If you’re at midlife or if like me, you’re approaching it as slowly as you can, you may find yourself looking back and craving an aspect of your youth, which seems gone forever. I call this hard-to-articulate emotion the absence of "firsts." But what exactly are these "firsts" and why do we seem to miss them? "Firsts" can represent a variety of experiences, which somehow defined us on our life journey. These can range from our first kiss, to our first sexual discovery, to our first communion, our first graduation, our first job, first loan, house, car, marriage partner or even child; and not necessarily in that order.
"Firsts" play a critical function in our lives because they affirm our growth, development and success. They signal significant rites of passage and often convince us we’re on the road to becoming the mature, responsible adults we were destined to be. It is as if each "first" represents the opening of a Pandora’s box of new experiences, which carry the rubber stamp of social approval, signaling our arrival at some signature stage. So our first real kiss can lead us into exploring our sexual self, where we either reject or build on what we’ve found. Our first communion may lead us into deeply enriching, spiritual experiences and meaningful religious community. Our first "real" job or promotion can validate our career choice and make our professional future seem bright and promising.
Whether we experience the satisfaction inherent in educational development or in having a good marriage, the success of our various "firsts" can affirm we are at least moving towards some preferred goal. What happens, however, when significant "firsts" fail to live up to our expectations? We may experience disillusionment and disappointment. This is especially so in marriages or significant partnerships, which fail to last. What we do with our first experiences is, perhaps, critical to how we live out the rest of our lives. Will we allow failure to define us or will we bounce back as we move on to refocusing and reinventing ourselves past our mistakes?
By the time we’ve reached midlife, we can also feel as though we’ve exhausted our "firsts"—and in a culture that seems to promote eternal youth, this is understandable. If we have failed to accomplish some dreams we held dear, we may feel a palpable sense of regret or disappointment, especially when faced with the reality of the unlikelihood of those dreams ever coming to pass. We may feel bored with life as if there are no more socially affirming, significant "firsts" to achieve. This burden of disappointment, if unacknowledged, can affect our sense of peace and even our marriage.
“We live in the age of multitasking; we don’t need to stop one activity before doing the next.”
This is where we must begin to re-write the notion of our own life-script. Who says we can only develop in a linear fashion where we move expectantly from one stage to the next, until we blissfully retire sometime in our 60’s? Our changing social constructs confirm that "firsts" need never stop. We live in the age of multitasking; we don’t need to stop one activity before doing the next. We can juggle careers at any point, enhance our streams of income, develop new hobbies and find meaningful ways to continually contribute to our communities as we engage new, undiscovered talents and skills.
Instead of grieving the "firsts" of our past, we can continue to create new "firsts," as well as utilize our experience to benefit others. Redefining ourselves may also mean recognizing that life is about a whole lot more than first experiences. This will involve learning how to be better spouses and better parents to our adult children. It can also entail becoming more connected to aging parents or mentoring younger couples. Seizing more from life, at whatever stage, is really about giving back while challenging ourselves to see the future as a time of exhilarating opportunity.
Denise J Charles is an educator, counselor, relationship-coach, published author and blogger. She holds a Masters Degree in Education and is a qualified trainer-of-trainers. Denise is Executive Director of "Better Blends Relationship Institute," a counseling and training entity founded by herself and her husband Gabriel. Denise’s blog on sex can be found "here". Denise’s new book is "How To Have Mind-Blowing Sex Without Losing Your Brain." Follow her on Google+.