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Dear John: Midlife Boredom: How Do I Get Excited About Life Again?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I know what I’m writing to you about is probably beyond the purview of a simple advice column, but I like what you have to say (usually!) so what the hell. My problem is I am bored. Really bored. With everything. The thing is, I have a good life. I am in my fifties, divorced (but I get along fine with my ex – she’s a good friend), two great kids who are doing really well, good job…nothing’s really wrong, but nothing is really great either. Like my job: I make excellent money in a prestigious career, but the truth is, I hate it. Quitting is not an option because I need this income, so I just grin and bear it. It’s a fake grin, though. I feel terrible thinking of all the good, struggling people who would kill for my job, but even knowing that, I feel how I feel. I don’t have a girlfriend, but I date as much as I want to, and it’s the same thing. Nobody really excites me. I feel like I’m on the back nine of my life and I’m just running out the clock, to use a couple of sports metaphors. To meet me, you wouldn’t know I feel this way, and it is a low-level kind of thing. I don’t think I’m depressed (because I feel like all my feelings are grounded in reality – I have a reason to feel this way) and don’t misunderstand me; this is not a desperate cry for help. I just can’t seem to shake this feeling that everything really good that was ever going to happen to me has already happened, and now everything pales in comparison. Anyway, like I said, I know you can’t say anything that’s going to fix it, but let me know your thoughts anyway, if you have any. Thanks.

Shades Of Gray

Dear Shades Of Gray,

I suspect your letter could have been written by many people. I think it has a lot to do with the realization as we get older that certain things we hoped would happen aren’t going to; dreams that sustained us when we were younger mock us when it becomes clear they’re never coming true. You seem to be suffering from an especially acute case of this, though.

First, I know you don’t think you’re depressed, but I think you should talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. (If you don’t have a doctor you see regularly, this is all the more reason to find one.) Making a diagnosis of depression is really something he or she should do, not you.

Assuming you’re right, though, you need to shake your life up and introduce something new. What outlandish-but-not-impossible thing have you always wanted to try? Climb Mt. Everest? Complete a triathlon? You need a challenge and a focus for your energy. You might also consider doing volunteer work for a cause you’re passionate about. Feeling like you’re making a difference could only help shake you out of your malaise, and if your cause brings you in contact with the many people who are less fortunate than you, you may appreciate the life you have a little more.

It would be easy to say you need a partner you care about in your life, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone else to give your life meaning.

That’s really all I can say within the constraints of an advice column, but if any readers have any other ideas, please share them. I will leave you with what I tell myself when I’m having a bad day: tomorrow, something could happen to make me wish more than anything it was today again.


Dear John,
I'm a female college student who has a crush on a really nice, shy guy. He's so much fun to be around, and he's always treated me with friendly respect. Since I consider myself an equally nice, shy-ish girl who is fairly good looking and doesn't smell bad, ordinarily I would try and get closer to him. But our dating histories are complete opposites. I'm not sure if he's ever had a girlfriend, and I know he's a virgin. I've had around four serious relationships, two of which were abusive (one sexual, one emotional), and I've slept with far more people than that because of lingering emotional issues. Since very few people know about the abuse, my sexual history is sometimes a joke among our friends, so I'm pretty sure my crush knows about it. It doesn't help that he's a Christian and I'm an atheist. Could I possibly make myself look like girlfriend material to this guy, when I feel like he's far out of my league? Or should I try and get over him? I know that my other friends would never consider me right for him.
Slut With Butterflies

Dear Slut With Butterflies,

I think it’s really sad that you consider yourself a slut. You don’t go into any detail about the “lingering emotional issues” that have led you to sleep with a lot of guys, but it’s very common for girls who are abused or neglected to grow up to be promiscuous young women. It drives me a little crazy that these girls are made to feel worthless, bombarded with imagery that encourages them to think of themselves in primarily sexual terms, and then when they behave promiscuously, which is really the only understandable reaction to everything they’ve experienced up to that point, they are derided as sluts. It’s incredibly sad and hateful. I don’t care how many men she’s slept with, no woman is a slut.

Whatever it is you’ve been through up to this point will continue to influence your relationships with men in negative ways. On some level you don’t think you deserve to be loved, so you sleep with guys in a futile attempt to fill that need. And the illusion of being loved, even just for an hour or two, is better than nothing. You know they don’t really care about you and this is just sex to them, but you don’t really deserve anything more anyway, right?

I’ll answer your specific question in a moment, but what you really need is not my take on whether you should ask this guy out or not. It’s kind of irrelevant until you address these lingering issues. You’re a college student, so your school must have a program to help students dealing with issues like yours. I urge you to contact whatever office offers these services and ask them to help you find a therapist so you can explore these things further and begin to repair the damage that was done to you through no fault of your own. You can learn to love and respect yourself, and you deserve nothing less.

Now, about this guy. He’s so out of your league, he’s so virtuous, he’s so chaste, he’s so Christian – would he ever even consider dating someone like you? All I can say is, if he judges you based on your sexual history, he’s a bad Christian (as so many are); what your friends think doesn’t matter; and I don’t think he’s any better or worse than you. You’ve just had different experiences that have led you to different places. If you enjoy his company, sure, ask him out, but don’t get ahead of yourself. You don’t have to wonder if he’ll let you be his girlfriend. Just see if he’s interested in going on a simple date. If he is and you enjoy it, see if he’ll go on another one. Take it a step at a time.

But like I said, that’s all secondary. What I really hope you’ll do is explore your lack of self-worth with a therapist. Whatever is behind it wasn’t your fault. Someday, I’d love to imagine you writing to me wondering if some guy is good enough for you instead of the other way around.


Dear John,

Please weigh in on a little situation I have at home. My husband has a habit of getting all gung ho about something, spending a lot of money on it, and then, when he’s got enough equipment to stock a small store devoted to his latest interest, it just peters out. Our house and garage are filled with like-new kayaks, an $800 grill, a small kiln, woodworking tools, and even, I swear to God, a marimba. If I jokingly ask how the marimba lessons are going, he gets a little touchy. So now he wants to buy some kind of home gym apparatus and I KNOW what will happen. To make it slightly more complicated, we can afford these things (in fact, he often mentions how hard he works to justify buying them), but it’s not like the money couldn’t be better spent elsewhere, even if it was just an extra couple of nights on vacation. He’s a sweet, generous man and I don’t want to deny him or discourage his fits of enthusiasm, but it’s getting a little ridiculous.  How can I get him to, I don’t know, just be honest with himself and see that he’s not going to use this stuff, so why buy it?

Dabbler’s Wife

Dear Dabbler’s Wife,

I’m sure in his heart, your husband knows he’s not going to use the stuff he already has, but I bet he truly believes that next time will be different. Every new interest brings with it the promise that THIS is the hobby/activity/pastime that will capture his imagination and hold it forever. (And who knows – maybe one time he’ll be right.) So it might be helpful for you to keep this in mind when you discuss this with him. When he tells you he wants to take up, say, taxidermy, point out that the house is getting a little cluttered and you’re running out of space for another hobby. So maybe he could make room for whatever supplies taxidermy requires by selling or donating all the stuff he’s acquired but doesn’t use. If taxidermy isn’t it and he wants to buy a hot-air balloon, encourage him to get rid of the taxidermy equipment to help pay for the balloon. This way, the house isn’t filled with expensive stuff no one uses, you’re not forbidding him from exploring things he’s fleetingly fascinated by, and he gets to pursue his real hobby of sampling various hobbies.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].


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