When I have my occasional a-ha!! moments, after they're over, they often seem so obvious that I'm a little embarrassed it took me so long to figure it out. Surely everyone else already knew this.
That's how I felt about my realization that at age 59, I am no longer in the same demographic that I was at age 49 (the original posts are here and here). Well, DUH, as we used to say when I was in junior high. How could I possibly have thought that I was?
But I've continued to read and listen to people and podcasts, and you know what? I'm not alone. I'm not the only woman in her 50s who is having trouble making this mental switch. It's not so much that we mind our encroaching age. After all, by the time we've reached this age, we've lost friends and loved ones and we know how lucky we are to make it to 60.
It's that we don't feel old, at least not the way our youth-obsessed culture defines old. We don't feel irrelevant, and that's how our society views "old" people. And my friends who have already turned 60 don't seem like senior citizens, at least not the way I thought seniors were when I was 40. I think that is more about my misunderstanding of what a senior is like than it is about 62-year-olds being different than they used to be. Our society really is remarkably stupid about aging.
I think the key is that we have to change how we think about age. We can't do much about changing how young people think-- I can remember being that younger woman who rolled her eyes when someone in her 50s would enthusiastically tell me that "50 is the new 30." That younger me was not convinced.
But we can change what we believe about ourselves, and about age. We've internalized this idea that if you're not at the center of making
things happen, your usefulness as a human being is gone. So we keep
chasing after that feeling of being in the "maker" stage, the influencer
stage, the making a difference stage. I want to feel like I matter.
But you know what? We do matter. We just do. We don't have to manufacture this, or change our culture, or convince anyone, we just have to believe it ourselves. Instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to continue to shoehorn ourselves into the mid-life category, we need to change how we think about people in their 60s. Yup, I'm old. Yup, I'm no longer on the center stage of what is happening in our world. But I am still a badass.
What if we just move forward? Instead of accepting what our culture tells us--that if you're not in that cultural sweet spot of mid-thirties to mid-forties, you don't matter-- how about if we dump our own anti-age prejudice and know down to our core that american culture is wrong about aging?
Because if we don't do this, if we continue to try to pretend that are in that center stage phase, that's exactly when we become ridiculous. To be clear: Do what you want, wear what you want. Ignore the YouTube tutorials about "seven things women over fifty should never wear" and "six makeup tips for looking 35 again." That's not what I mean.
What I mean is: recognize that the generations have shifted. The women who are in their 30s to 40s have a different cultural context than we did. They have a different set of priorities and a different set of challenges. We can't talk down to them as if the things we did at their age were important, and theirs are just window dressing. We can't tell younger women that their a-ha moments are unnecessary because our generation already did that (not kidding, I came so close to actually saying that a couple of months ago).
Every generation has to figure out certain things for themselves. Their generation is being forced to manage their kids' online education while figuring out how to organize their homes during lockdown and track their Instagram feed and monitor their kids' use of TikTok and Snapchat. It's a whole different world out there.
Our lives currently include aching knees, unrestful sleep, chin hairs, and not understanding why anyone would want four social media apps. Own it, my friends. We got this.
****** a blog note ******
Last week we spent the entire week smothered in a thick fog that was actually smoke, blown in from forest fires on the west coast. Like many people with allergies and smoke sensitivity, it was a miserable week for me. But-- of course -- not even close to as miserable for us as it is for the people who are actually experiencing the fires.
It finally rained a bit over the weekend, which at least temporarily cleared out the smoke and let my brain start working again. And when it did, I remembered the post I accidentally published last Monday. It wasn't supposed to go up until Tuesday, but it's easier than you would expect to screw that up. I quickly figured out my mistake and "unpublished" it, and for the first time ever, I managed to delete it before it went to the RSS feed so it never appeared in my reader. But then the smoke descended and I forgot about it until yesterday, so that is why a post that is dated last week was just published yesterday, and why those of you who are email subscribed received at least two copies of it (three?). Oops.