The Michael Douglas effect

An Italian study says that men in their 50s are likely to fall in love again -- with either their wives or someone new.


Jack Boulware
November 1, 2000 8:33PM (UTC)

When a man turns 50, he is biologically programmed to fall in love. The object of his affections could be his wife, his friend's wife or that lithe girl the same age as his daughter with tight abs who works at the cafe.

This is not Mick Jagger disease, nor is it the ever-popular midlife crisis. According to a recent survey of 3,000 men by the Institute of Psychology in Rome, men in their 50s are predetermined by nature to fall into the biggest love of their lives. But the study is controversial among British skeptics.

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According to Willy Pasini, an author of the report, "This is not just a question of the odd illicit weekend of passion or a summer fling These happen, but at least a third of men experience not passing lust, but a genuine resurgence of their emotional life. In other words, they fall in love."

The Italian study found that men think they first fall in love while in their teens. As they progress through their 30s and 40s, men are interested in spreading their love around. And when they hit 50, biology kicks in, propelling the graying Lotharios to either fall back in love with their wives or start over again with a younger trophy wife.

British experts say this survey is ridiculous. According to sociologist Dennis Marsden, "All these stage models never work properly. I think it is suspicious that it's 50 they are talking about -- this is an age with social, not biological, significance."

What's more, people age at different rates, argues Marsden, who says it's impossible to predict how someone will behave at a certain age.

"When men turn 50, they wonder where their life is going," Marsden told the BBC. "They are more aware of their own mortality, and maybe their wife is starting to look a bit faded. It's the Michael Douglas phenomenon -- when you chuck your partner of several decades and take up with someone much younger."

People fall in love if they are ready, believes British sociologist Lynn Jamieson, not because of biology.

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"A growing number of young women and men think other things are more important than falling in love," said Jamieson. "More [of them] put off that sense of looking, and therefore openness to falling in love, for longer than would have been the case a few decades ago."


Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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