I recently turned 50. Many people have asked me if it freaked me out to reach that Big Number. I’m not sure why. Is 50 an expiration date I wasn’t aware of? Are there behavior requirements I didn’t get a memo about? Am I about to drop dead or something?!
I’m not freaking out. Here’s why: I don’t feel 50. I’m pretty sure I don’t act 50 – if laughing at farts and the word stroganoff is any indication. I suspect I was asked the question because there’s presumption that it’s all doom and gloom after a certain age, a “Poor you, you’re on the downward slope of life” sentiment. Screw that.
What’s ‘old’ anyway? Isn’t it a matter of perspective? When I was 10, I thought 20 was ancient. In elementary school, we were asked to calculate how old we’d be in the year 2000. We nearly passed out at our little desks when we figured out we’d be 36 years old. We thought 36 was one wrinkly foot in the grave. By the time I was 36, my idea of old had changed again, this time to mean people in nursing homes. In fact, I keep changing my definition of old, conveniently to mean not me. It works. My days of worry have long since passed and I give little thought to what others consider “milestone” birthdays.
It’s true that we live in a society that puts a ridiculous premium on youth. Why, I have no idea. Young people are stupid, and I mean that in nicest way, because they’re supposed to be stupid, impulsive, free, and feel invincible. But it’s totally over-rated. If you think about it, youth is the smallest fraction of our lives. Most of our lives are spent in various phases of old. Yes, young people look good, what with their smooth skin, perky boobs and high-riding asses, but they’re not fully-formed humans. You become a fully-formed person by doing things, by accumulating experiences, by living many years. And it’s a glorious thing. Walks of shame, going to an entry-level job on three hours of sleep, and being sure you’re right about every damn thing get old fast.
As I grew from a perky-boobed twenty-something into the saggy-boobed 50-year-old I am now, I stopped counting the years. I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions of what I should or shouldn’t be doing at this age or that. None of us should. Plus – and I think this is true for most of us – my mental image of myself is still that of a young person. While I’m a much better decision maker and my ideas and opinions have evolved over time, I’m still essentially the person I always was, only a (slightly) less idiotic version. I don’t feel older, I feel better. The number of your years is far less important than the quality of your years, anyway.
I will concede that sometimes it’s hard to overlook the physical aspects of aging. You hit a certain age and suddenly visits to doctor’s office herald probing, poking, squeezing and procedures. Knees squeak, you employ trombone arms to read a menu, and hair sprouts where hair has no business residing. Body parts decide to take an uninvited trip south and you finally learn what the word ‘wattle’ means. I admit to falling victim to the idea that young bodies look better than older ones. I’ve had my share of horrible run-ins with magnification mirrors. I pluck like a mad woman and whine about the fact that my chin decided to have babies. But I have come to accept that it’s just part of a new (hairier, plumper) landscape. When the next phase of your life arrives at your door, you welcome it, tweezers, Spanx, and sense of humor in hand. It’s that simple.
Besides, what’s the alternative? Constant lamentation? Crippling insecurity? Yearning for a you that will never return? Surgical and chemical attempts at looking younger? That’s a recipe for unhappiness and frustration, if you ask me.
So here’s my advice:
- Stop counting birthdays.
- Remember what an idiot you were when you were young (it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, people).
- Take risks and try new things.
- Don’t try to look younger than you are. Stop with the Botox, collagen, and face lifts because you’re not fooling anyone. No one is supposed to look like a perpetually surprised trout.
- A corollary to the above: don’t get boob jobs. Flotation devices are provided on aircraft, so giant bilateral saline bags are useless.
- If you’re a man, don’t buy a Midlife Crisis Vehicle. While you think it screams “STILL A COOL STUD MUFFIN!” we think it screams “I NEED VIAGRA!”
- Celebrate wrinkles. Those lines in your face are evidence of life well lived. They’re called laugh lines for a reason.
- Dance whenever possible, occasionally on tables.
- Go to parties and throw them. Often.
- Listen to music that’s current. I promise your ears will stop bleeding…eventually.
- Hang out with young people. Listen to them, if for no other reason than to not sound like asshat when you text.
- Embrace change. You must evolve at the same pace the world does or you’ll feel (and be) left behind.
- Travel. It’s impossible to feel old when you’re on the move.
- Laugh, especially at yourself. Taking yourself too seriously is a one-way ticket to Geezerville.
- Be happy. Science is on my side here. Studies have shown that happiness is a greater predictor of longevity than anything else.
- Be kind. Kindness begets kindness which begets happiness. See above.
The most important thing to remember is that aging is universal and constant. We’re all on the same train headed for the same destination. Don’t try to reverse the direction of the train, just relax and enjoy the ride.