Luke Skywalker’s Midlife Crisis

 

antastic building in the desert - photo by leshiy985/Shutterstock

Photo by leshiy985/Shutterstock

 

A New Hope (the first of the original Star Wars trilogy) was first screened in cinemas in 1977. I was a one-year-old at the time. Throughout the eighties in the UK it was pretty much a staple of Christmas TV, so I would’ve been between 8 and 11 years old when I first saw it. So there I was, an impressionable pre-teen, and in love. Luke Skywalker was the first person I became limerent for, and boy was it confusing! I have a very distinct memory of being at home when my parents were throwing a party and walking around in a kind of love-induced swoon. There were lots of adults about, eating and drinking and chatting, and all I could think about was Luke Skywalker, and the burning ache in my chest that the image of his face produced in me. What was this strange, intense sensation, I wondered? It was, of course, limerence.

Another memory. We were in Spain for our summer holiday. Star Wars was being shown on an outdoor screen. The whitewashed walls of the Spanish villas, the dry heat and sand, all made me feel as though I was actually there, in Tatooine. There was something very magical about that screening (although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate exactly what at the time). And there was Luke Skywalker. The hero. Someone to fall in love with, but also… someone I could relate to.

Back home in England, living in suburbia, life an endless round of getting up, going to school, coming home from school, I understood Luke’s dissatisfaction with his dull life of farming. When was something going to happen to me? When would I be starting on my own hero’s journey?

Later, I cursed myself for wanting more of life. For wanting excitement, for wanting to grow up sooner rather than later. Because, in a way, my own hero’s journey began with a death. My father’s death, to be specific. And when that life-changing event happened I very much wished I could unwish my previous wish for something to happen. Remember – be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.

Throughout university, further studies and work, Star Wars was always there. A comforting reminder of a happy childhood. Of dreaming about other worlds. Of a hero battling adversity. Doing the right thing at all costs.

The prequels came and went in my twenties. I watched them, of course, but for me the magic just wasn’t there. Was it because of the actual craft of the films? The sometimes impossible CGI? The new characters? The sometimes dodgy storytelling, the ropey dialogue? Or maybe I couldn’t connect with the films because I was older…? I’d experienced real life, after all. And these films had very little to say to me.

A decade or so passed. I continued on my own heroine’s journey, motherhood the next stage of it

The third trilogy – the films that dealt with the years after The Return of the Jedi – was about to happen. Now this was exciting! We were, at last, going to find out what happened to Luke Skywalker. I’d get to see how my childhood hero was doing. What great things he’d achieved.

The Force Awakens came and went. Okay, no magic there. But it was a fun film, the new characters pretty cool. Having a female lead, Rey, was a breath of fresh air, but I felt her to be ever so… one-dimensional. And incredibly capable. Good for her, but I couldn’t really relate to her.

We only got a glimpse of Luke Skywalker at the end. I wanted to cheer, to whoop, when he appeared on screen. There was so much expectation as he was presented with his old light saber. Here was the hero, the hero of my childhood, and he was going to be marvellous (when things really got going in the next film).

But then, last year, The Last Jedi came out. I suspect that many other midlifers like me, were excited. Expectant. But, for me – for many – the film failed to deliver. Social media was awash with opinions. I read article after article. Interview after interview. Mark Hamill hadn’t been happy with Luke’s new story (no surprise there). I wasn’t happy. Other people weren’t happy, although some were. People argued. As what seems to be the norm in this “age of outrage”, deep reflection and nuance got lost.

So, as usual, I reflected on the film, took some time; came to some conclusions of my own. I thought some of the new characters were endearing, interesting, full of potential. The film visually impressive. But with my writer’s hat on the storyline was, um, problematic, shall we say? But these were asides to the real issue: Luke’s story.

So, on the assumption that approximately 25 (Earth years) have passed since we last saw Luke, what did he actually do during those years? Well, we know that he founded a school for young Jedi. Taught them. That his powerful nephew came to his school (about 15 years into his teaching career) and Luke had concerns… which led to a crucial moment of potential action (coupled with fearful indecision, hesitation) which plunged the whole galaxy, apparently, into turmoil. His school was destroyed, his whole belief system destroyed, and he became a recluse for the next decade.

In short, Luke goes through a midlife crisis and does not deal with it terribly well. In the film, “Luke the recluse” is the worst kind of teenage cliché – he is dismissive, stubborn, angry, uncommunicative.

This is a man who, in the original trilogy, learnt control, patience. When to strike, when to not strike. In The Last Jedi he has unlearnt all his learning. The hero who went on to mentor other Jedi is now a stroppy, sullen teenager. He is stuck in midlife, permanently in crisis. Way to go Luke. (Or rather, way to go screenwriters.) There will be some that argue that at the end of the film, all has come good. Luke, the hero, has returned. I’m open to that idea. But all the stuff before… no. Just no.

As a midlifer who has experienced challenges, crises, whatever you want to call them, and who will no doubt continue to have to ride stormy seas in the future, I do not want to see my childhood hero unable to cope with the hard stuff. I need to see him grow and face new challenges with maturity and wisdom. I still need him to be my mentor. He’s been teaching other Jedi. Where has all that experience gone? What has all his life amounted to?

Of course, it is just a film. Yes, but also no. Star Wars plays into the collective unconscious. It is full of archetypes. The hero’s journey. All things that speak to each one of us at a deep, fundamental level. So when a beloved character acts out of character in a film that means so much to so many people, it jars.

But this is out of my hands. Our hands. Maybe us midlifers need to move on, accept that our hero of the original trilogy has long-vanished; that this latest trilogy means so much more to the younger generations than it does to us; to allow them their own magic (which can maybe only happen in one’s formative years). We have other stories to look to. Other archetypes, other, perhaps older, characters to invest in. To look to for guidance as we move into the next phase of our lives and see our own children grow and mature and take centre stage. Of course those characters are there. Surely, they’ve always been there. Thankfully, the movie industry appears to be more open to other characters. To older characters. But, still, we may need to seek them out. They are there. In our lives. In the books we read. Maybe overlooked, but still there. Patient. Waiting for us to unearth them. Let us discover them. Let us find a new hope.

Prose for Thought
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All the Fun of the Fair – or Maybe Not?

A fortnight ago the funfair came to our small town and set up shop. This happens every year at the beginning of July and on the Saturday of the travelling fair’s four-day-long stay the village runs a show alongside the funfair. This means that the recreational field is full of stalls, there’s an area for music and dance performances, a dog show and tug-of-war; ice cream vans and tombolas. In addition, there is the local horticultural, arts and crafts show for townsfolk to get involved in.

I like to take part in the show (particularly the art categories) – although I do tend to forget about it until the very last minute – and as they have crafting & baking categories for children to enter it’s become a bit of a thing for us. Although every year I reiterate to my two kids – it’s about the taking part, not the winning!

As they’ve got older they’ve become more interested in the show, but still, the big highlight for them is the funfair. This year we had fine weather and came away from the arts and craft show with a few prizes. So we headed to the funfair with smiling faces… First stop was the candy floss seller.

 

Candy floss, by Marija Smits

Candy floss, by Marija Smits

 

However, I do have mixed feelings about funfairs. As an HSP (highly-sensitive person) the sheer number of people, the noise (sometimes screams) of the crowd, the pop songs blaring out of the speakers, the smell of the diesel-fuelled generators mixing with the smell of frying onions and burgers, hits me with a good old sensory wallop. I worry about the kids getting lost; I worry about where they’ve put their shoes when they go on a bouncy castle or ride that requires them to go barefoot; I worry about how much money I’m spending; how I’m going to carry all the stuff I’ve brought along with me and not lose any valuables in the process; I get hot and sweaty, and worry about the safety of the people on the fast, whizzy rides (look at all those mechanical parts… so much could go wrong!) and, in general, my patience runs out pretty quickly. I long to get home, to the quiet and cool of our comfy and non-sensory-overloading nest.

 

Kids water walking, photo by Marija Smits

Kids water walking, photo by Marija Smits

 

And yet… there is something rather wonderful about the funfair. I can see why travelling fairs have ended up in speculative books and TV shows (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, along with Heroes, immediately spring to mind) because there is something thrillingly different, mysterious even, about the funfair and the lives of the people who run them. It also makes me think of my own childhood, and in particular my early teens, when the funfair coming to town was a much-anticipated event. Oh for the gut-churning thrill of the waltzer; the super-greasy fast food; the whiplash of the bumper cars; the chance of encountering boys from the local boys’ school…

Perhaps age, then, is the main factor in my no longer being able to fully enjoy funfairs; maybe they mainly appeal to teenagers who yearn for the promise of excitement. To a limerent girl-turning-woman, the funfair was a glimpse into the future – of night-life, of thrills, of the other sex. And given the number of groups of teenagers descending on the funfair I can’t see its appeal vanishing any time soon. I can envision my own children, when older, congregating at the funfair with their friends. No doubt I’ll worry about their safety, and exactly what they’re getting up to (!), but like most parental milestones, it’ll be something I’ll have to experience and learn to navigate, if not, exactly, embrace.

 

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Marriage and the Midlife Crisis

Last week it was my husband’s and my wedding anniversary. We celebrated with hugs and kind words and time spent pottering about with our kids, getting on with the usual chores. In the evening we had a takeaway and dessert. In quiet moments I reflected on our almost 20 years together (13 of them as a married couple).

 

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

 

On the day of our wedding, it would have been good if, along with the marriage certificate, we were given a guide to negotiating the ups and downs of marriage, but as no one presented us with such a guide, like many other couples we bumbled along and came up with our own. Although it took a while to craft, it is, thankfully, short. It goes something like this:

  1. Love and respect each other.
  2. Communicate well.

And voila! That is it!

In the early days of marriage, when we were in our late 20s, it seemed so simple. We had it all figured out. Go us!

But you know what… we got older. We had kids. We were constantly tired. Number 2 sometimes seemed impossible. Simply because there was no time to communicate, let alone communicate well. Time seemed to have sped up and slowed down all at once. There was no time to just be. No time to be alone with each other. But equally, sometimes time stretched on forever… particularly when one of the children was ill or teething or going through a particularly challenging phase of development. You name it… it seemed to go on and on and on…. When we were childless, the importance of time spent together hadn’t even crossed my mind.

So in the glorious muddle of early motherhood I made a note to myself:

  1. Spend time together (with or without the kids, depending on their age & needs).

As the children became more independent and the hazy days of early motherhood began to clear I thought, Aha! We have more time now! We’re back on track. But you know what? We were now middle-aged. And you know what happens at middle age, don’t you? Yep. The midlife crisis.

 

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

 

But this wasn’t something that I’d ever considered in my 20s. The midlife crisis was only for men who had a penchant for motorbikes, wasn’t it? Turns out I was wrong.

Suddenly at the midpoint of our lives, it dawns on us that time is beginning to run out. We still haven’t been to Australia, won the Nobel Prize or travelled in outer space. This is the time of the midlife crisis, which Jung says is frequently marked in men by a period of depression around the age of 40, and at a slightly younger age in women.

Some women seem to hit the midlife crisis when their children have all started school and they suddenly have a bit more freedom. Others, especially those who are working full-time, seem to have a later one when the children leave home.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

Whoa! This was serious stuff! And we both seemed to be going through it.

Not only are us middle-aged folk ‘psychologically vulnerable’ at this time, biology seems to be against us too. Our bodies are changing. Growing older. Hair falls out. Or turns grey. Hormones are in flux. Ovaries are on the downturn… For many women it is a last chance to consider having children. Men don’t experience quite the same fertility anxieties. Yet the possibility of other partners – younger spouses – often adds to the mix of the midlife crisis. As does realising that the ‘career-for-life’ (often chosen in one’s 20s) doesn’t quite turn out to be the right career. Where do you go from there – particularly when the weight of financial responsibility is on your shoulders? Job stuck. Heart stuck. Mind stuck. It all sucks.

I hope (I trust) we are through the worst of it, but you know what, it was sometimes rough. Sometimes more down than up. But what really helped was this:

  1. Communicating well.

Although there was the whole ‘figuring out how to communicate’ thing! In our 20s, talking to each other had always come easily, but real proper communication… well, first we both had to figure out how to do that. Turns out it’s dead simple. But hard. It consists of a) LISTENING to the other person WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (that’s a challenge!) and b) LISTENING to oneself and one’s own needs WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (again, harder said than done). After that, comes honest discussion, with solutions put forward for ways to work through the particular challenge. It’s about remembering that if you do still:

  1. Love and respect each other

in essence you’re on the other person’s side. So make time to talk. To listen. To find a way through a challenging time.

Also, in the midst of the midlife crisis muddles I remember thinking that self-reflection was (again) a real saviour. Figuring out that I was a highly-sensitive person as well as a limerent helped. So I added the following to add to the guide:

  1. Know thyself. (Though I think some Greek philosophers got there before me!)

Finally…

Midlife crisis, then, marks the return of the opposite, an attempt on the part of the psyche to re-balance. Jung says that this stage is actually very important, because otherwise we risk developing the kind of personality that attempts always to recreate the psychic disposition of youth.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

So the last point I’d add to the guide is this:

  1. Be mindful of life’s rhythms, and how these rhythms and shifts in circumstances can affect a relationship. Wild beings (Wild Man and Wild Woman too) instinctively understand the importance of taking note of natural rhythms. There will be ups and downs; as long as number 1. (love and respect) is still there, one of the most worthwhile things to do is to hold on to each other and find a way through.

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Limerence, and Are You Addicted to Love?

Limerence is defined as:

(psychology) An involuntary romantic infatuation with another person, especially combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated.

First coined by Dorothy Tennov (from Wiktionary)

 

As an ex-scientist I love a good definition, and the above is so concise and deliciously objective, that it absolutely delights me, but of course it can’t possibly convey what it’s like to be a limerent. Perhaps poetry can help.

 

BC eyes by Marija Smits

Eyes 1, by Marija Smits

 

Love Blurt

 

You’ve just met the most amazing/gorgeous/incredible man ever,

and believe it or not, as luck would have it, he totally likes you too.

There’s this connection between you, like electricity,

and a something about his eyes and voice and smile that makes you go weak at the knees.

And life is suddenly totally absolutely perfect; you can’t think about anything else

apart from this one man, and you just know that THIS IS IT!

This is totally it, and you’re going to be together forever.

 

And then…

 

you meet one of his friends, and he is so totally amazing/gorgeous/incredible

and there’s this real connection between you, like electricity,

a something about his eyes and voice and smile, the way he seems to really know you,

although you’ve only just met,

and you think Oh shit, I am so totally absolutely screwed,

I am in really big trouble this time…

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

James-Mcavoy-eyes-by-Marija-Smits

Eyes 2, by Marija Smits

 

I actually wrote this poem a few years ago, couldn’t find an immediate publishing home for it, and then forgot all about it. My husband (who’s not a big fan of poetry) said positive things about it (if my memory serves me right). Or maybe he said that it wasn’t like my ‘usual’ poetry – perhaps less contemporary poetry-like – and so that’s why he thought it okay!

 

02-2017-love-and-limerence-by-dorothy-tennov

 

Anyway, a while later I got hold of the excellent book Love and Limerence by Dorothy Tennov, and suddenly realized: this poem is about limerence. And of course I know what limerence is, because I am a limerent. Oh shit, I thought. But also, thank goodness! It explained so much about my life (in rather the same way that finding out that I am a highly-sensitive person did).

Love (and limerence, if you’ve heard of it and know what it is) isn’t something that many people reflect on. Okay, well, many people experience love, but thinking about it, in a dispassionate and analytical way? Nope, there’s not a lot of that going on.

Tennov’s book takes a critical look at the nature of love and this thing called limerence; within the book are many people’s experiences of limerence, and reading some of the limerents’ stories, I couldn’t help but see myself in them. Thank goodness, I wasn’t the only one, I thought. But still: Oh crap.

First, I feel it necessary to say that being a limerent DOES NOT EQUAL being unable to love someone deeply and to stay faithful to them for years, for decades or for a lifetime… (Here is an older, yet relevant, post about long-term love, becoming parents and clear communication.) But sometimes, yes, being a limerent does equal the inability to ‘love commit’ to someone on a long-term basis (I’m sure many of us know couples who have broken up after a short or long while, perhaps because of falling in love/limerence with someone else. It could be argued that serial monogamy is a symptom/outcome of limerence).

But taking personal experiences (and love) out of this, shouldn’t we be more analytical about our emotions and question the whys and whats and hows of love? Some might argue: No, it’s pointless, it has little use. Or no, it destroys the “magic”. Or that emotions can’t be analysed. But my, this limerence thing is powerful stuff, and a peek into its workings can surely only better equip us to understand ourselves and each other better? Sapere aude – dare to know!

So with this in mind, I thought it worthwhile to go through the major categories/stages of relationships (as outlined in Tennov’s book):

 

Readiness for Limerence and Longing

This is the part where a limerent person has not, quite, found the right someone to become limerent for. But oh, the idea of that person! And the longing and the loneliness… and oh how crushing each Valentine’s Day is when that other person still isn’t in our lives. Music helps. Poetry helps. Books help. The pre-teen and teenage years seem to particularly be about this stage.

 

Hope

Tennov defines the person a limerent falls in love with as the “limerent object” (she’s quite right, because often limerence is more about the limerent than the person they are in love with). My poem ‘Love Blurt’ describes transference – when the limerence one feels for one limerent object transfers to another. Transference (to my mind) is evidence that limerence is more about the limerent’s mind/imagination than the actual limerent object.

Our society may label the “the limerent object” as “the one” (a tricksy label, indeed, implying that there is only one right person for each person on earth. Really? In a world full of billions of humans, surely this can’t be right?). Still, the period of hope is when a limerent person finds the other – the limerent object – and every waking thought is given to that person. It is an obsession like no other, and it presents itself as an actual physical pain in the chest. And very often (like in my poem) the voice and eyes and smile of the limerent object communicate volumes, tomes even. And

The objective that you as a limerent pursue, as is clear in the fantasy that occupies virtually your every waking moment, is a “return of feelings”.

Love and Limerence, by Dorothy Tennov p. 57

 

Mutual Limerence

This is the stage in a relationship which is pure and utter bliss. It is the stage in which two people, who are limerent for each other have overcome the barriers to being together and finally are together, completely and wholly, in a romantic, spiritual and sexual sense. It is the part where Romeo and Juliet finally spend a night together. Utter, utter bliss.

But does it last? Like forever and forever? A lifetime? Hell, no! As blissful as the prolonging of this stage would be, one has to be realistic: it would be exhausting to perpetually be in limerence with someone. It fades. It simply has to. But it can transform into:

 

Affectional Bonding

Often this is felt by couples who have passed through the mutual limerence stage and discovered beyond the superficial limerence a deep respect, liking and love for each other. It is a very real and deep meeting of human souls; for to know someone, to really know someone and to see them “spiritually naked” – as it were – to see their pain, their vulnerability, their fears, their desires, and for them to see you spiritually naked too, has got to be one of the most worthwhile and connecting things we humans can do. And many in our society still look at those who have been happily married for decades and decades and decades with wonder and delight and respect.

 

zentangle-heart-by-marija-smits

Zentangle Heart by Marija Smits

 

Non-limerence

Perhaps some of you who are reading this may think I am speaking another language. All this stuff about chest pain and longing and intrusive, obsessive thinking and fantasizing and emotional dependence is utterly… bizarre. So of course I have to point out that there are some who don’t experience limerence. Tennov actually had a “theoretical breakthrough” in her research on romantic love when she had a long and involved discussion with a non-limerent. The idea of the absence of all the stuff that limerents feel led her to understand just what limerence is.

And of course, can you imagine all the awful misunderstandings, muddles, tragedies even when a limerent falls in love with a non-limerent…?

 

***

 

I have a complicated relationship with limerence (!), and I am still thinking and learning and writing about limerence and its consequences. To me, it is a fascinating psychological topic. And if, like me, you are curious/intrigued by love and limerence I can definitely recommend Tennov’s book. In the meantime I hope I have given a good-enough description of what limerence is. It is up to you, though, to sapere aude (dare to know) the answers to these questions: Are you a limerent? and: Are you addicted to love?

 

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Prose for Thought

 

Limerence, long-term love and short stories

I’ve had this post in my head for a while, and although I’d hoped to publish it on Valentine’s Day, work intervened and I wasn’t able to. However… it’s still February, so the topic of love is still kind of relevant, right?

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits

Anyway… I’ve written before about how writing a first draft of a book is rather like falling in love, and so I wanted to expand on this. When I recently heard the word ‘limerence’ (which, in essence, means romantic infatuation) I thought it a lovely word and just right for describing my feelings about starting a new piece of writing.

Since the end of last summer I’ve been writing short stories (I wrote four in total) and I thought that the process had parallels with limerence and long-term love. The pre-writing part, where an idea sparks and I begin to work out the plot in my head, is rather like limerence. It’s the bit where I walk around in a daze, smiling to myself, having met what I’m sure must be ‘the one’. Then I write the first draft. It’s exciting and magical, just like the part when you realize the person you are hugely attracted to is also attracted to you. And I experience a real rush of emotion as I come to the end of the first draft knowing that something really special just happened…

There is a brief lull (usually a few days) as I step away from the story and let it settle. This ‘detaching’ is necessary so that I can switch from subjective mode to objective mode, which is needed for the editing.

When I come back to the story and read it with a clearer head, I taste the bittersweet tang that comes with the knowledge that this story has flaws; the limerence has ebbed away and what I am left with is a flawed, yet still worthwhile and valuable story. This is the part where long-term love can (or cannot) begin to grow. I’m pretty good at sticking with it, committing myself to the editing process (which, like long-term relationships, have their charms) but I have to say that on the second or third edit I have to wonder why I’m doing this. Isn’t it easier to quit? Isn’t it easier, and infinitely more lovely to start a new story and fall in love with another all over again? Well, that’s the temptation, isn’t it? But holding on… sticking with that story takes guts and determination and a willingness to find oneself out of one’s depth. Then to carry on and on, putting that story out there, submitting it, coping with rejection and re-submitting it… (This, dear reader, can go on for years — and it is not unlike the challenges that one faces in a relationship when children come along… but I wrote more about that here.) Well, it all takes time and energy and a strength of spirit which isn’t always easy to muster.

So wherever you are in your writing (or relationship!) or business or latest hobby, I (think) I can empathise. And I wish for you what I wish for myself; the wisdom to know when it’s worth holding on; and the courage to hold on when it’s worth doing so.