Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Benefits of Middle Age



Aging is humbling. I say that all the time. It's alarming in the sense that time slips by so fast. Aging feels so personal. The process of other people aging seems right and proper, but the fact that I am aging is really weird. How could I age? How could it be? That's an ego problem, isn't it?

My mother used to say that aging is hardest for the beautiful, because when they lose their looks, there's nothing left. (Typing this just now is helping me see very clearly one of my mother's great prejudices. Prettiness = emptiness? Wow.)

Now I'm not saying I was beautiful. I don't think that was ever true, but I did have something, a magnetism, a hormonal thing combined with good enough looks and my characteristic enthusiasm for the human race, that created a very specific aura around me. I think I must have been really sexy because from the time I was a teenager until menopause, almost everyone I met believed I wanted to have sex with them. It was an ongoing assumption I encountered all the time.

I tried my best to accommodate the expectations of those around me, never pausing long enough to think about whether or not I actually DID want to sleep with them. Not saying I didn't have my infatuations and that I never found anyone sexy - far from it - but the truth is, I had sex with plenty of people I did not find attractive, just to get it over with, or to appease their expectations.

Since menopause, that magnetism has faded as have my youthful looks. Alarming and humbling as it is, it is also such a blessing. I like being received by others for who I am, rather than what I'm radiating hormonally. Men aren't afraid to sit and talk to me, women aren't suspicious. I, too, am far more relaxed because I'm no longer expected to be seductive. It's such a relief, you can not imagine.

Not everything about aging is a bad thing. Isn't that something?

35 comments:

Natalie said...

I dunno....I am really struggling with it. I must have really identified with the whole 'horn bag' persona, as I feel adrift without my sexual magnetism. Frumpy makes me grumpy. :(

Elizabeth said...

Dear Reya
I find it utterly peaceful not having to be gorgeously attractive all the time.....
not that I ever was really.....
cannot believe that I'm an old bag.
I will be 60 next birthday.
HELP!
I am really 32 or 28
Oh dear........
a pat for Jake

PurestGreen said...

Oh how much better this has made me feel. Not that I am not still going to have moments of angst and sadness as the lines around my eyes deepen, but I do appreciate the fading expectations of society regarding my ability to be alluring. I can work really hard at it and still look like a swollen cartoon character in a frock.

Phoenix said...

Aging has always fascinated me... I feel as one grows older, one becomes a better person, more open minded, more understanding... may be a little less attractive physically... but the positives are a lot more, no?

Reya Mellicker said...

Phoenix, not necessarily. I think as we age, we become more concentrated versions of ourselves. Cranky as a young person? You'll become crankier as you age, like those fussy old people who complain about everything.

Vague in youth becomes confused and spaced out in old age.

I'm working my ass off to be as kind and curious and open minded as possible now, so I can be a jolly, robust, hearty old lady with a great sense of humor. That's my goal!

Val said...

I can smell those roses - literally and metaphorically :-)
I like your goal and it is a good one. Dont you think you can be attractive at any age - it depends if you want to be? i know the assets list changes but depends more on the person you are..... or maybe i am just hopeful...
enjoy your walk x

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes Val I do think people are attractive at all ages. I'm not saying I'm now a lumpy old lady with no appeal whatsoever - sorry if I conveyed that!

But compared to ten years ago? It's so different - in a good way!

willow said...

I am trying very hard to feel at home in my middle aged body. I need to embrace the benefits, but it's not so easy, is it?

My mother had the same "looks are everything" point of view. It makes it harder when you've been programmed from a child with that kind of outlook on life.

(I happen to think you look fabulous, by the way.)

Philippines said...

nice to read all of these.. i think as we age, we realize more,deeper the meaning of things, anything. one day i saw a strand of white hair in my head, i told a friend am having signs of old age,, he answered,, "it's a sign of wisdom" :)

R.L. Bourges said...

As you mentioned on another blog (on the topic of drinking), different cultures apply different norms to what is acceptable behavior - the same is true for sexual behavior and for what is considered sexually attractive too.

In this as in everything else, to each his own and vive la différence. As you say, one of the great benefits of aging is learning how to best respond to our own perceptions and priorities, instead of submitting to social expectations of what we should or shouldn't feel, think, say, or do .

Here's wishing you a great weekend in Washington.

Sandra Leigh said...

Reya, responding to one of your comments - you reminded me of an old friend who told me (back when I was pushing forty) that whatever kind of person you are at forty, you'll only be more so as you get older, so you'd better take care what kind of person you are at forty. I wish I had paid more attention to her. Maybe I'd be really tidy and good with money by now, if I'd worked on it twenty years ago. As it is - oy.

Lover of Life said...

I know what you mean. I am happy to not have to be anything other than what I am. It is a relief. Free to be, at last!

Rose said...

I may be in my thirties but I can really appreciate what you are saying. I think one of the reasons I let myself be fat is because I don't want the attention I used to get when I was thinner...

Val said...

nooooo Reya! no way - I probably didnt express myself right but i was generalising...and yes its all good. I am liking it so far :-)
have enjoyed reading all the comments too.

lakeviewer said...

You opened up a whole sack of issues with this one. We are supposed to be taken seriously and yet our looks determine the attention we get. When we reach a certain age and we stop fretting about our looks, we also stop getting attention.

This is a topic for a doctoral thesis.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

the alternative to not aging just isn't very attractive to me for I'd rather be!

steven said...

hey reya, you know it's a coincidence but last night i was talking with a neighbour - we're both in our early fifties - about an economy of presence (in almost any circumstance) that we've noticed is appearing more by accident than design as we get older.
it's not about giving less of ourselves as much as being more present without compromising our better intentions. by not accomodating all the expectations and needs of the little voices inside our head and especially the bigger voices of those around us we feel better about ourselves and the results of those interactions feel a whole lot healthier and kinder to others and ourselves. thanks for a brave and strong entry.
steven

Reya Mellicker said...

Just to be clear - I DO flop around with this aging thing, I do. But it has its up side, too. At least for me.

ellen abbott said...

Oh, I like this Reya. It's nice not to be at the mercy of estrogen any more, isn't it?

In my head, I am in my mid 40s (I'm actually pushing 60). I accommodate my illusion by not looking in the mirror so I think I look pretty OK.

I feel good, healthy and strong. I have not curtailed any of my activities due to age though I do go to the gym. It makes me feel good to be able to lift those weights. But I no longer care if I am physically attractive or sexy. Of course, I'm not saying I'm NOT attractive and sexy. Hee hee.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

I feel the oldest when I am clearing out my closet...saying I'll never wear that black leather mini again...those heels would kill my bunion...that nightie shows too much.

And it does seem others aging seems right and proper, but I can see from these comments, that others don't think so, teehee

Bee said...

I found this very interesting. Did you ever read that Diana Athill book on aging? She also mentions the restfulness of putting that bit of life aside. . . or at least not having it constantly "out there."

I have a late-middle-aged friend who complains that people don't "see" you anymore, though, when you aren't young and beautiful. Somehow, I'm guessing that you still have a really powerful aura, Reya. You are wonderfully observant, but I'm sure that the people around you notice you as well.

(loving your roses; can't wait for mine . . . there are so many promising buds!)

Delwyn said...

Reya

I am wondering if it is less that we don't get noticed or paid attention

and more that because being attractive or desirable is less important to us we are not looking for that approval out there in the world...

and therefore it does not manifest or appear.


I delight in wearing my gym clothes all day long if I feel inclined, my aim is not to impress through fashion or beauty but through kindness and generosity of spirit and I think that no matter how old we are or how we present people can read in our eyes and our manner if there is beauty in our hearts.

Happy days
Happy days

happy days

Delwyn said...

PS
I don't know how you got a triple Happy days ...

perhaps you need it today ...

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Delwyn for your wisdom and for a triple happy days.

I'm quite cheerful about being middle aged today. Sat down and had a long talk with a man who - ten years ago - would have been quite worried to converse with me, what with the spector of SEX hanging over my head. Yesterday, he had no such worry, because I'm a granny now, no longer a sex kitten.

But I appreciate the triple happy days anyway! Thank you!

Gary said...

I think your mother has a point there. Those who have been real head turners, I believe, feel the loss of the power to entice others by simply walking into a room. Beautiful people DO have advantages that others of us have cultivated with our charm or energy or ability to make others feel as though when we are with them that is all there is.

I kind of see myself in what you wrote about the certain something that makes you attractive. From my perspective you have still got 'it'. I have noticed the same thing in my own life. Never one who was a head turner on sheer looks alone (although there was one NY party when I was in my 20s) I instead have a particular charm. It is probably best described as a positive outlook which we humans want to be around. Oh, where am I going with this?

As for the looks changing? I have accepted the wrinkles and hair loss. But it does bother me when others can't accept it. We have a society that mostly values youth. How one dimensional.

lacochran said...

I don't know what you were. I just know what you are: beautiful!

mary said...

I'm just happy to be alive - there was that moment when some thought I wouldn't reach my late fifties ....so Ha!! Everyone - enjoy life...wrinkles and all.

K. said...

"Aging is humbling."

No argument here.

I always say that I've reached the point in life where I actually have to play tennis to work off calories instead of just watching it on television.

Lisa said...

i am so loving my aging process- reveling in the changes and knowledge i have 'earned'- lovely post dear one xx

C.M. Jackson said...

Reya--

this is tough--I remember hearing my 70 year old mother-in-law 'at the time' tell me that she saw a twenty year old face in the mirror every morning and thinking to myself 'how sad.' I never believed that this connection with youth and disconnection women feel at a certain age was something that I would or other women my age would experience. 50 is just a few months away and while I do not look in the mirror and see my 20 year old self, I do feel somehow less viable in a weird unstated way --In thinking and talking about this with friends I believe with the economy as it is, we have taken a few steps backwards in the work environment--I grew up to believe that aging was beautiful and a privilege for both men and women--now that I am grown, I must admit my beliefs were naive. And so it goes..best c

CJ said...

Looks aside, I used to think as I got older, i would become more organized, use my time more wisely, be a better housekeeper. But it seems that age has magnified my worst qualities. Also as I have aged, my husband and I seem to have taken on each other's worst qualities. He is rather social phobic and now I am happy to be at home, not socialize much, too. He used to be Mr. Neat, but has become more like my disorganized self. I just pulled out some old pics & couldn't believe how good looking I was. I didn't think so at the time, but now I think I looked great ---and amazingly thin. I'm 63. Maybe when I'm 83 I'll think I looked great at 63. Right now I look as good as I am ever going to look again.

Janelle said...

completely humbling...but one thing i remember someone older saying to me, an older woman is that now she can stand in a queue and admire beautiful young things (like gorgeous boys) and say honestly and openly gosh i think you;re lovely...and no-one feels funny about it. love the thought of that! lots love beautiful lady. xxx j

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

Hey Girl,
In my 20's and 30's I was a Head Turner. And I was very uncomfortable with all that attention. I totally agree with your observations.
Now at a young 50, I feel a certain liberation. I keep up a well-manicured appearance because it's important to me. But the nice thing is now all the men are looking at the younger gals.

The only guy who worships me now is my BoyFriend's 4 year old grandson.
LOL

Reya Mellicker said...

Many comments to make!

First: LaCochran, THANK YOU! You are so gorgeous and glamorous, and such a keen observer of humanity, that I am truly flattered. Really, thank you.

Gary: Honey, you are a babe: physically, intellectually, emotionally and energetically. BABE. Babacious! Take it on, honey. You are WOW.

CM and CJ, I too am totally conflicted about this process. There are benefits but there are also really tough moments, like that realization that I'll not ever be young again, not ever. It's all downhill from here. And that any time I see a pic of myself from 20 years ago, I'll think "wow. I looked so good then."

One thing I love is that there are now so many of us of a certain age who are blogging - offering our perspectives to anyone younger (or older) who might be interested. I think this is a gift, that we can put our thoughts out here, I do.

Thank you!

Karen said...

I write about this in my blog all the time. Middle age is great - I've thrown away all the inhabitions and all those wasted years of trying to live up to others' expectations & media perceptions. There is no way I would re-live my twenties or thirties again! Embrace this time!