That strange beckoning may not be a call to freedom after all.

If i hear the term “midlife crisis” one more time, I may have one. The phrase expands in common parlance to encompass any struggle of the soul that occurs between the ages of 31 and 55. And if love covers a multitude of sins, the redoubtable midlife crisis disguises a multitude of the same. People no longer commit adultery and break up their marriages; they “go through midlife crises.”

I have heard the same monologue from so many of my male friends that I am contemplating printing up cue cards to save them the trouble of having to formulate rationalizations. The code words, which seem to occur whether the marriage has lasted 5 years or 15, go like this: “I have changed. I am a different man today than when I married her. I must be true to myself, and follow who I really am as far as that leads me. I can see why I used to love her, but I am now bound to follow my new dreams and expectations, which she simply can’t fulfill.”

Often a hormonal complication comes out during the conversation: a deep, abiding attraction to “another woman who truly understands me” (who usually happens to be 10 years younger and 15 pounds lighter than the wife, and untrammeled with the responsibilities of motherhood). The husband plays out the scenario with great earnestness, his facial muscles expressing the blend of deep pain and poignancy over “a force bigger than I that I simply cannot resist.” I do my best to follow the wise-listener rules of keeping quiet and nodding sympathetically. I try not to flinch when I hear that this experience is wholly unexpected and unique, possibly something new in the history of the world. (In truth, I feel like throwing at my friend a copy of Anna Karenina, ...

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