“We’re not getting any younger.” “You know, they are getting older.” How many times a week do you hear or say something similar? Unless you’re referencing someone who’s flat-lined you are 100% right. If we are alive we are by definition getting older (or less young.) From the moment we are born we are aging. We begin the journey calculating our age in hours, then quickly advance to days, months, years and eventually decades. In fact there are three age stages of ‘man’; boastful, gob smacked, and boastful. Our small selves broadcast our proximity to our older selves (ex. I’m 7 3/4!) Our middle selves approach each birthday with a bit of shock and awe. At some point, somewhere around the time we realize we’ve outlasted contemporaries, we boast (ex. I’m 83!) We begin with age pride and (hopefully) end with age pride. It’s just those awkward in-between 60 or so years that fill us with angst.
For many, age is a measuring device. (Think of a very long ruler whose bone density diminishes toward the end.) Each decade brings expectations or comparisons; each milestone year involves a self-audit. Self-analysis can be greatly beneficial, but comparing oneself to others or abstractions rarely is. We live in the best of lifespan times. We are healthier, we are more active and engaged, and we look good. Did I lose you on that last one? You doubt me perhaps? Do yourself a favor and turn on a retro-television network. Take a look at Edith Bunker at 47, or Lou Grant at 47. Ignoring the aging effects of living with Archie or keeping a bottle of scotch in one’s desk drawer; Edith and Lou look much older than today’s 47. The age rules have loosened and that loosening may be increasing the angst.
There are women and men sporting (and rocking) looks of people half their age. People who remember UHF and encyclopedias are (successfully) adopting trends of those in their 20s and 30s. Looking and feeling youthful (not young) is a great mood booster and a fabulous frame of mind. But it’s not much of a leap to consider the cognitive dissonance that occurs with each birthday. There we are speed walking through life with our yoga bums and long luxurious hair and WHAM! it’s Happy 45th, 50th, 55th, 60th Birthday! The numbers can be jarring because we no longer feel constricted by them, yet our childhood reference points did. We have reinvented our careers, lives, and families to a degree and at a rate that would’ve even shocked Maude.
No doubt the generation easing into their 30s (and out of our basements) will experience age differently. They seem to have a more liberal notion of adulthood and maturity. As they creep up in age, we will be their Edith and Lou. It’s likely that when they gulp upon hearing “Happy 60th!” it will be more about mortality and less about “but I don’t look/feel 60!” But what about us? How do we reconcile those ridiculous numbers with how we feel? Throw out the ruler! If we can start seeing the numbers (45, 50, 55, 60, etc.) as just math (and a means towards discounted movie tickets) we’d be further ahead. If a self-audit (at any age) confirms that we are happy and are the best version of ourselves we can be, than number is immaterial. But if we do focus on age let it be as our small selves did. Let us exclaim; Happy __th Birthday to me; I’m Still Here!