to you guys?”

Sure, Mr. Winkle doesn’t like to drink,” another man says, chuckling. The rest chime in, putting off the problem on overwork, stress, having a few too many.

But these occasional factors do not do much to illuminate the mystery of why so many men in middle life gradually lose their vitality and virility. They see slightly older friends change from being bullish, buoyant, and decisive into being down, depressed, listless, and lustless. They wonder: Will it happen to me? Of course, being men, they refuse to talk about it. At most, the subject is couched in jokes and jibes.

An older man is walking down the street when he hears a frog
talking. The frog says, “If you pick me up and kiss me, I’ll turn
into a beautiful woman.”

The man picks up the frog and puts It Into his pocket.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” the frog complains. “I’ll turn into a ravishing woman and you can have me all you want.”

“I’d rather have a talking frog in my pocket.”

What is happening? Are we talking simply about getting older? Yes, but also about a larger challenge to a man’s view of himself–an identifiable phenomenon with physical, hormonal, psychological, and sociological components–that is now trendily referred to as “male menopause.” “We do not yet have a term for this five- to twelve-year period of midlife in men, but we know it is shared by both genders,” acknowledges Dr. Eliot Sorel, president of the World Association for Social Psychiatry and clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine.

It soon became apparent to me that if menopause is the silent passage, male menopause is the unmentionable passage. It is Just as fundamental as the ending of the fertile period of a woman’s life, because it strikes at the core of what it is to be a man–the thing a man has always counted on to bring him pleasure, the thing that has worked for him hundreds of times, mindlessly, like a machine, by himself or with any number of partners, the source of his fantasies, the sword of his dominance, the very root of his evolution as Homo sapiens–his youthful sexual drive and performance.

In the April 1993 issue of Vanity Fair, with Sharon Stone on the cover stripped to the waist and cupping her naked breasts, my male editors allowed me to publish one of the first full discussions of the subject: “The Unspeakable Passage: Is There a Male Menopause?” Ever since, men and women have been talking privately to me about this problem without a proper name. Interviews with more than a hundred men between the ages of 40 and 70 about this subject revealed that most have been shunted from the urologist to the psychiatrist to the surgeon and ended up totally confused. I have also observed the work of some two dozen medical experts in this narrow field who study and treat men over 40 suffering from some degree of sexual dysfunction *in mid- to later life. While the broader medical establishment still by and large ducks the subject, the


One day in the fall of 1996 I got a call from a dynamic young producer on the serious CBS magazine show 48 Hours. Chuck Stevenson had read my work on male menopause and interviewed some medical experts, and he wanted to put together a piece about men in middle life in sexual crisis. Chuck was only 41. A little young to be thinking about male menopause?

“Actually, I’m finding the subject fascinating,” he said. As he saw it, “The precursor to men’s midlife crisis is reduced sexual ability, which then triggers all these various psychological feelings.”

I was delighted with Chuck’s enlightened approach. He and correspondent Erin Moriarty came out to do the interview in the garden of my home in Berkeley, along with a three-man production crew.

For the interview, Chuck wanted to touch on “technical menopause–that small percentage of guys who really don’t have the testosterone.”

What I really wanted to talk about was not the small percentage of men who are already so incapacitated they might seek surgical relief My concern is the whole middle range of men who don’t know what is normal and who, when their sexual habits or performance changes, become so embarrassed or ashamed that they pull away from any intimacy. On camera, I described the most common scenario:

The longer this problem remains unspoken between a couple,
the more monstrous it grows, until there is an eight-hundred-pound
gorilla in the bedroom. Nobody mentions it for six
months, two years, five years; meanwhile, the pair stops
hugging, stops holding hands, stops touching altogether,
moves to separate beds, to separate rooms, and ultimately
separate lives. They become estranged in all forms of intimacy
because of this sexual shutdown.

When the shoot was over, I asked the producer how the piece would be titled and promoted. “That’s 


Are you one with your canoe ?

All too often all your knee jerking accomplishes is stubbing your toe.

Your views are important,we want to hear your POV as well.

Author:Gary Wellings

Twitter @sunburst2014

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.

“The journey is what brings us happiness not the destination.”
― It’s another beautiful day on the Bay Of Quinte – Z

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