Do We Need Schools for Forty-Year-Olds? November 10, 2014
Some years ago I was working on a precursor to my latest book, a manuscript about creating partnership between our psychological opposites. Throughout history cultures have found the categories of “masculinity” and “femininity” useful for designating differences between pairs of opposites in many areas of life, including languages, electronics, social roles, leadership styles and so on. Curious about the different ways men and women develop psychologically over a lifetime, I used the same categories in an assessment tool I created. The Partnership Profile estimates the relative weight an individual gives to the masculine and feminine qualities of his or her psyche. I wanted to use it to help people understand that everyone contains both kinds of qualities, and both are equally necessary to a successful adaptation to life.
As Jung wrote in 1930 when gender and sexual stereotypes were more widely accepted and adhered to than now:
“We might compare masculinity and femininity and their psychic components to a definite store of substances of which, in the first half of life, unequal use is made. A man consumes his large supply of masculine substance and has left over only the smaller amount of feminine substance, which must now be put to use. Conversely, the woman allows her hitherto unused supply of masculinity to become active.” Jung, CW, Vol. 8, para. 782
Over the next few years I administered The Partnership Profile to over 700 people in various stages of life, from college students to old age, and used the results to refine my instrument and draw some preliminary conclusions about the natural changes that occur in the psyche over a lifetime. I’m not sure I agree with Jung’s observation that men have a larger supply of masculine qualities and women of feminine, but my results did bear out his findings that everyone has both, and that our use of them changes over time. He wrote,
“How often it happens that a man of forty-five or fifty winds up his business, and the wife then dons the trousers and opens a little shop where he perhaps performs the duties of a handyman. There are many women who only awaken to social responsibility and to social consciousness after their fortieth year. In modern business life, especially in America, nervous breakdowns in the forties are a very common occurrence….Very often these changes are accompanied by all sorts of catastrophes in marriage, for it is not hard to imagine what will happen when the husband discovers his tender feelings and the wife her sharpness of mind.” Vol. 8, para 783
For a while I conducted partnership workshops at the Disney Institute. At one session an elderly man stood up and proudly shared his score which was heavily weighted on the feminine side of the continuum. Then he said something like this: “I was a marine for over thirty years, and I’m proud of it. But I’m here to tell you that the score I got today is right on. It sure wouldn’t have been when I was a young man, but I’ve changed. My wife and I live next door to a little old lady whose health is bad and I go over there every day to help out. I cook, clean, buy groceries, run errands, do odd jobs. My wife won’t go with me. She says she’s had enough of that and would rather read.” At this point his wife nodded vigorously in agreement. He continued, “But I can’t get enough. I love helping her! That’s a whole new part of me I never knew I had when I was a marine.”
“The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated people live their lives without even knowing the possibility of such transformations. Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of our life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Vol. 8, para. 784
Have you experienced this reality? What do you think? Should someone start a school for forty-year-olds?
Note: For those interested in reading more, I highly recommend The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien, and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by Jungian analyst James Hollis.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.