There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.
But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”
This line is about to become my personal mantra. I have been rehearsing it vigorously, amazed at how amply I now shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch.
A younger woman advised me that “old” may be the wrong word, that I should consider I’m too wise for this, or too smart. But old is the word I want. I’ve earned it.
And let’s just start with being an older woman, shall we? Let others feel bad about their chicken wings — and their bottoms, their necks and their multitude of creases and wrinkles. I’m too old for this. I spent years, starting before I was a teenager, feeling insecure about my looks.
No feature was spared. My hairline: Why did I have to have a widow’s peak, at 10? My toes: too short. My entire body: too fat, and once, even, in the depths of heartbreak, much too thin. Nothing felt right. Well, OK, I appreciated my ankles. But that’s about it.
What torture we inflict upon ourselves. If we don’t whip ourselves into loathing, then mean girls, hidden like trolls under every one of life’s bridges, will do it for us.
Even the vogue for strange-looking models is little comfort; those women look perfectly, beautifully strange, in a way that no one else does. Otherwise we would all be modeling.
One day recently I emptied out an old trunk. It had been locked for years; I had lost the key and forgotten what was in there. But, curiosity getting the best of me on a rainy afternoon, I managed to pry it open with a screwdriver.
It was full of photographs. There I was, ages 4 to 40. And I saw for the first time that even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I had been beautiful.
And there were all my friends; girls and women with whom I had commiserated countless times about hair, weight, all of it, doling out sympathy and praise, just as I expected it heaped upon me: beautiful, too. We were, we are, all beautiful. Just like our mothers told us, or should have. (Ahem.)
Those smiles, radiant with youth, twinkled out of the past, reminding me of the smiles I know today, radiant with strength.
Young(er) women, take this to heart: Why waste time and energy on insecurity? I have no doubt that when I’m 80, I’ll look at pictures of myself when I was 60 and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty.
I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go, that maybe sags and complains but hangs in there. So maybe I’m too old for skintight jeans, too old for 6-inch stilettos, too old for tattoos and too old for green hair.
Weight gain? Simply move to the looser end of the wardrobe and stop hanging with Ben and Jerry. No big deal. Nothing to lose sleep over. Anyway, I’m too old for sleep, or so it seems most nights.
Which leaves me a bit cranky in the daytime, so it is a good thing I can now work from home. Office politics? Sexism? I’ve seen it all. Watching men make more money, doing less work. Reading the tea leaves as positions shuffle, listening to the kowtow and mumble of stifled resentment.
I want to tell my younger colleagues that it doesn’t matter. Except the sexism, which, like poison ivy, is deep-rooted: You weed the rampant stuff, but it pops up again.
What matters most is the work. Does it give you pleasure or hope? Does it sustain your soul? My work as a climate activist is the hardest and most fascinating I’ve ever done. I’m too old for the dark forces, for hopelessness and despair. If everyone just kept their eyes on the ball and followed through each swing, we’d all be more productive and not just on the golf course.
The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.
And, I might add, resilience is the key to feeling 15 again. Which is actually how I feel most of the time.
But I am too old to try to change people. By now I’ve learned, the very hard way, that what you see in someone at the beginning is what you get forevermore. Most of us are receptive to a bit of behavior modification. But through decades of listening to people complain about marriages or lovers, I hear the same refrains.
I have come to realize that there is comfort in the predictability, even the ritualization, of relationship problems. They become a dance step; each partner can twirl through familiar moves and do-si-do until the music stops.
Toxic people? Sour, spoiled people? I’m simply walking away; I have little fight left in me. It’s easier all around to accept that friendships have ebbs and flows, and indeed, there’s something quite beautiful about the organic nature of love.
I used to think that one didn’t make friends as one got older, but I’ve learned that the opposite happens. Sometimes, unaccountably, a new person walks into your life, and you find you are never too old to love again. And again. (See resilience.)
One is never too old for desire. Having entered the twilight of my dating years, I can tell you it is much easier to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of anticipation and disappointment when you’ve had plenty of experience with the shoals and eddies of shallow waters. Emphasis on shallow. By now, we know deep.
Take a pass on bad manners, on thoughtlessness, on unreliability, on carelessness and on all the other ways people distinguish themselves as unappealing specimens. Take a pass on your own unappealing behavior, too: the pining, yearning, longing and otherwise frittering away of valuable brainwaves that could be spent on Sudoku, or at least a jigsaw puzzle, if not that Beethoven sonata you loved so well in college.
My new mantra is liberating. At least once a week I encounter a situation that in the old (young) days would have knocked me to my knees or otherwise spun my life off center.
Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.
If there can be such a thing as a best-selling app like Yo, which satisfies so many urges to boldly announce ourselves, I want one called 2old4this. A signature kiss-off to all that was once vexacious. A goodbye to all that has done nothing but hold us back. That would be an app worth having. But, thankfully, I’m too old to need such a thing.
— Dominique Browning is the senior director of Moms Clean Air Force. She blogs at slowlovelife.com.