Age. Wow. Such a tiny word for such a big issue and big subject. I always like the silly saying, “Age doesn’t matter unless you are a banana.” Clearly, that was written by someone who was fourteen years old.
I don’t know why but age has always bothered me, at every age, you’re either too young, or too old, or feel too old when you are young. I hate the numbers. I got off to an early start. I went to college at 15, married for the first time at 18, had my first child (and wrote my first book) at 19, and was always rushing to do something. And by now everyone must figure I’m 102, because I’ve been around for a long time. I actually wrote a book about the issue of age, called “Happy Birthday”, about 3 people turning 30,50 and 60 on the same day, and there is actually some funny and also pertinent stuff in that book.
I HATE landmark birthdays. In fact, I hate my birthdays altogether, and really shouldn’t. I got off to a bad start on birthdays. Mine is in the summer, when everyone was always on vacation, a perfect excuse for my parents not to celebrate it, postpone it, promise to do so later and never get around to it, because after the summer, everyone was too busy. So to me, as a little kid, birthdays spelled disappointment. As a result, I treated my children’s birthdays as MAJOR national events, with birthday parties, balloons, lots of gifts, themes, really fun parties, and I tried to give them the fabulous birthdays I never had.. And my children, in turn, are great to me on my birthday, everyone shows up and celebrates me (we won’t however mention some of the comments, like one of my daughters who looked at my cake with all the candles on it a few years ago and said, “Holy Sh–, Mom, it looks like a forest fire!!” Hmmm….never mind. They are very good to me on my birthday, and their father was too and made a big fuss about it, but I guess our childhoods mark us, and I never quite got that sad feeling about birthdays out of my head, and I always dread my birthdays. I remember thinking I was ancient at 25, practically dead and distraught at turning 30. 35 had me worried, 40 depressed me profoundly, and landmark ages ever since, or every birthday rattle me every year. And although I’m not that old by normal human standards, I look at my passport now and think WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING??? Whose age is that?? That can’t be me.
Age is such a damn complicated complex weird concept, and even now I’m not sure what it means. Every time I feel ancient, I look at photos of me 5 years ago (when I also felt ancient and wasn’t), and think “hmm….I looked okay then”, but at the time I felt as though I looked like King Tut. What the hell is that about? Why do we feel so old when we’re really not? And why do some people think birthdays are such a fabulous event? My ex-husband used to celebrate his for a week, with party after party after party with his friends. Another friend celebrates hers for a month. A month? Are you kidding, I can barely stand mine for a day. When nightfall comes on my birthday, I think Whew, that’s over with. When people say “Happy Birthday” I wince. Stupid really. We compare ourselves to people older or younger, wonder if we look better or worse. We run into people we went to school with and either chortle inwardly about how bad they look, relieved that we look better or run home wanting to cry because we think they look better and we look worse. And nowadays, 22 year old girls start using Botox on their faces, and far too many women rush to have face lifts, and ruin their looks and even make themselves look older with faces we no longer recognize. I am a profound coward and hate pain, and I’m way too chicken to ever have plastic surgery (or Botox), so I’m stuck with the face nature gives me at whatever age. I’d be too scared not to recognize myself in the mirror. But then I whine when I look at photographs, and worry that I look old. And (kind) people claim I don’t look my age, so whose age do I look? Grandma Moses? Or Brittney Spears? Neither one, I guess. I guess I just look like me.
The weird thing about age is that it is mostly in our heads. Somewhere along the way, the clock stops in our heads, and we wind up feeling 25 forever. I feel no different than I did at 25 or 30 or 35, I’m still young in my head (remaining immature forever will help one feel young at every age!!). Seriously, I don’t feel any different. And I don’t look too dramatically different than I did 10 years ago. So why do we feel old because we are a certain age? Young people beat themselves up for not having accomplished everything they dream of at a certain age, they aren’t married yet, or don’t have a baby yet, don’t own a house, haven’t met the man or woman of their dreams or aren’t running a corporation. Older people feel old because they can’t run as fast, guys may not have as much hair, or a woman may wear a different dress size than she did at 22. But why do we really feel old? I’m not sure. Obviously, health plays a big part at any age, but assuming you’re in decent health, why do we feel old? Who are we measuring ourselves against? Angelina Jolie? Brad Pitt? And there seem to be no rules about what happens when, in life. People have babies older, fall in love and marry at 75 or 85 or 90, success in business comes to most people a lot later than we expect, except in rare instances or fields. I think age is a matter of head and heart even more than years. If you’ve given up on life and have shut down and lost hope, you feel mighty old. If you’re still engaged, involved, have fun at least some of the time, and there is something you like about life, you’re not old yet, no matter what your driver’s license says.
We, particularly women, are also expected to measure ourselves against impossible standards. With 3 daughters who work in fashion, I know some of the injustices of that field. As we turn the pages of fashion magazines, and compare ourselves to the women in them—-those aren’t women, in most cases they are 15 to 18 year old girls, sometimes even 14, and rarely older than 20. One of my daughters chooses the models for her fashion shows while they are still too young to have womanly curves. That’s sneaky, and not fair. How am I expected to look like that?? I can’t, and never did, although ‘womanly curves’ have never been part of the landscape for me, I was skinny as a kid, and have been thin all my life, not curvy. But the fashion icons we envy are girls in their teens. Of course they look great, their skin is perfect, their faces unlined, and their hips non-existent. I’m always grateful when I see beautiful women who are older and have done nothing to their faces (like Meryl Streep)—-thank YOU for giving me a role model I can live with, looks like a real person, and is still beautiful. It scares the hell out of me when I see women my age, or usually a lot older, who look terrible, and I think “Oh my God, do I look like that?” My self-image is not great, and I can never figure out how old I look.
I am full of admiration when I meet much older people who are loving life and doing great things. A woman I knew and loved, who lived to be 100 and was terrific to her last day (and incredibly chic) was constantly taking classes, running around the world, and at 86, decided to learn French by living with a French family for 6 months, in a total immersion program (sharing one bathroom with a family of about 10 people in a tiny house in a miserable industrial part of France). Wow!!! (And she was happily married to a man 25 years younger than she, and she outlived him by many years). When I was 20, I lived with my ex-husband’s grandfather who lived to be 103, was fantastic, used to take me dancing and went to his office every day. And in recent years, I know 3 women who are over 100, are still independent, drive, go out, see friends, have fun and are fabulous. Admittedly, that’s rare, but there are people like that out there. And my role model in life is a dear friend who is now 84, still active as an interior designer, still beautiful, and busier, more with it and more fun than anyone I know. I want to be like that when I grow up. So why do I complain about how old I am, when I am decades younger than those women? I don’t know. And relationships seem different to me now. I always was attracted to men 20 or 30 years older than I, all the significant men in my life were more than 20 years older than I. And now, I just don’t care about age, and am just as attracted to much younger men than older ones, and age seems totally irrelevant. It’s all about how nice, kind, smart, and interesting they are (and fun to be with), and that has nothing to do with age. I no longer care about a lot of the things that limited me when I was younger. And without question, in Europe, younger men are frequently attracted and go out with older women. No one seems to care, so why should I??
So here we are, it’s August and I have a birthday looming, and while I was growling about it tonight, I started thinking about how irrelevant age can be, if you’re willing to think that way. One of my daughters is having a birthday she’s not happy about, and she has no idea how young she is, but I was the same way at her age. Maybe my birthday promise to myself this year should be not to give a damn how old I am, or what the numbers are. Maybe the secret to life and the fountain of youth is to just live your life to the fullest and enjoy every moment and stop worrying about the numbers. And I’m not even sure that ‘youth’ is so much fun. My teens were not happy years, my 20’s were a hell of a struggle trying to figure out who I was, my 30’s were great (success, a happy marriage and many kids), and after that I made myself miserable about how old I was getting, was going to be, would be one day, and worrying about it.
So perhaps the saying that age doesn’t matter unless you are a banana is truer than we think. Maybe it just doesn’t matter, and you just stay busy, keep moving, keep opening doors, trying new things, and learning about life. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. I’m not a tree, I’m not a banana, and I never looked like Angelina Jolie even at her age. I’m just me. So what the hell…..maybe age really doesn’t matter at all. I think maybe I’ll go with that this year. Maybe we should all stop whining about how old we are, or worrying about it, and just celebrate the fact that we’re here and enjoy life. I think gratitude is a terrific antidote for age—better than a face lift. And if someone wishes me a happy birthday, I will try not to growl at them this year!!!