Owning My Inner 50-Year-Old

A cool person who is 50 this year, Helena Bonham Carter

A cool person who is 50 this year, Helena Bonham Carter

When I was 17, and my parents were 40, I would look at older folks and think: People in their 60s – seniors. People in their 50s – boring, like watching paint dry. I knew that folks in their 40s were still raising their teenagers, and if you were 65, you were getting your old age pension. I probably thought that 50-somethings were just waiting to retire.

Now here I am, over 50 (52 actually), and the time of reckoning is here! I need to confront my stereotypes head-on.

My youthful thoughts about 50-year-olds included:

  • Their children have left home and they are lonely
  • They spend their time waiting for their kids to visit or to “give them” grandchildren
  • They dote on and spoil their grandchildren
  • They are winding down their careers
  • They don’t have the energy of younger adults so they come home from work and watch TV

I have come to realize that my ideas about “maturity,” as the AARP would call it, are deeply ingrained. Maturity and old age merge in my mind. When I was a teenager, I didn’t see much difference between 50 and 60, or 60 and 70. It was all just a blur of oldness. More recently, though, the definitions of middle age and old age have shifted: 40 is the new 30, and all that. People live longer and have more active years.

There are (at least) two huge problems with my old way of thinking:

  • I associated sedate activities with old age, mental frailty and decline; and
  • Ageing is a continuum, and not a lump of decades!

Let’s look at Sedate Activities. Some of the things I picture 50-somethings doing are gardening, bird watching, walking, reading, arts and crafts, spending time with pets, and signing up for activities and classes. What is wrong with this picture? I have been doing all of these things continually since I was 5 years old! I did them when I was 15, 25, 35 and 45. They are clearly not the province of The Old Crones! I must have always had an inner 50-year-old. This could be more optimistically rebranded as Nerd Girl culture.

Upon reflection, though, I see a difference. I imagined 50+ year olds limiting their activities to that list, being unable to do more, or losing interest in other activities. The 15, 25, 35 or 45 year old may do those things, but may also party all night, rock climb, ski, operate a business or raise a 2-year-old. I didn’t picture 55-year-olds being able to maintain that level of energy.

As to lumping all the years of maturity into one, it is easy to generalize. Biologically, we are told that we have childhood, adolescence, the child-bearing years, and the decline into old age. We grow up, reproduce, and then we are no longer useful. As a child, I bought into this view of people blossoming, flowering and fading.

When I was young, there were more women in traditional roles, but also more intergenerational families. Even now I find that women spend not just two decades looking after their own children, but they look after/look out for their adult children, provide childcare (often full-time) for their grandchildren, look after their parents, and look after their ailing or ageing spouses. Of course, it has always been that way, but now, a career is a given too. Yes, our lives are longer now. But with all of our commitments, and so little free time, they feel shorter!

Meanwhile, I have somehow landed in a pause. My work life is going on as usual. My “childcare” responsibilities (for a young adult who lives away from home) are indirect and mostly involve providing emotional support. My parents are both 75, and while I talk things over with them and I’m mindful of their needs, I don’t provide care for them. For the time being, I feel freed from having a full-time caregiver role.

50

Here’s what I didn’t know about being 50-something: perhaps for the first time, I can be myself, and take time to do things for myself, to an unprecedented degree. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am probably in my best earning years as well. Now is the time, while health and energy are strong, to travel and go to concerts and plays and partake in fine dining and perhaps even use my voice for social change and be involved in the wider world.

I like having decades of life experience. While I know it’s foolish to tell others how to think or what to do, I enjoy those moments when someone respectfully asks me about my experience, or seeks my opinion, and gives it some weight, because I have lived.

I didn’t expect to have clout. In fact, as a rather clear-eyed professional woman of a Certain Age, I find people are often intimidated by me. Everyone thinks I know what I’m doing. They assume I am educated and moneyed and well-connected. If I have a complaint, I am referred to a manager. And while I know fully well I am benefiting from white privilege, some part of me feels that I have “arrived,” and maybe this is what successful white men have always experienced. I wish that for everyone.

Despite the aggravations of menopause, I am healthy in all other respects. Last week, Rom started a conversation with me with, “You know when you get up in the morning and you are all achy?” I looked at him, puzzled, and replied, “No, I don’t,” actually, because that has never happened to me. I don’t have medical conditions or take prescriptions, and I don’t think I have any bad habits that have caught up with me (except cavities in my teeth maybe?)

I feel “of sound mind” as well. I am past caring about what others think of me, at least on a personal level, and I don’t suffer from the awful self-consciousness I felt in my teens and 20s. I don’t expect I will ever again try to re-invent myself to please a man (or anyone). I don’t buy in to what the media say about how youthful I should act or appear.

In fact, when others complain about their lives, I am hard-pressed to commiserate. Sometimes I don’t even tell people how happy I am. If I say so, will they think I didn’t like raising a child, or will they think I dread having to look after my parents in the years ahead? Neither of those things are true in the slightest. But now is pretty awesome.

If I fall asleep watching TV in the evening, or stay home both Friday and Saturday night, or feel nostalgic about the emergence of punk rock, so be it. I own this territory! It’s time for my secret oldster side to show itself 🙂

You may only watch this beautiful video if you have five uninterrupted minutes to immerse yourself in it!

See also: Signs of Ageing (+ Bonus Old Geezer Test) and Older, Worser?

 

20 comments

  1. Great video (what no acne?)!
    What I miss about being over 50 is how hard it is to make new friends – there are few natural places to do it compared to college and grad school – and how few of my current friends listen to and share new music.

    • Hi Jamie, The video used a cool technique – the videographer visited a family reunion of the subject, recorded relatives who had the most similar features, and then merged them into a time lapse video. I fully relate to both of your points!

  2. I just turned 40, and am trying to embrace it as well. I had my first child at 30, so we are still well within the core child rearing years. No more babies, but lots of parenting, shuffling, feeding & raising of kiddos. I’m enjoying the phase we’re in now, but also thinking to the future & trying to imagine what 50 will look like. Just getting the kids out of the house, it would appear. Both of my parents are very healthy now, but we’re all very conscious that can change at any time.

    Love your attitude to embrace the changes, while taking excellent care of yourself. That really is the ticket, I think.

    • Thanks. I would say it took me about 3 years to accept and get accustomed to not having a child at home. It was rough, but then, my family situation is not typical. It has been 4.5 years now, and I finally feel like this is the new normal!

  3. For me, aging has been liberating – especially not giving a damn about what others think about how I dress and act. I do know about those aches Ron speak about, though! Count your fit blessings! 🙂

  4. Fiona

    That is such a positive and well-rounded and really buoyant view of being 50! I really like the idea of having had an ‘inner 50 year old’ all along! I am in the process of liberating my inner-50 year old (at still 45 – almost turning 46!) Still in the throes of having a child morphing into an adolescent and those final years of financial smack-down and getting to job mastery. But I’m looking forward to the increasing independence to come. (It made my day better to read this!)

    • Thanks, Fiona. I think we are primed to think about the loss of having our children move away, and no one focuses on the everyday joys that can fill up our lives in the meanwhile.

  5. Great post. The line that resonated the most with me is this one.” I can be myself, and take time to do things for myself, to an unprecedented degree.” I liken this to driving alone or with my wife and we pass an interesting little detour and we turn around a go back to it. Those little excursions are worth their weight in gold.

  6. gk

    This – “I can be myself, and take time to do things for myself, to an unprecedented degree.”

    It’s liberating!

  7. great post, I like being in my 50’s I finally feel as if I have found me, still have kids at home but their getting to be independent and I really enjoy their almost adult company.I look forward to being completely child free but know I am going to miss them.

    • Hi Angie, I’m sorry I missed this comment when you posted it. You are having some good years with your almost-adult kids and I know you are enjoying it. An empty nest takes some getting used to, but after the gradual transition, it’s liberating.

  8. I’m not looking forward to getting older particularly (not that I’m dreading it either), but I hope that when I’m older and have had children who have flown the nest it’ll give me some time to start having the holidays I can’t have now because I’m saving for a family and it feels somewhat selfish or irresponsible to spend a lot of money on something else when that’s what my partner and I have agreed to save for!

  9. I remember having that same ‘old’ perception of anyone older than (and at times the same age as) my parents. I recall clearly my gradfather’s 70th and he was full of life and mobile – and has been until relatively recently. He’s the same age as my grandmother on the other side, and she’s always been a little less mobile and ‘sporty’ so it’s interesting to compare them both. Both are usually sharp as a tack mentally save for drugs which alter that!

    I do find as I get older, I’m better at knowing what age people are – including my seat mate asking me how old I thought a photo of a woman was, and I was within two years (she was clearly trying to look younger, but…)

    I often feel ‘older’ than I am – like more responsible than I need to be, or at least, than others in my circumstances. I think it helps me be seen as suitable for the more senior roles at work, so I take it in my stride. But I’ve always been like this – so darn responsible! I don’t think I’ll live to regret it though. I like the sense of being mature in the way I act (ie not drunk or disorderly).

    • I have always felt that way, too – maybe because of my dedication to my studies, and later due to becoming a manager early in my career. The side effect is that people think I am always serious and maybe not so fun, but hey, they can have their illusions 🙂

  10. Old people are always 15-20 years older than your own age.

    I don’t mind turning 50 this year. Beats the alternative!!! But I wish my knees weren’t going on me. I have more independence now than ever. Like you, I’ve arrived. And am financially secure. I need to take a leaf from your book and get more active though. As in do strength exercises.

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