How to react when confronted by a friend’s shock facelift

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What do you think of the “mid-life crisis”? Have you had one?

I should have guessed that it would take a Canadian, Elliott Jaques in 1965, in the freezing wilderness of that enormous country with more seagulls than humans, to notice and coin this famous condition whose symptoms most men seem to exhibit between the ages of 40 and 60. What else was there for Jaques to do other than gaze across the utter vastness of the landscape and feel lost. I first felt my mid-life crisis in an icicles Winnipeg, and I was only 29.

This condition happens to men who typically have suddenly come to realise the depressing thought that half of their life is over, yet they don’t seem to have achieved enough. Jaques found that this happened to artists like Coleridge and Rossini, whose creative powers waned with age. But at the same time, he also found that in the cases of Bach and Beethoven, their creative powers surged when growing older. Therefore we should understand that Elliott’s phrase was not all negative, and that his calling it a “crisis” was a bit of a misnomer.

Nonetheless, I think all men who have reached the age of 50 or 60 have had depressive thoughts about having grown too old and think they should do something about it. Thankfully in my case, I have countered the negativity by steadfastly believing that as long as my mind has not ossified, I can still be young in mind or young at heart, even if I am aged in body. Yet quite a lot of people panic. They suddenly want to feel and appear youthful again, so they dress in trendier clothes and start going out to places like morning discos in Ibiza or, most popular of all, mixing with a much younger set and even trying to aspire to the example of J Howard Marshall who, at 89, married Anna Nicole Smith at 26.

Anyway, the vanity of man knows no bounds and this is where plastic surgery enters as the apparent panacea for this psychological disease. Luckily, I have an aversion to any nipping or tucking and have never been tempted by cosmetic rejuvenation, unlike a lot of my friends. My view is that plastic surgery should never have gone beyond its original invention as a means to rectify traumatic injuries. Instead, it developed into the galaxy of cosmetic procedures that now flourish in hidden theatres inside skyscrapers in Los Angeles, clinics in the mountains of Europe or, more mournfully, in the seediness of Bangkok.

What really gets me is how I should react when I am first confronted by a face with which I am reasonably familiar, but against which I have an instant reaction of incredulity? Do I, as a sympathetic friend, keep a straight face as if I have not noticed their rather startling new look, simply ignore the subject and talk about something else? Or should I, as an honest friend, hold my hands on both sides of my head and utter, in horror: “What the hell have you done to your face?”

Anyway, at my age, with a general contour that resembles Kilimanjaro and the impatience of the wind, I doubt that any plastic surgery, even if I were to succumb to it, would restore my confidence to pull. It is what I tell my wife if ever she whiffs a molecule of infidelity.


My girlfriend and I want to get married at Disney World in Orlando but her mother is afraid of flying. What would you do in this situation?

Practising as Sherlock Holmes, I would imagine you are a fairly sophisticated man of maturity offering to marry a rather uneducated but relatively beautiful and younger number than yourself. You seem to love her enough not to want to ridicule her screaming suburban disposition to marry at the utterly appalling Disney World in Florida. You also appear to want to please her by trying to arrange for her mother to attend the wedding, despite the Atlantic Ocean and her aviophobia.

The answer is surely to put them both in the best stateroom on the QE2, or one of those equally vast liners of parochial ostentation, and sail across the Atlantic in style. Then you can collect them in a luxurious Winnebago in Noo Yawk and motor them down all the way to Florida, calling on Charleston and Savannah, whose charm might just awaken any seedlings of taste in mother and daughter.

So spoil them both to death. It’s your mid-life crisis! Is there any other way to demonstrate lust for your young bride?

Please post comments and questions at the end of this article, or email david.tang@ft.com

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