Complicating the changing roles of middle age is the acute awareness that one is growing older--an awareness that comes to most people within a few years of fifty, either before or after. This awareness is marked by three things:
Physical changes that are uncomfortable
These changes are dramatized for women by the menopause, but they are present for both sexes in other forms. Men and women acquire the "middleaged-spread" and put on fat around the waist. The eye lens loses elasticity, and people have to wear reading glasses or bifocals. Unusual exertion, such as running, playing tennis, or mountain climbing, may result in sprained ankles, torn ligaments, and physical exhaustion. Men who have been physically active and even athletic suddenly find that their adolescent sons can outdo them. Men experience a decrease of sexual drive.
Recognition that one has reached the top of one's career
After years of promotion, increases in salary, and growth in status and power, a person realizes that he has reached a plateau. There will be no further rise, and eventually he must go downhill.
Realization that the future is not of unlimited duration
There comes a time in every person's life when he realizes that he does not have a limitless amount of time ahead of him. Before this time, he can make plans and take on responsibilities without asking himself how many of these things he can accomplish in his lifetime. After this point, he realizes that there will not be time enough in his life to do all the things he would like to do. Therefore he must assign some priorities, decline some opportunities, and parcel out his remaining years so as to get the most important things done.
All three of these things may come on gradually for some people, while they come sharply for others. Few people think much about them before the age of 50. During the period from 50 to 55, however, most people come to terms with all three things and alter their outlook on life accordingly.
This might be called the turning point of maturity. Maturity might be defined as recognition that a person has reached the peak of his career, passed his physical prime, and has only a limited time left to do all the things he would like to do.