How does one ease a man through a midlife crisis? This man was my professor, and we became fast friends after he asked me to work in his lab. He\’s at the top of his game, handsome, charismatic and brilliant beyond words. One day, he confided in me that he was feeling old. Before long, he lost weight, bought an entire new wardrobe and traded in his old car for a $72,000 Porsche. If it makes him happy, good. But, at the end of the day, where will it leave him? I\’m really afraid he\’s going to divorce his wife for arm candy and move into a tepee. To be honest, we used to be very attracted to each other, but because he\’s married, we chose never to act on it. Although he no longer speaks to me regularly, or as openly as he used to, it\’s still painful to see what he\’s going through. What can I do to help?

— Hurting For Him

It\’s a wonder the Red Cross ever has a moment for victims of fire, flood, famine and mudslides with all the men out there like your professor friend suffering from the crisis of brand-new sports car ownership.

If the professor is looking for meaning in life, do you really think he\’s more likely to find it while behind the wheel of a late-model Volvo? Is he better-equipped to answer the big questions if he\’s wearing one of those corduroy jackets with the worn elbow patches? Even if shedding the old him is symptomatic of a "midlife crisis," maybe what he\’s experiencing isn\’t a crisis at all, but the realization that it\’s time he had a little fun. The good news is, he isn\’t sitting around despondent that he forgot to have a misspent youth or that he\’s squandered his life in science when he could\’ve been a gas station attendant and part-time drummer.

The bad news is, he isn\’t sitting around despondent with you, his self-appointed life coach and spiritual nanny. It wasn\’t long ago that you were doing the noble thing, pulling back from what was probably a combination man crush and professor crush: wanting him and wanting to be him, but settling for huddling with him over the Bunsen burner and helping him assess the spread of his crow\’s feet. And look how he rewards you: leaving you in the lab instead of inviting you along to advise him on, say, the dangers of getting his scrotum pierced and whether putting pictures of it on his MySpace page could hurt his chances for the Nobel.

These days, your only means of connection with him is acting as his surrogate worrywart, fretting that his next late-model trade-in will be his late-model wife — in exchange for a girlfriend whose most recent accomplishment was graduating high school. But, no, really, you just want to help. Sure you do — but help him do what? Just guessing, but … help him divorce his wife, rev the Porsche on over to your place and move into a tepee with you?

Beyond that, you wonder where all this will leave him. Well, eventually, in a box with friends tossing dirt on top. In the meantime, where is all this leaving you? Focused on what\’s missing from his life instead of what\’s missing from your own — probably the guts to have more than an imaginary relationship with a trophy boyfriend. If only you worked up the courage to risk rejection in a real relationship with a peer, you could reap some pretty substantial rewards — maybe having love in your life and, at the very least, sex that doesn\’t require a Viagra/Metamucil booster.

Quest for firing

I can\’t understand why guys I\’ve gone on a date with once or twice don\’t call and tell me when they don\’t want to see me again. A friend says that this would be cruel and unusual punishment. Your thoughts?

— Silent Mistreatment

If a guy doesn\’t call you again, it\’s probably due to one of two reasons: he\’s in a coma or dead, in which case it\’s a bit much to expect him to pick up the phone … or, he\’d rather roll around naked in a pit of fire ants than have sex with you. If that\’s the case, wouldn\’t you rather cling to the eminently more palatable idea that he\’s met some terrible end? The real mystery is why, despite your experience that guys don\’t make last-date confirmation calls, you continue to expect one: "Hi, just a courtesy call to inform you I\’ll never call you again." Of course, the truly cruel and unusual punishment begins with the next logical step, when you demand to know why: "Well, mainly because you look like flesh-eating bacteria, only taller."