Upon learning of a just-published study purporting to show that great apes experience midlife crises, I had questions. I headed to a primate bar I occasionally frequent (if one can occasionally frequent anything, I’m sure it’s a bar) to see how the news was sitting with the local ape populace.
Using 508 chimpanzees and orangutans, who were assessed by zookeepers and researchers, psychologist Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh concluded that one could observe a curve in the great apes’ lives wherein the subject’s happiness dipped during middle age and increased in old age, similar to a pattern noted in human lives.
In the words of the study’s co-author, Andrew Oswald, a University of Warwick economist who has researched human happiness for 20 years, the findings indicate that midlife crisis “exists in … our closest biological relatives, suggesting that it is probably explained by biology and physiology.”
The chimpanzees and orangutans I spoke with dismissed the notion.
“Yeah, I read about it in Opposable,” said an orangutan named Andrew. “Do you read Opposable? It’s a great mag for snowboarding stuff. I board. Do you board? You should board. Anyway, it’s nonsense. Not boarding – boarding is awesome – but the whole ‘midlife crisis’ label is trivializing.” Andrew recently left his job of playing amusingly with a bucket for Lloyds of London.
“At work, they said, ‘Oooh, midlife crisis!’ when I told them I wanted to try something new. Like that bucket had to be my entire life, just because my dad played with a bucket and his dad played with a bucket, and I just got my kids off to university to learn to play with a bucket. I’m thinking of opening a bike-repair shop that also makes artisanal goat cheese. Do you like goat cheese?”
“Very much,” I said, gently removing his arm from my shoulder.
“Is he talking about the artisanal cheese again?” said a middle-aged chimp, swinging onto the stool next to me as Andrew loped off to where a fetching bonobo was racking up at the pool table. “He’ll never get investors, and he can’t manage it himself.”
“Oh,” I said. “Have you heard about these findings regarding apes and midlife crisis?”
“I have a lot of bananas,” he replied, downing in one gulp the large scotch the bartender placed in front of him. “Andrew does not have a lot of bananas. I’ve been to Andrew’s place. Have you been to Andrew’s place?”
“No,” I said, gently removing his arm from my shoulder. “The study was quite int…”
“Like, way fewer bananas than me. Not that it’s all about how many bananas an ape has, but seriously, Andrew doesn’t have as many bananas as me, or sticks. I started buying bananas young, and …”
“Wonderful,” I said. “In the study, do you think it’s possible that the humans assessing the animals were projecting their own midlife despondency onto their subjects?”
“My first wife took a lot of my bananas,” he replied, “but that’s okay.”
“Right,” I said. “I wonder if the thing people overlook when dismissing something as a midlife crisis is that the reason people get happier later in life is because they left their partner, backpacked through India and bought a sports car – because they weren’t really happy with their partner, wanted to see India and liked sports cars.”
“Jesus, I’m depressed,” said the chimp.
“Same,” said an orangutan wearing what appeared to be a hairpiece and very skinny pants and taking a seat on the other side of me while holding up two fingers to the bartender. “I want to learn to swim. Why do none of us learn to swim? Is that, like, societal?”
“I’ve got this five-part speculative fiction series I’d like to write. No one ever gives us an infinite number of typewriters,” said the chimp.
“Or fixes the copy machine,” agreed the orangutan, beating his chest loudly. “Can I buy you another drink?” he said to me above the noise of his chest-beating. “I’ve got some new tattoos. It’s just that you can’t see them because I’m covered in hair, which is my own.”
But then he stood up and somersaulted ostentatiously away, at the sight of comely lady orangutan anxiously reading a book called Eat, Prey, Play With A Bucket in a corner booth.
“He’s nuts,” said the chimp, helping himself to what was left of the orangutan’s drink. “Hasn’t been the same since his wife left him for her yoga instructor.”
“Take it outside, boys!” the bartender yelled to two greying gorillas brawling about the merits of Skrillex over by the jukebox. “There’s ropes and a tire swing.”
“I’m sorry,” I said to the chimp. “So, this Dr. Weiss …”
“Do you think he has a lot of bananas?” he sighed. “Have you been to his place?”