I somehow thought when I was younger that at a certain age, (probably 30, since that sounded so old), I would give up caring about a lot of the things that then consumed me.
I would, for example, probably not think all that much about the pursuits of love and sex.
In this image I had of my older graying self, I would happily gain weight, put on some flowing elastic-waist pants and putter around in my garden, uncaring of the dirt on my face, of mussed hair. My husband certainly wouldn’t care, and what would it matter if he did? Part of the Aging Gracefully vision was that “older people” just accepted that the bloom faded off the rose, sex was something one used to do, and the whole of the potential world beyond one’s mate disappeared into the distant background like the base of a three-dimensional display.
Then, I got older. I began the process of giving up early, letting grey hairs sneak into my short, naturally curly, brown bob in my mid-30s, excitedly packing on the pounds in readiness for not having to worry anymore, in preparation for being thoroughly discounted. And then, one day, a few years ago, the reflection in the mirror no longer fit who I felt I could be if I really tried, the self stuck handily behind a layer of late-night-ice-cream chub, dressed almost always in funereal black to mask said chub and specifically fade into the background, the one who “couldn’t” do all kinds of things, especially now that I was of a Certain Age.
“Sexy” was something I hadn’t felt in a long while except after a fair amount of alcohol. ‘Just Fine’ had seemed like it was going to be just fine for the duration, but, then, it wasn’t. I wanted fabulous. I suddenly wanted to be all those things I’d always wanted to be but was just too afraid.
Even if I was long married, I was still in the land of the living, at least for a while, and I realized that chasing that youthful adventurous self I might never have had the bravery to realize in youth was going to be crucial rather than optional going forward.
I went to work on myself, gaining mind and body strength learning to lift weights, to run and do handstands. I started putting on those more skin-baring clothes, high-wedged heels and the layers of funky necklaces and bracelets I’d always bought but had never been brave enough to wear. I grew my hair and dyed it daringly close to blonde and, yes, I started flirting mercilessly with every bartender and barista in the neighborhood.
My mother always said, “You know you’re old when the checkout boy bagging groceries stops checking you out…” so I guess I worked to ensure that wouldn’t happen, not for a while.
The outward manifestation of change was just the easiest, the most obvious. It was the inner me that was blossoming as I began to give up all my preconceived notions of what I would want later in life, when really I’d had no idea. As it turn out, what you want changes with time, even if society doesn’t always run with that in mind.
As I emerged out of my premature old-lady cocoon, other women (and men) started telling me things about themselves, real or fantastic, stories of what they would do if…, what they could do when…, what they were actually doing, right then. It turns out, the great desire for love and passion is alive and well even after 35, long after young people might say “Ew!! Yuck!” at the thought of you even kissing someone else, let alone copulating.
It is complicated, surely, and often oh so cliché, the tales of texts with old flames, affairs with the spouses of friends, older lifetime singles looking, maybe, to finally settle down, and married folks going through the many varied phases that vows didn’t nearly cover with “forever.”
In this column, I will explore the various paths that people take to find their passion when faced with the very near reality of being past one's prime.
While once upon a time it almost seemed shameful to see an old geezer behind the wheel of a bright red convertible, now it seems brave and fun and death-defying. Why not? Who made up The Rules and why and how come we can’t decide for ourselves how to navigate the path to our own end?
People can and do make their own rules, as news headlines tell us every day. It is not just the rich and famous, not just sports stars and politicians who have to navigate the life-affirming world of love without a rulebook, we are all of us in it. Biographies of the greatest minds all tell the stories of how passion played a crucial part in inspiration far past carefree youth, right up ‘til the end. With hindsight, in total, looking at the lives of others, we can make more sense of it sometimes than when it is happening to us, really, in real time.
But I am a firm believer, now, at 40, that people who want to live out long, meaningful second halves cannot help but think about love, and sex, whether married or single or somewhere in between. And what they are thinking about is what I plan to talk about here.
Sometimes, I’ve found, what real living calls for isn’t something so easy and dull as sticking with the self-same thoughts and actions you believed would take you through to the finale. Sometimes what is called for is Aging Disgracefully.