Monday, February 21, 2011

Aging Can Be Great

Today is my 47th birthday. How on earth did I get to be 47 years old? I don't know. I think I'm just going to grab onto that cliché as it flutters by, contemplating its impending trip north this spring, and note that "time flies." I don't, however, want to grab onto the old cliché about how horrible aging is. To that effect, I am here to tell you some very good things about getting older.

1. I no longer feel ugly.
I wasted a good deal of my life (especially my youthful years, when society would have you believe I was at my most beautiful) thinking I was ugly. I looked in the mirror and found fault with everything I saw. Now, not only do I no longer feel ugly, but I feel beautiful. I still vividly remember about 13 years ago when a good friend of mine was turning 50, and she announced to a group of us that one of the great things about being her age was that she finally felt beautiful. I remember thinking, "Oh, my God, how do you get there?" (BTW, this friend of mine was not an Audrey-Hepburn lookalike or anything. She was just a "normal" woman: graying hair, weight where we all gain it, etc.) I didn't believe her at the time. I do now. The answer to 'getting there'? Nothing but time. The wisdom that comes with age has a lot to do with it. As I say, I used to see nothing but faults: too short, too white, too fat here, too thin there (no need to go on, right? We all know how the beauty industry makes us females berate ourselves, don't we?). Now, I embrace what makes me unique. I don't tan. I'm "petite." I wear hats well. It's all about attitude and not letting others define "ugly" and "beautiful" for me.

2. Speaking of beauty, it helps that I now feel good when I compare myself physically to my peers.
By "peers," I mean those plus or minus 5 years my age. When I was in my teens and twenties and thirties, I always felt inferior to my peers. They were always taller, skinnier, tanner, had better hair, had more fashion sense, had better luck with boys/men, etc., etc. Everyone always seemed to have a flatter stomach, longer legs, bigger breasts...I've discovered, though, that all my years of taking pretty good care of myself (exercising on a regular basis, eating mostly healthy food and avoiding junk, etc.) have paid off. Now, I, apparently, "look really good for [my] age" or "don't look [my] age at all." Sure, I'd like to lose a few pounds, but I'm not fat by any stretch of the imagination. The white skin I have always cursed has kept me out of the sun, so, with the exception of a worry line, I don't have many wrinkles. My hair is blond, so the gray looks more like highlights than gray. At this stage of my life, I very rarely meet women my age who make me feel like I need to eat nothing but lettuce leaves and exercise like an Olympic swimmer if I'm ever going to look like that. And fashion sense? Who cares? I wear what I like, what makes me feel good, and that changes from day to day (sometimes it's yoga pants and a fleece sweat shirt, other times it's a tailored suit). Then there are men. I no longer need to have "luck with men," but men seem to like me, so I must be doing something right.

3. I'm more self confident.
I'm not perfect in this regard, but oh my god, am I so much better than I was twenty years ago. I have so much less trouble disagreeing with people and stating my point of view than I did when I was 27. I'm convinced my opinion matters, and I don't easily back down when I feel something is worth pursuing. I don't worry so much that people may not like me if I disagree with them. If they don't like me, well...oh well. There are plenty of people in this world who do like me and who I like right back, so there's no need to worry about those who may not.

4. My hair has changed.
The hair on my head is nowhere near as oily as it used to be, which means I no longer have to wash it every day. I can go outside in public the day after I've washed it without feeling like I ought to be charging people $3+ a gallon. This may be because I've finally found the right shampoo, but after experimenting with various shampoos for 33 years, I highly doubt that. Meanwhile, how come no one tells women about the marvelous wonder known as "leg baldness?" I no longer have to shave my legs nearly as often (and I still can't quite get used to this fact). My hair just seems to have stopped growing. I remember, when I was 17 or so, my mother telling me she no longer needed to shave her legs. I, of course, didn't believe her. She must have been mistaken. How could she no longer need to shave her legs? (There's a lesson in here for younger readers. Believe older women when they tell you things.)

5. I can do so much more alone without feeling uncomfortable.

Can you believe that fifteen years ago, I'd never eaten out alone? I'd also never gone to a movie alone. Enjoyed a cup of coffee and a scone in a cafe alone. Sat at a bar alone. Okay, maybe there are those who wouldn't exactly call being with a book being "alone," because books are friends. Still, by most standards, I am alone. Oh, and I even go to the Ladies Room alone (then again, I always did that).

6. I pursue what I like instead of what I'm supposed to like.
I really don't care what others think if I know absolutely nothing about 21st-century pop culture. I watch very little T.V. and (with the exception of Mad Men) don't even really know what I'm supposed to be watching these days. I don't mind telling people I'm completely movie ignorant. I also don't mind telling people that I spend most of my down time reading. And I happen to think that most conversations are pretty superficial if you have to spend your time avoiding the three "taboo" topics of religion, sex, and politics. Anyone who brings up any of these topics in a conversation rises in my esteem.

7. Speaking of sex, it's no longer Sex.
Yes, it's still enjoyable. Yes, it still catches my attention. But, really, what was the huge deal when I was in my twenties? It's hard for me to fathom. This means that men have become so much more interesting on so many other levels, and I no longer have to worry about being tongue-tied just because some guy is cute (or even drop-dead gorgeous. In fact, my whole definition of "drop-dead gorgeous" has changed). This change has been extraordinarily freeing. I like to think that this isn't just a matter of having been married for fifteen years, that even if I weren't in a monogamous relationship, I would no longer make a fool of myself over men.

8. I have money.

I've been working full time and earning money for 25 years now. I've saved. I've invested. It helps that I never had children, but even if I had, I would not be in situations like I was at age 24 when I had to choose between an oil change in the car and groceries. I don't have extravagant tastes, at least, not when it comes to things like clothes and cars. I do like good, fresh, organic food, so that's where I am extravagant (and, really, that is a cheap extravagance compared to something like Jimmy Choo). That means that on the occasions when I want to be truly extravagant (taking a private sleeper car on Amtrak from New York to New Mexico, say), I can be so without having to worry that I won't be able to pay the rent (which, by the way, is no longer rent, but rather, a mortgage on my dream home in Maine).

9. I am aware that I am not old.
Okay, in fairness, I've been aware of this for a long time. When I was in my twenties, I figured out that no one is old until his or her obituary would no longer cause shock. For instance, if you were to read my obituary tomorrow (and you're not fifteen years old), my guess is that you would think, "Oh my God. She was so young!" Until someone has reached the age at which an obituary would make someone think, "Well, she lived a good, long life," she is not old. That means, in my book, you have to be at least in your early eighties to be old. My father, for instance, is now allowed to tell me he's old, but before he turned eighty, I wouldn't listen to him.

10. I can't think of a good #10.
Ten is a nice, round number, though. We mature folks like things to be nice and orderly and round.


liliannattel said...

I loved this post! I was just thinking, today, similar thoughts. And I like your definition of old, too.

Stefanie said...

Wonderful birthday post! Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. I can agree 100% with all of it. I have a coworker who just turned 30 four months ago and I often find myself wondering if I was like that when I was her age and if so, how did people put up with me! I hope you are having fun celebrating!

Amanda said...

Happy birthday! I hope I am in as good a place when I turn 47 which is 5 years from now. I also hope you are right about the leg baldness because frankly I'm finding managing the additional hairs that seem to have begun sprouting on my face in recent times quite a drag

Susan said...

Happy birthday, Emily! You are so lucky if you don't have to shave your legs any more. All my hair seems to be growing faster these days. If I didn't pluck my chin I'd be the original Bearded Woman, and if we hadn't invented the razor I'd be See The Hairy Woman! at the circus :-)

I'm older, fatter, and so much happier than I was when I was 20 or 30!!!! I'm going to be 48, so a lot of what you say in your post had me laughing and nodding your head, especially about the topics of conversation. They make some of the best conversations!!! and certainly the most interesting.

I don't feel old in my mind, but I have to say that my body does feel its age sometimes. That's the biggest change for me, that and feeling free to be myself, which I love more and more every year.

Are you having any cake? Is Bob taking you out? Did you get any books? *because it's not a birthday if there aren't any new books to read! lol Enjoy your day!!

Cam said...

I love this post! Happy birthday, Em!

I'm only a few years older, but wish I had the wisdom to know this when I was 47. Some of this I'm still learning on a daily basis. I'm reframing my thinking of old based on your definition.

litlove said...

This is so wonderfully encouraging! I'm very nearly 42 and en route to some of these delightful revelations although I can't in all honesty say I've reached them quite yet. But boy do I look forward to getting there. You are an inspiration to us all. And very happy birthday, too!

Bob said...

#10 You have many friends. Happy B-Day, Emily. My older son turns 46 this week. I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled....

Danny said...

Fabulous post, Emily--it should be reprinted in magazines everywhere that treat aging as a tragic disease, especially for women. As a 51-year-old, I was inspired by all of your points, and couldn't agree more about the benefits of reaching this stage in life. BRAVO, and Happy Belated Birthday! Hope you had a blast!

Carrie K said...

That's exactly it! We're the same age (with that 5 year swing) and while it's not exactly what I expected - I did think that I wouldn't be nervous doing new things or still have a learning curve - (curses) - the rest of it is spot on.

Emily Barton said...

Lilian, ooo, I love it when someone loves my posts, and yes, I like my definition of "old", too. It really is all about perspective, isn't it?

Stef, thanks, and I had great fun celebrating (think good food and, of course, books).

Amanda, oh yes, those pesky additional face hairs. I struggle with those, too, but it's better than having to shave my legs all the time. I gather not everyone gets leg baldness. I hope you are one of the lucky few (didn't happen for me till this past year).

Susan, lol the bearded lady and the hairy woman! I can empathize with the former. My body does ache a little more, and I've slowed down in some areas, but not much, and all the positives, so far, outweigh those negatives.

Litlove, thank you. You WILL get there, I am sure.

Bob, oh yes, I should have mentioned that I have many dear friends and no longer worry that nobody is going to like me.

Danny, thanks! Maybe I ought to start submitting to magazines...

Carrie, glad to know I am in good company, and yes, curses to that darn learning curve (especially for someone like me who really hates to read and follow directions).

Dorothy W. said...

Great post! It's wonderful to know that there are great things to look forward to.