Most of the common anxieties about middle age don’t really apply to me because of the unique circumstances of my life. But I can speak to the many things I really enjoy about getting older and maybe that will be helpful to someone?
First, I’ve always viscerally felt the truth of the quotation, “aging is a privilege denied to many.” I know that’s a real- nod, nod, “yes, yes, BUT insert complaints here”… kind of quote, but I really feel it! I think that changes my perspective a lot. I don’t see age as an obstacle but an achievement and one that isn’t totally earned, but just…luck of the draw. I’ve never thought of age as a limitation in itself and I think part of that brings me to my next part which is:
I look up to a lot of people who are older than me! One of my best friends is 51 and she is so awesome, energetic, adventurous, all the things! Being around older people who are awesome makes it kind of hard to feel bad about aging. They make it look pretty good! I also look up to older people who I don’t now personally but who I have read about or heard about. Our society paints a picture that death begins at 30 and it’s as absurd a cultural trope as any. People start over all the time from all types of insane circumstances. People learn languages and get degrees and emigrate to other countries well past 50. So much of the fear of aging is thinking of yourself at an older age as a shell of a person, a caricature, and not just as you but older. I haven’t stopped having my passion and verve for life just because I have fine lines! And I won’t when I have grey hair, either.
As for fashion, WELL, this I could go on about forever. True style is ageless because it is a form of self-expression and the self is real at any age (The Sartorialist proved that!). I feel about fashion the way some people feel about painting or drawing. It’s an art form! There is no age to it at all. There are endless ways to adorn yourself and while I do think some looks are more adolescent looking (and I have zero desire to dress like a teen) most of the best fashion throughout history was created for middle aged and beyond adults. Just like with my role models in other areas of my life (older disabled people, older athletes, older adventurous people, older spiritual leaders, older artists) I am always looking 10 years ahead. I love to follow fashionable women who dress very interestingly and who are about 10 years older than me now. I did this when I was younger too! One of the coolest things about working in the fashion district in NYC was seeing alllll the totally awesome looking older people who were just…so fucking cool. I had the pleasure of meeting several fashionistas over 70, one of whom was the woman who invented leopard print. You read that right. And she would turn heads on the street any day because her style was just so exactly a thing. I highly recommend following older fashion icons who are comfortable in their own skin and have true style.
I also highly recommend following fashion and beauty icons who have your general look. Like if I look at nothing but tall blonde women or k-pop stars, um, I’m probably not going to feel totally fantastic? I curate boards that are gorgeous sexy and fashionable women with mediterranean/middle eastern vibes, big facial features, dark curly hair, yellow undertone skin, short curvy torsos, and I feel gorgeous and in touch with my beauty! So much of it is how you feel. Like, yes my body has changed since I was younger. I have fine lines and lots of sun spots. My thighs are bigger for sure. I have blue veins in my legs. I have cellulite now! And…I literally almost never even think about it? It’s just not a big deal to me because it’s all so minor. I think doing things that make you feel confident goes such a long way. For me that’s engaging with fashion and beauty stuff and constantly developing my personal style, for others it’s opting out, or creating a capsule wardrobe, or a uniform, or whatever! There are endless options.
Another thing I really like about aging is that life gets easier in some ways because you have more life experience and perspective. It’s easy to envy the “freedom” of a 20 year old, but you’d also have to take the shitty futon and terrible friends and long work hours and not enough money with it! I feel my life now is so much more comfortable, financially especially, but in other ways too. I think I’m still getting to know myself but I’m getting closer to that real relaxed confidence. I’m getting better at prioritizing myself in ways that really matter.
I also think having lots to look forward to is part of my view. I always have stuff on my calendar to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be big dramatic things! This weekend it was going to a nature preserve. Last weekend it was a festival and an art show. I’m working towards some fitness goals that are new for me because as I age I really want to be more muscular. And I’m doing it! Little by little, soooo slowly, but it’s happening. I’m pushing myself in areas that I never thought I’d be able to. Next week I’m going camping, which for a person like me is pretty fucking ballsy and a huge physical challenge. I can’t wait! I’m so excited. I’m doing it so that hopefully I can do camping climbing trips in the future, and explore more of the state I live in!
There are so many interests I have now that I didn’t have even 5 years ago, and that makes me excited because I wonder what interests I’ll have in another 10 years! My marriage is lightyears stronger than it was when we first got together 14 years ago. I can’t even imagine how we’ll be 5 years from now. Watching my husband grow and change has been a major gift that’s come with aging too. I look forward to being exposed to his new interests in the future. He’s a published poet now! He had his first poem published last year and has just gotten into it. Lately he’s been into birding, and now I’m seeing all these gorgeous birds! I never thought we’d do so much nature stuff together, especially when we were living in NYC for so many years, but here we are! We can become anything!
So much is unknown and I feel like that’s kind of glorious. I want to travel even if it’s all short and local trips. I want to rent a boat next summer because I love driving boats! I want to go to one of those flower farms where you pick your own flowers, and I want to get better at arranging them. I just started learning some Spanish! Maybe I’ll become fluent and maybe I’ll quit in a couple of weeks- who knows?! Either way I am enjoying the process. I’m doing photography again, which was a huge passion of mine for years, and I’m really excited about it! I’ve picked it back up after going to an art show where the youngest artist showing was in his late 40s, and who also happened to be a pretty famous paraclimber! I was talking to him about art and he was saying he went to art school but then dropped art after his accident and went to climbing because he had something to prove. He’s just coming back to it now, after decades away because he felt he’d been ignoring a piece of himself. It inspired me! I feel that way too.
I think living in the moment is so helpful for seeing all the things that are in my grasp too. I want to continue to grow in wisdom and keep building the community around me. I’ve made some really awesome friends in the last couple of years. I want to keep growing my skills in that area. I look forward to a time when I’m farther in my therapy and mental health and can reconnect with some family members without it being detrimental to me. I’m looking forward to getting to know my husband’s side of the family more (they just reconnected) and I really click with his cousin’s wife! We went to visit them, had no idea how it would go, and it was spectacular! So unexpected.
Wherever you go there you are is also a phrase that comes to mind a lot. So I think, I am a work in progress and always have been and always will be. But I’m mostly content and excitable and I think that’s something I can carry with me. What I will lose more of in the future (deference of strangers, mostly) is a superficial thing anyway. It might sting at times, I’m sure it will, but can I mourn the loss of someone being nice to me only because they find me sexually appealing? Yuck. Not such a loss when I see it in those terms. At least I’ll know that’s not why someone is being kind, haha. And I have so much more to offer than just appearance! I think it’s much easier for me also because of my husband. He makes me feel so good in that way. Also, feeling my age helps. I don’t hope that someone thinks I’m in my 20s. I don’t see that as the goal at all because I’m happy to be 35. My husband has lost his hair in the time we’ve been together, which is something he dreaded a lot when we were younger. Its not been such a big deal! He thought it would be horrible, and if he could snap his fingers and have a full head of hair I think he might, but he said it doesn’t bother him like he thought it would. I’d like to think I had something to do with that! I also believe there’s something to be said for not thinking too much about yourself, not looking in the mirror too long both literally and metaphorically. Sometimes when I start to feel that way, all navel-gazey, I just have to get myself together and do, I have to call a friend to listen to them or cook something or work out or go for a walk or listen to a hilarious podcast or play with my cat. Life is too short to stare in the mirror when it doesn’t show the important stuff anyway.
Growth in inner ways is another awesome advantage of aging that I look forward to. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that some things are the purview of the young but some things are the purview of the old. Being more conscious about nutriments in my life has been something very new as I’ve entered this middle stage. In this area I’ve been inspired by older people around me too. A woman I worked with had the most calm energy and at her retirement party someone made a joke like “well you’re only 30, right?!” and she just smiled and shook her head and said, “I’m very comfortable at my age. It feels right for me to be old now.” I want to feel that way. And I know people who have felt that way. And I know many more who have railed against it. The choice is easy to me.
I feel more ok about setting limitations around what I will or won’t invite into my life as I get older. I expect I will improve a lot more in this area as I leave my 30s and enter my 40s. I never felt strong in that way in my 20s or teens. I never even felt that sure, or had enough presence of mind to identify such things or even my own feelings. It’s easier to prioritize now. I know that aging will bring challenges with it too, that’s very real in a physical sense for someone like me, but my hope is that the way I live my life now will prepare me to mentally handle it. Just like the way I lived in my previous decades has prepared me for handling now, which does have a lot more physical challenges for me than my teen years or twenties, although I can’t actually recall not having those types of obstacles. In that way aging is easier for me. You can’t lose what you don’t have!
So it’s not that there is nothing I’m afraid of about getting older. I don’t know anyone with disabilities who isn’t, like, pretty realistic about what aging with mobility challenges is like- especially since we already have them to some degree. But also, when I tell people what my life is like now they think it sounds horrific and often express that they’d rather not live. I don’t feel that way at all! All it makes me think when I hear that is, “wow, you don’t have much fight in you!” Sure, it’s hard sometimes, but life is so worth it. My biggest fear is losing my husband, actually, I think that will be the hardest mountain I ever face. I can only do my best work now to make myself someone who is able to bear that kind of weight. And I take that kind of preparation seriously. I think when people talk about learning and truly feeling the weight of mortality (usually in their 30s, but for me as a child) they only see the negative. Yes, you won’t go on forever, but also you don’t have to go on forever, and ALSO when you truly grasp the brevity of life it’s much easier to arrange your mind accordingly. You can start to take the things that are very serious seriously and identify the things that don’t matter and let them go. I know how short it is and how hard parts of it are and will be. But there is so so so much beauty and good in life and that is totally worth the hardship. I think of it as the price of admission. Grief is the price you pay for love, and aging is the price you pay for living. If the cost of more time on this planet with all its wonders is more fine lines, less external beauty, and an increase in some difficulty levels that seems like a great trade to me!