So I am 3 weeks shy of wrapping up my fourth decade. Yup. I am turning the big five-oh. Big deal. I’m not bothered by the idea of ‘getting older’. I don’t look back and wish I was younger or that I’d made more of my youth. As far as I’m concerned I’m still youthful. So is my mom. And she’s 78.
There is something about approaching this milestone that does bother me, though: other women who are also approaching this milestone who aren’t happy about it. This sounds aggressive, so please let me explain.
There seem to be two primary schools of thought on ‘getting older’ among my female compadres: the school that finds incredulous hilarity in chin-hairs, bifocals and hot flashes and the school that shrouds the whole experience in shame.
I am mostly closely aligned with the former group. In fact, at my ‘book club’ we are far more likely to share side-splitting stories about our various girly-journeys than we are to talk about the book we’ve chosen. Even the gals in their 20’s and 30’s pee their pants a little at how funny life can be when you’re approaching 50. Which tells me that a leaky bladder is more about a good laugh than it is about aging. Turning 50 is the farthest thing from tragic and planets away from shame.
But more and more frequently, I find myself being sent not-so-subtle invitations to adopt a more fatalistic view on ‘getting older’. While I might (maybe) expect that of someone much younger who has yet to hone his/her sensitivity chip, I find it mind-blowing when other ‘women my age’ include me in their passive-aggressive, ageist insults. Here are some recent examples.
I was making a purchase but couldn’t find my debit card. Flustered, I pulled out a different card, muttering something about being disorganized. The gal processing my order smiled sweetly and said, ‘It’s hard getting older, isn’t it? We’re just losing our marbles.’ We? Getting older? Marbles? No. I just left my debit card in my car.
I was doing a little shopping in a clothing store. I happened to look up and caught the eye of a woman on the other side of the rack. I smiled. She smiled back. It was all perfectly pleasant until she said, ‘Look at us. Shopping for old-lady clothes.’ WHAT? First of all, what are old lady clothes? And second of all … well, there are no words, really. What a ridiculous thing to say.
I went to a birthday gathering for a friend. She might be mid-50s. I don’t know. Who cares? She was talking about how hard it is to be getting older. I was listening sympathetically as she listed her aches, pains and general ailments. The sympathy came to a screeching halt when she told me to prepare myself for the worst of it: ‘After you turn 50, you pretty much disappear as a woman. It’s like you become irrelevant.’ She punctuated her story with a laugh. While I am deeply sorry that this has been her experience, I don’t really believe that as of March 11th, 2014 I will cease to be interesting or visible to the entire world.
I was having lunch with my beautiful pre-teen daughters. A woman at a near-by table mentioned how lovely they were. I smiled in agreement and then froze as she added: ‘You’d better enjoy them now before all of your various hormones kick in.’ All of our various hormones kick in? Nice. I looked back at her with my most emotionless ‘passport face’. But inside I seethed with hurt and humiliation. Why was it necessary for her to say that to me?
I’ve left my favourite to the last. Hold on to your hats because you’re going to love this one.
At the close of a recent public event that I happened to be leading, a member of the audience waited around to talk with me. She was complimentary about the event and thanked me, etc. Then just before walking away, almost as an afterthought, she lobbed this my way: “Hey, you look really pretty in that dress. Quite sexy, actually. I thought you might like to know that. Because women of our age don’t get complimented on our looks very often any more.’ Ummmmm. Seriously? Wow. She hit her target because I swam around in self-doubt for days after that conversation.
In spite of these beseeching invitations to approach ‘middle age’ with fear and shame-cloaked stereotypes, I’m not gonna do it. Because it is NOT what I’m for. Allowing other women’s negative experiences to frame my journey into ‘middle age’ makes me feel small and fearful of the future. It makes me uncertain of my role as a woman, a professional, a wife and a mother. I reject the stereotypes completetely. In fact, I heartily fling them into the abyss. Good riddance.
I am going to approach fifty with joy and aplomb – with glee, even. Yes, I know I’ll have a growing number of chin hairs to pluck but time isn’t my enemy as a woman. It may give my body the patina of age, but all of the experiences that will carry me into my fifth decade have made my mind richer, my heart warmer and my view of my fellow humans much gentler.
Way (way) back in the day when I was a mere 39 years old (a pup really) I read this quote by Carol Matthau in an ‘O Magazine’: ‘There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.’
Yup. I am just me. I am exactly what I need to be – chin hair, bifocals, hot flashes and all. And that is what I’m for in every decade. Well maybe not the chin hair, etc. But being ‘me’ isn’t such a bad deal, whatever age I happen to be.