I was talking to a friend today about someone we know, and I commented that she must be turning 70. We both fell silent in shock as I said it. 70? 70! Isn’t that old? At least it used to be (when I was much younger), but the friend we were talking about is vital, youthful, beautiful, in great shape, looks sexy, wears cute clothes (I mean really cute), and at most she looks about 50. And then I realized that the friend I was talking to isn’t that much younger either. She’s busy, engaged in a major career, and also looks terrific. Afterwards, it really made me think about age again and what it means. Age has become very confusing today, at either end of the spectrum.
I married at barely 18, and had my first child at 19. That was a little young even then—but to make matters even more confusing, I had gone to college at 15. Most of my friends got married in their early twenties then. 21, 22, 23. That was pretty common, and they often had children fairly quickly. It was common for a woman to have one or two kids, or even three, by their mid twenties. And men married young then too. (No, that was not during the Civil War or during the Middle Ages—my kids would say something like that to me. I’m not that old, thank you!). And I think that in rural areas, people still marry younger than they do in cities.
But in big cities, with more people going to college, and both men and women pursuing careers, with money hard to live on and even harder to support kids on, people are marrying later and later. Young people stay in school until their mid twenties, or sometimes later. Most young women don’t seem to marry until their thirties. It’s considered ordinary when a young woman marries at 35 today, or has a first baby at 38 or even forty. Child bearing has become possible later than it used to be, sometimes with medical assistance, or not even. Everyone seems to be getting started later. I see with my own children, their life experience in their early and mid-twenties is like mine at a much earlier age. I had a child at 19, was working at 21. I considered myself ancient at 30. I remember thinking that I would never have a child after the age of thirty, and then had five more!
In some ways today’s delayed adulthood is a blessing. People have more time to grow up, to think about what they’re doing, to find a real direction, to marry the right person instead of making an early mistake, someone to whom you’re not well suited later. Life isn’t as ‘serious’ as it was in my day, when you had to be married, have a serious job or career, and have made a lot of big decisions when you were really still a kid. Today young people get a chance to be kids, and aren’t as pressured as we were to have all the answers at such an early age. I still consider my children in their 20’s ‘kids’, and I don’t expect them to have made a mark on the world with their careers, met The One, gotten married and had children of their own at that age. In fact, I’m relieved they haven’t, because by taking their time, they are liable to make better decisions and far fewer mistakes than my generation did.
And there’s a domino effect to that freedom to remain young, which in fact affects every age. When I look at photographs of the outfit I wore leaving my wedding, it’s pretty much something my grandmother would have worn, and probably wouldn’t wear today. So serious! And soooo grown up for a child of barely 18. Eighteen year olds today wear tee shirts and jeans and high topped sneakers, not ladylike suits trimmed in mink. I don’t even wear those today.
But by allowing the young to really be young, stay students, not marry, and postpone having children of their own, and even live at home to save money—suddenly the next age group is affected, and people in their thirties are doing what we did at 21. They are choosing their careers more carefully, or going to grad school for further degrees, they are finally meeting the person they want to marry, and taking the steps that used to be taken a decade earlier. And many are having their first babies in their late thirties or early forties. That’s considered routine these days. (I remember a forty year old first time mother at the nursery school pick up when I was twenty two and being stunned by how ancient she was. A 40 year old Mom was a rarity in those days. Now it’s routine.) I made my mother a grandmother at 38—-in today’s world she’d be having her first baby.
And with thirty year olds getting a later start, people in their 40’s are young marrieds, have toddlers, are picking nursery schools, and don’t have kids in college and are twenty or thirty years away from grandparenthood. Sure, some people still start young, but many don’t.
And suddenly on that time table, a 50 year old can have a ten year old. People dress younger, look younger, feel younger, and take better care of themselves these days. They eat better, exercise, go to gyms, and are active with their young children. A fifty year old when I was young was an old person. A fifty year old today looks great, and youthful, and lots of women get Botox, and assist Mother Nature.
Add another ten years to that, and you have women who dress young, are in great shape, and have young kids around, and are often busy with careers. And you wind up with the 70 years old I was speaking of earlier who looks fabulous and twenty years younger than she is.
The numbers don’t seem to make much sense anymore, and there’s a sense of freedom to it. You can have a baby at fifty, if you have a good doctor. You can marry or go to school at any age. You can launch a career, and in many lines of work can work as long as you want to.
By the old standards, I should be wearing grown up clothes by now and look like a serious person, instead I wear black leather pants and high heels. Anyone can wear mini skirts, if you’ve got the legs. Everyone wears jeans. I wear them every day.
I think what all this freedom means is that we don’t have to be governed by the old rules. You don’t have to marry or have a baby at a particular age. If you’re still in school at 25, or 30, that’s okay. If you go back to school, better yet. So if our kids are allowed to be kids for far longer, we can postpone growing up too—and above all, we don’t have to see ourselves as old, act old, dress old, or live old, at any age. It’s kind of exciting when you think about it. And by taking the pressure off young people, we have taken the pressure off every age. How cool is that!
Of course there are always people who take things to a ridiculous extreme. The English have a great expression about ‘Mutton dressed as lamb’, which refers to older women trying to dress like they’re 18. Good judgment and a serious look in the mirror are always good things.
I think having young kids keeps me busy, and my mind focused on what’s happening today, not on what used to be. Being young isn’t as easy as it looks and it’s full of hard decisions. But at least the timing isn’t quite so tough anymore. They get a break, so we get a break, and if we want to, and are blessed with good health, we can act, think, look and feel young for a long, long, time. I don’t know about you, but it sounds good to me!!