with

Mike Bellah

Stevenson called Middlescence II the new middle years, a new phase of adult development, not "tacked on to the end of life," but slipped into the middle as a full and robust era in its own right.

 

 

 

 

The new middle years can lead to new intimacy, renewed romance, and even greater sexual fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

To Stevenson wisdom is the sole possession of older minds and the main attribute needed to protect and sustain a society.

The New Middle Years

"I'm too old to be young and too young to be old," lamented Kathy Bates in "Fried Green Tomatoes." When I began this column nearly three years ago, I viewed midlife in similar terms (though with a more positive slant). These are the years when we can have the best of both worlds--enough youth to inspire and energize our dreams and enough age to give us the practical wisdom to live and enjoy these dreams.

I still believe this, yet with one major revision. Three years ago I thought the middle years took place roughly between our 35th and 55th birthdays. I viewed those under 35 as young and those over 55 as old. Not any more.

As I've interviewed and heard from those over 55, many of whom think and act younger than some 30-year-olds, I've discovered what author Joanne Stevenson referred to as "the new middle years."

As early as 1977 Stevenson was identifying two distinct phases of midlife: "Middlescence I" lasts from 30 to 50 and describes those who are establishing their values, careers, and families; "Middlescence II" describes those 50 to 70 (Stevenson arbitrarily stopped at 70 because it was the age of mandatory retirement) who take on a more global task of enhancing and guaranteeing the survival of the nation.

Stevenson called Middlescence II the new middle years, a new phase of adult development, not "tacked on to the end of life," but slipped into the middle as a full and robust era in its own right. Written over 20 years ago, Stevenson's insights have proved prophetic. I share some of them with you as encouragement to all now living the new middle years.

Intimacy

Stevenson said that with children leaving home and changes at work, couples over 50 often reassess their priorities and reaffirm their commitment to their marriage. Thus the new middle years can lead to new intimacy, renewed romance, and even greater sexual fulfillment.

Creativity

And the new middle years have more leisure time, something that other generations have defined negatively as idleness, loneliness, and boredom. But Stevenson says that creativity changes all that. The creative use of leisure can mean a whole new level of life satisfaction.

Wisdom

"If we valued wisdom, we would value old people," wrote Stevenson. Stevenson saw wisdom as different from and superior to knowledge. Knowledge, which is often associated with younger minds, is concerned with the discovery and articulation of facts. Wisdom, however, can "discern" and "judge" these facts. To Stevenson wisdom is the sole possession of older minds and the main attribute needed to protect and sustain a society.

Spirituality

"Many people in their late 40s move from neutrality on the issue of God, or even from agnosticism or atheism, toward the development of a spiritually based belief system," said Stevenson. Stevenson's final observation makes me think that the new middle years may not be so new after all.

For throughout history it has been the elders in a society (men and women) who have held forth the guiding spiritual-moral light for their civilizations, something sorely needed in our own world, and just one more reason why the new middle years may be the best ones yet.

Respond to this column on Best Years Blog.
View others' responses to this column before January 2004.

Best Years Home
Mike's Midlife Story
More Free Columns
Links Page
Best Years Blog
About Mike
Old Stuff