Older, Worser

Not me, but this seems to be the way I am ageing  (Photo progression by forensic artist at changemyface AT wordpress)

Not me, but this seems to be the way I am ageing (Photo progression by forensic artist at changemyface on WordPress)

When I was a youngster, I went through a phase of thinking old people were kind of pathetic. Not my grandparents, of course, but all those other old people. Maybe I got this from my Nan, who hated going shopping on Seniors Discount Day. She didn’t like being out among all the “citizens” as she called them: Too fussy! Too slow!

In one especially vivid moment, I was enjoying an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen with my boyfriend, and we saw an old couple drive up. They sat in their car in the parking lot eating their dishes of ice cream, and I remember thinking, “How sorry is that? They have nothing to do. This is probably the high point of their whole week.”

When I looked at old folks, all I saw was loss. Loss of youth, loss of looks, loss of health, loss of mobility, loss of interest. All replaced by sitting in front of the TV and waiting for phone calls from their almost-old children.

An elder whom I deeply respect once said to me, “When you get older, everything gets worse. You always have aches and pains. Your husband dies and you are left alone. Your kids move away and you rarely hear from them. One by one, your friends die of cancer. Everything just keeps getting worse.”

Old Ladies Rebellion fashion line by 24-year-old Fannie Kirst

Old Ladies Rebellion fashion line by 24-year-old Fannie Kirst

I was crushed. I wanted to be told, “It’s the prime of your life. You’ve gained so much wisdom. You don’t care what people think any more. You can spend your time on what matters to you. Being older rocks!”

Need I say that my opinions about old people have changed now that I’m 50?

Thinking about it today, I concluded that we run out of “firsts.” Teens are known for risk-taking (which we now know is caused by their increased abilities and their undeveloped reasoning). But those experiences become deeply imprinted, to the point that a large number of adults believe their teen years were the best years of their lives. It’s understandable, though: you have so many rites of passage. Sneaking out of the house. First love. First sexual experience. (In that order?) First rock concert. First job. First car. First road trip. Drinking with your buddies. Oh wait, that’s just me 🙂

Teens can’t imagine their future lives. They can’t imagine that head-over-heels will turn into contentment and they will be fine with it. They can’t imagine that the so-called rat race isn’t made up of rats, but their co-workers and friends. They can’t imagine a time when a phone call or an ice cream will make their day. If you smoke, you’ll end up dragging an oxygen tank around when you’re 65? Pah! What is there to live for when you get that old, anyway? They imagine that the hurry-up-and-wait rush of their brains will always be with them, but it will go – and they won’t even miss it!

I posted before about when I started to feel like a grown-up. For me, it was a combination of gaining competence, and learning from mistakes. It was gradual, and young folks don’t like gradual – they like leaps and bounds. So growing older is about patience and delayed gratification. Good luck promoting those virtues to young’uns!

Now that I’ve made it to the other side – my second half-century – I can feel the difference. No matter what I accomplish from now on, as Judith Viorst would say, “They’ll never be able to say, ‘And she did it so young!’ ” I used to hear, “You draw pretty good, for a kid” or “You’ve got your act together, for a young woman.” Now I hear, “What, YOU like the Arctic Monkeys?” or “You look pretty good for an older woman.” (Of course, in my mind, an older woman is always 10 years older than myself.)

I had the unusual experience of turning into an older woman almost overnight 3 years ago when I abruptly stopped colouring my hair and got it cropped short. I immediately felt myself going invisible as I stopped turning heads on the street and cashiers started calling me “Dear.” Just last night I went to a rock concert and every drunk young man who bumped into me apologized!

I “own” my age now. I don’t pretend I’m younger, nor do I pretend to be a helpless geriatric. I just feel like a capable adult in the middle of life.

I realize now that the stereotype I had of the aged wasn’t the recently retired person ready for a whirlwind of travel and volunteering (and writing a book), but the frail elderly ready for around-the-clock care. And there is a big difference between the two – perhaps the difference between being 60 and being 90. When I was 20, all of that was a blur.

I have already been invited to join a Red Hat Society! (Photo source unknown)

I have already been invited to join a Red Hat Society! (Photo source unknown)

As for my esteemed elder’s world view? I’m not buying it. I don’t kid myself. I know I will experience loss. But I have practice in that, and I’ll survive, and I will always find things to look forward to. I’ll be wise! I won’t care what people think of me! I’ll spend my time doing things that are important to me. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple! And I’ll look forward to my ice cream cone ALL WEEK!

See also:

Wearing Your Years

I’m An Adult Now

Signs of Ageing (+ Bonus Old Geezer Test)

41 comments

  1. EcoCatLady

    Definitely starting to feel my age here – I’m just a few years younger than you are. For me it wasn’t my recent 47th birthday that did it… but I think somehow with the combination of losing a parent and getting my mortgage paid off, I sorta feel like the earth has shifted under my feet a bit.

    Of course I think I’ve always had a bit of a unique perspective. CatMan is 20 years older than I am, and many of my friends are 10-20 years my senior. I think interest in “folk music” sorta skipped a generation – namely mine, so virtually all of the people I worked with were a generation older than me. Anyhow, the past few years most of my friends have started on Medicare and Social Security, many have grandchildren, and a number have officially retired. I’ve also lost a number of friends recently, and more and more of them are beginning to struggle with health problems. I fear that part will only start to accelerate.

    But, I’m still in the odd position of being the “youngest old person” if that makes any sense. Since my income pretty much comes from passive sources these days, I’m pretty close to being “retired” even though my technical status is “self-employed”. CatMan and I like to do things like go for bike rides on weekdays, when generally the only folks on the bike path are young moms with babies and retired people… and I’m sorry to say that I think we fall into the latter category.

    Some part of me occasionally feels like I should be “out there” achieving something… but in general I feel vastly more content than I did 20 or even 10 years ago. It’s really nice to let go of feeling like you have to prove something all the time.

    • I like your story, Cat. It does depend on who we spend our time with. A lot of my friends are in their 60s and they think of me as “the one who is still working.” But they are great role models for me of active early retirement. Too bad I can’t “do lunch” with them more often!

  2. This has really struck a chord with me. My attitude changed over night when I hit 40. I have started to care less what people think but then I’ve opened my eyes more to the kind of people I associate with. The health side is a constant battle though.

    • I suppose health challenges can appear at any age, but years catch up with us? I also think more about who I spend my time with. Everyone needs a grumble now and then, but I won’t surround myself with negativity.

  3. I am approaching 60 this birthday and on the same day if baby arrives to plan I will become a granny (how freaky is that?) because of the UK change to pesionable age at least I won’t become a pensioner on the same day.. phew although I would like to work less and do ther things. I am definitely beginning to feel different from being 50. My skin, my hair, my stamina, the way I look at the world and I also now feel an urgency to do things as if the egg timer has flipped upside down again and the grains are running through at a tremendous rate and one day it will all stop!!
    I looked after elderly grandparents and then my dad who seemed to be in decline healthwise from their 70’s although they lived well into their 80’s but I saw how that decline changed them and limited them and I am scared of that as I feel when I do hit 60 I will only have 10 good years left. I only hope I am wrong as there is so much more I want to do. I think generally the way 50, 60 and 70 year olds look and behave now is so much younger than anyone in the past. When I became 50 I convinced myself I was only halfway through my life, that I could live to 100 – but now approaching 60 I cannot even hang on to that idea unless I might live to 120!! But being realistic I am not hedging my bets on that one!
    Great thought provoking post as usual – we can always count on you Dar to make us examine ourselves and our feelings – you would make a great therapist.

    • Ha ha – I would have to be one of those classic therapists who just listens and says “Uh huh” once in a while! My parents are 73 and they talk about whether they might like to go on one more big vacation trip, like a cruise. I can see that in another 5 years, they would be limited to a seniors package tour, because they would need help with the logistics of being in a new place, and would need to pace themselves considerably. Funnily enough, I often think that I will only be able to read so many books and watch so many movies for the rest of my life! But at least those are things I can still do (in one form or another) if my health were to fail!

      • Everything to do with ageing centres around good health. I must remember to make that my next Focus. I have just come in from doing 2 hours in the garden and I am certainly feeling my age today and we only have a tiny plot here in Yorkshire – at Easter when we go to the cottage I have three quartes of an acre to tackle! I think I will take up reading and films – not so strenuous just need to keep my brain cells ticking over.

      • Yes, gardening can put some muscles into play – need a cuppa tea and a good book after that!

  4. Fiona

    You really would make a great therapist, Dar! I always remember asking my Grandmother in her early 80s “what it felt like to be over 80” and she looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I feel exactly the same on the inside now as I did when I was 23.”

    I loved that answer. It was life-affirming and not what I expected (which was probably also to be told that life was a progression to misery – or at least a progression through the experience of suffering.)

    Grandma had a deep fear of death and I think that inspired her to live up every milestone, from 70 to 75, 80 and beyond. In the end she consciously worked to transcend thoughts of both death and ageing. There was a big dose of denial in there, but it worked for her. I am pretty sure she lived every day up till her last still in touch with that 24 year old she once was. That seems like an achievement to me. She eventually died in her sleep at the age of 96.

    • Thanks for telling me that, Fiona. Maybe a little denial is healthy.

      I would be a good therapist when my clients were in the room, but as soon as they left I would be thinking, “Why don’t they just do X, Y and Z like they know they should!”

  5. Ah, the arrogance of youth. It’s really a blessing for the young; if they were not so self absorbed how could they carry on the business of being young? And it seems the reverse holds true, we learn to self actualise (hopefully) and look outwards as we grow older. I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to be young again. I would trade my old body, but not my old mind! But therein lies the rub doesn’t it?

    • Oh, you are so right. If we had the wisdom of age we would never be able to enjoy youth. The saying goes, “Youth is wasted on the young,” because they just take it for granted, but how could they not? I like to watch them enjoy it from my current perspective.

      • Lisa

        I was thinking of that quote as I read your post. I wish I could go back in time to tell myself to stop wasting time on thoughts like, you’re not thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, etc. Now that I am greying, getting wrinkles, fighting with weight, having aches and pains etc. I realize how good I had it with a young body and mind!

      • I guess I knew I would feel that way and it still didn’t change my thinking. Sigh!

  6. Funny how we move the posts for what we classify as “old” as every decade of our own life goes by!!!

    I plan to grow old disgracefully – I’m going to stay loud, bold and brash. I want my grandchildren to say, “OMG, Oma is so embarrassing/fun/hip. She plays her music so loud and dances around the house.” I only hope my body holds together!

    I love how the drunks apologised for bumping into you! See, you weren’t really invisible, Dar.

    • Yeah, maybe I just command respect, ha ha!

      I doubt if I could play the disgraceful card. My only chance is that my love of pop culture will help me connect with younger folks. Either that, or I’ll be falsely flattered in the hopes I’ll use my influence to hire them where I work, LOL!

  7. I turn 28 this week- which is not very old, but I do look at people a decade or so younger than me and think ‘I really do not miss that!’ Everything is so angsty and dramatic when you are 17/18…so much falling out and arguing!
    I think I appreciate how good my life is now, rather than a decade or so ago when I was looking to the future to be awesome…’I just need to finish A-levels/uni and then life will really begin’..

    • I agree with you. Teens and early 20s seem so full of struggles for independence, being swayed by well-meaning (or not) friends, and relationship woes. I think it got a lot better after that!

  8. I look forward to ice cream now.. hopefully that doesn’t make me too sad. And the running joke with my girlfriend and I is that we are always approached by old guys at concerts. Of course, it might be that we are attending 80’s band concerts..

    I come from a family with active and energetic older members. I hope to be something like them when I get there.

  9. Ah yes, getting older. I felt quite down when I turned 40 and I realised it was because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to and felt like perhaps I wouldn’t get to, ever. I’m still not able to be a full time artist and crafter, but as I approach 50, I’m feeling more content. I’ve managed to be a part time artist and crafter and have a job I like, much more. I have itchy feet though, I want to move into the city, live above a shop or in a warehouse and do more art.
    I think you will look good in purple, and there’s nothing wrong with looking forward to an ice cream all week! I find it very touching when I see an elderly couple holding hands or sitting enjoying a coffee together.My grandmother said to me when she was ninety that she got a shock when she saw her reflection in a shop window and thought who is that old lady? She still felt like herself inside. One of my favourite memories of her, was when she met my cousin’s new boyfriend, a very handsome Maltese guy. Nonnie would have been ninety two or three. She said to me, “I’d turn around in the street to have another look at him”!

    • I am lucky that I haven’t had a mid-life career crisis. However, I remarried at age 45 so that was a big change!

      As to “Who is that old lady?” – we go through life saying that our appearance is not important and it’s what’s inside that counts. But our outsides identify us to others, so they count for something.

      Your last story reminds me of going to see the musical “Hair” with my friend and her grandmother. She admired all the shirtless actors and said, “I may be old, but I’m not dead yet!”

  10. I’m starting to feel my age in my body – especially my knees coming down the stairs in the mornings – and I’m having a few health issues, but I still feel ‘young’ of mind. My desire to do life changing things etc is still there, but all decisions are made with a much wiser head these days.

    Seeing my Dad go from being so active in his seventies, to his very restrictive (for him) 80’s was a wake up call to how age can affect us.

    I try to forget I’m nearly 50 most of the time lol, my husband is only 34 after all 😉

    • I feel wiser these days, too – it must be all those years of mistakes experience! I do think about retirement and how many active years there will be.

      Nice to surround yourself with youthfulness 😉

  11. I read a wonderful that encourages you to find firsts. It does work. Here’s info on it:
    “As you may know I am doing a first every day this year. I read the book “I Dare Me” by Lu Ann Cahn. Lu Ann has a website and has published a book talking about her year of firsts. I read the book and it motivated me to try a year of firsts. Lu Ann is at luanncahn.com and her blog has all her firsts. She determined that a first could be something you hadn’t done in 10 years.” Check out her book. I am trying a first a week – each day was a bit too much as I have a busy schedule.

  12. I love this outlook – I have recently stooped dyeing my hair, I am embracing my greys as something beautiful in their own right! I have decided that I want to age naturally and to embrace every part of it – not to fight it!

  13. Lisa

    I’ve been finding aging in my 40s difficult, although I am trying very hard to be accepting of it (i.e., not reaching for the dye, botox, etc.). So many changes seem to be happening though – wrinkles where I had none just a year ago, skin changes, hair turning really gray, new joint aches, weight struggles, forgetting words for a minute etc. I have a number of friends in their 50s and 60s (since moving and not working, I seem to be fitting in with the retired crowd) who have said to me that they found their 40s a struggle with the changes too, but found contentment and peace with their ‘new’ self in their 50s. Is this true? Maybe this is all compounded because I’ve been having a mid-life career crisis. Man, I am not going gracefully, am I?! My mom had early onset dementia, and I spent my 30s taking care of her in a nursing home. It used to scare the crap out of me when the other residents would show me pictures of themselves when they were ‘younger’ and they looked nothing like their photos! It scares me to change so much. I guess that fits with your saying above, “but our outsides identify us to others, so they count for something.”

    • OK, I am going to get all heavy for a moment. My sister is a nurse in a hospital burn unit. She says that burn victims often go through psychosis because of the changes in their appearance from their injuries. It is not just from the disfigurement but because they sometimes can’t recognize “themselves” in the mirror and there is a disconnect with the person they know themselves to be. But now no one else will see them as that person any more, either.

      I know I am exaggerating, but I can see a little of that process in natural ageing.

      In my case, other than my hair, I’ve found other ageing signs have really only become prominent in the past 2 years (age 49-50). It is hard to get used to my new self because I keep changing, but at least it is gradual and I have time to accept it. I am learning to be a little more patient with myself.

  14. Lisa

    That is a good attitude to have. I try to be accepting, but then my over-analytical mind jumps to the fact that I am in my early 40’s and having the same issues described by those in their 50s. I’m told I look younger than my age, but my body seems to be older! Then I jump to thinking about early onset dementia. Yikes! I bet I’ll be in my 70’s thinking, ‘I wish I could go back and kick that girl’s ass for wasting time on this thinking’. 🙂

  15. Alas this post was ‘locked’ by the BF’s parental controls hahaha! You of all bloggers!

    Today I saw a man slowly climb the stairs and thought ‘I don’t want to be that old, that slow’. Because it is So horrible when you mobility is decreased (old or young). But alas it’s part of growing old.

    I remember meeting one of those red hat ladies in my hostel in Tasmania a few years ago. She was a card, and I knew nothing about the whole movement previously!

    I agree I keep thinking old is different – and it’s relevant to my parent’s age. Now, old can’t be 60s, or still working people! Old has to be retired, at the very least 😉

    • It must have been locked down for the mature content, LOL!

      There is a choice between the Red Hat Society (which seems all about fun) and the Raging Grannies (who do protests).

      Now that the age for govt pensions is creeping up to 67, I guess there will be older retirees!

  16. Alice

    Hi there, I am sorry I am late to comment here, your post is lovely and touching for me. Somehow, the elderly ones make me feel emotional as babies do, too. They are vulnerable, need help and seek for attention- the vicious circle of life.

    As far as I am concerned, I do dread ageing! I wish that by then I will have experienced part of my dreams and have more to expect, a nice family and perhaps, have become wise. Who knows?!!

    Greetings xxx

    • I like to think that as people become older, they are more realistic about achieving their dreams, and are not so desperate for experiences! I did read something sad this week, by a woman in her 80s who loved dogs and would love to raise a puppy again, but knows she can’t, being unable to go for walks each day.

      It is my wish for everyone that they find meaning in what they do (or do things that will bring meaning afterwards, ha ha!)

  17. Alice

    That’s a nice wish!

  18. Pingback: Glory Days | An Exacting Life

  19. Pingback: Owning My Inner 50-Year-Old | An Exacting Life

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