In our society, initial years of a man’s life are full of struggles with the external reality. As he reaches mid-life, he needs to pause; take a look at what has been achieved so far. Here, he comes in contact with his inner reality. He becomes aware of his gains and losses (particularly losses) and faces mid-life crisis. Can we term this ‘pause’ as men-o-pause?
Sadanand is now fifty. His gym, sorry, that’s what we used to call in olden days, now he calls it ‘Health Club’, is in full swing with a lot of clientele. His earnings are handsome. He is a successful man; happily married with two children. His wife, Sudarshana manages the club’s secretarial and financial side, while his elder son is studying medicine. He manages a foreign tour every alternate year. Security, success, respect, insured future, funding for children, health – everything is assured. There are no worries or concerns. People in the community appreciate his life style. He is leading in the race of life.
Hence, when he made an appointment with a psychiatrist like me and wanted to open up, I was slightly surprised. Sadanand talked about his worries quite openly. Though his family life was here was rosy, there was a blue patch, and he was deeply concerned about it. His usual warmth had suffered a change and he had become quite cold and introvert. The normal garrulous, impish Sada is now quite serious and gets agitated over trivial matters. He no more attends to his clients in the ‘Health Club’ guiding them enthusiastically. On the contrary, he tries to put off everything. He does not exercise as he usually did. The normal healthy countenance now looks more pallid, wrinkled, drawn and dispirited. Arguments with Sudarshana are on the rise. He has become forgetful and that annoys him. The person who was neat and tidy, is now misplacing things. He feels that he is losing interest in everything.
He asked Sudarshana to wait outside and he started talking more intimately about his sex life. He was concerned about his performance. The erection was not stiff enough, the semen did not flow easily. He has sex only once in two weeks instead of his former habit of twice or thrice a week. He could not sustain erection for the desired time. He hardly has the satisfaction he used to have. His wife never complained and that annoyed him as well. He felt he had suffered a loss of his masculinity. While exercising in his usual manner, he has realized that his muscles have slackened; they are not firm and stiff as before.
He also said that in general, he felt that since there were no challenges and excitement anymore, the life was very much a routine and an uninteresting affair. Any renovations in the health club seemed pointless. He was earning enough and spending in the usual manner. He felt so much set in the rut, running smoothly like a well-oiled machine. He felt like an outsider in his own lite without any specific role to play. Deep within himself, he felt that he was a non-entity. He was not at the helm of the affairs in the stream of life, instead the currents in the stream carried him like a blade of grass. Sada did not like looking at his own altered image in the mirror. He felt that the respect people showed was somehow fake and at the same time he wanted to be noticed for his virtues and appreciated for his performance. His son Rahul had grown up, was independent and did not need his father’s guidance. Sada knew he could no more guide his son but he was not prepared to accept it. In his presence, Sada felt a silly jealousy for his son and got annoyed with him for no apparent reason. He complained to Sudarshana that Rahul was becoming irresponsible and he no longer realized that his father had allowed him to mature in the congenial and liberal atmosphere. Both of them, the rather all three of them knew that his moaning made no sense. Sala could not understand his irritability and anxiety. He wanted to get rid of such moods and lead a normal life and that was why he, with his wife had approached me.
Sada had undergone a detailed medical checkup for all possible diseases. His pathological reports were normal. Diabetes was a possibility but blood pressure was normal, along with his heart, liver and kidneys. He was not suffering from any mental depression and yet he felt uneasy. Both of them, Sada and his wife, felt that for the last two years a certain fog was enveloping their otherwise happy and secure life. They were keen on getting rid of it and so was I…
The aging hero
Sanjay is a 45 years old handsome person. With a striking personality and proficient acting, he had dominated the Marathi theatre and later moved into cinema, achieving equal success and honours very early in his youth. Today, he is sitting in front of me thoroughly depressed, talking about his unhappiness and unsuccessful episodes in life. He still hankers after fame and success. His face and his movements clearly reveal his advancing age and nobody considers him for the hero’s role. There are no Marathi films catering for the character role and Sanjay is also not yet prepared to move into that role. He is not ready to accept that his image of a handsome, exuberant and dynamic youth is a bygone concept. The dyed hair and the trendy clothes declare his eagerness to preserve his youth. The mind never ages and in fact, there is a h to preserve the youthful attitude of mind. The maturity should be really accepted as a matter of course bur Sanjay is not prepared to move forward with time. The reality faces him squarely. Sanjay is trying to drown his frustrations in drinks. The failing attractiveness and the fading masculinity are a source of great turmoil for him. As a reaction to all these malaises, he is trying to be friendly and having sexual relationship with young girls in theatre and the cinema world just to assure himself of masculinity. He is also using all kinds of drugs to enhance sexual performance. He is using plastic surgery for cosmetic changes and facelift. He is trying to arrest the advancing time to preserve his youth and masculinity.
Sopan from Mangaon, from a poor village and a backward community came to me because of the fear of the loss of virility. 45 years old Sopan is lanky and worn-out. In his life so far, he never was an achiever. He did nor till his farm nor did he work as a farm labourer. He was lazy and utterly degraded, living on his wife’s earnings. His wife, Shantabai referred him to me for treatment. Sopan so far had given Shantabai sexual satisfaction every night without fail. Since last year he could not perform that role satisfactorily. The frequency of the erection was on the wane and now he was not able to sustain the erection. Shantabai who tolerated and accepted Sopan with all his faults could not ignore his failing masculinity. Sopan himself was very disturbed. This was the only role in his life and now even that he could not play. His life had become meaningless. The alcohol did not stimulate; on the contrary his performance was worsening. He tried local aphrodisiacs from quacks. Bur when nothing worked, he came to see me.
Retirement from life?
For thirty years, Rambhau sincerely served his company. As the momentum of globalization caught up, he had to accept voluntary retirement. At the age of 52, the sum he received was not adequate enough for all his future requirements. Suddenly there was a vacuum in his life. So long the company had charted his everyday routine. Now he has to plan his day. Since the age of twenty, he never had to think about time and the jobs he had to perform. Life had suddenly become a dead weight. His importance as a breadwinner in the family had vanished. He felt he was an impediment like an old person in the household. His wife and children were used to his absence during day; his presence now was a nuisance in their routine. He had not noticed the indiscipline, the untidiness, the way his family behaved so far but now he intruded and issued necessary instructions because now he was there. His presence was disturbing the normal rhythm of his family. Rambhau was disturbed as he observed that when he quit his role as a bread winner in the family, his importance dwindled and since there was no role left for him, he was considered to be a nuisance. There were frequent arguments between him and his family. Frustrated, he became more aggressive. He started drinking. He gathered a group of friends who were merely hanger-ons. Because of the falling interest rates, his income decreased and was not enough to meet family expenses. His brothers and other claimant of the property in his native place never welcomed his idea of returning to his native place. He had been working in the city and had lost all touch with farmland and had no know-how of any agricultural work. He was a stranger in his own native place. Rambhau had no alternative but to stick to the city. He thought of starting a small Paan -Bidi shop at the gate of his colony, but the dignified company employee in him would not let him do so. He was stifling and the degradation of his masculinity became a heavy load on his back. His wife did not care for him. He made an unsuccessful attempt of suicide and then came to me for consultation.
All these men from the different strata of life, who equated their masculinity in the traditional sense, with being financially well off, professionally successful, secure, famous, playing a positive role of a leading man in the house and performing a gender role befitting male sexuality, were now in the process of moving from their youth to maturity. Though physically the passage was smooth, minds were reluctant to accept the maturity and the altered connotation of their masculinity. As the youth waned, like became meaningless. The shades of life’s meaning so far unthought of, confronted them and they felt disgruntled. Their yearning for diversifying life, their desire to conserve the transitory youth were sure signs of the male menopause in the afternoon of their lives.
Understand and accept androgyny
It is a wonderful natural arrangement that hormones in human bodies determine the male masculinity and the female femininity. In youth what appear to be two contradictory aspects of the gender, perform a beautiful balancing act in maturity. Testosterone dominates the senses of the youthful men, making them more aggressive, impulsive, easily excited, overconfident and boisterous whereas estrogen also affects men subconsciously, making them loving and caring as the opportunity presents. The normally boisterous males become softer, loving and caring under the influence of estrogen. Normally, testosterone dominates male and estrogen dominates female. After menopause, the level of estrogen in females drops. The skin becomes dry, the feminine softness changes into rough masculinity. The female at this stage seems more of a balanced combination of male and female features and is sometimes more aggressive. At the same time, a male with lowered levels of testosterone becomes less aggressive, less confident, more understanding and more sensitive. In short, the female attributes become more prominent. In the patriarchal society, the dominating male suffers a change and the male who does not understand this change, is confused and becomes irritable or becomes more aggressive as a reaction. In fact, at maturity, both men and women display a balanced and an adorable combination of human attributes. The understanding that all humans have both kinds of attributes will help men and women to accept the physical and the emotional changes that surface during menopause. The irritability and the frustration can be avoided if one accepts the physical, social, financial and mental changes that follow the process of aging. Then alone can we understand, accept and cope up with the changes in physical functions caused by the changing hormonal levels. Shouldn’t men utilize this opportunity to pause and rethink their gender roles to make their lives (and of around them) more complete and meaningful?
– Dr. Prdeep Patkar
(From ‘Breaking the moulds – Indian men look at patriarchy looking at them.’ 2007. Publisher: Books for Change)