Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Hallmark of Age

Age, and how we talk about it, is a funny thing. When you’re young, of course, you’re always topping it up – 18 years and 7 months is automatically translated into 19 when someone asks how old you are. Age is referred to in the context of status or personal rights. You want to be older to gain certain privileges, or you are older so you brag about it. As you get on, however, the ambivalence starts setting in. You are less and less certain about when and how to talk about it. You notice the disparity between how old you feel and how old you actually are, which tends to fluctuate.

And then, one morning, you wake up, look at yourself and say, “Shit, I’m getting old.”

What always surprises me is at what age people reach that point – and how much that varies. I am interested in how people see themselves in relation to how old they are. I’ve talked to people in their 40s who still consider themselves relatively young, and listened to a 29 year old lament about their 30th birthday. In my early to mid-40s, the only time I thought about how old I was or how old I felt was when I was comparing myself to other people. As a woman without children, it would always be a bit of a jolt for me to hear someone younger than I was talking about her kids. I didn’t see myself as having lived that long. And yet, the difference in my quality of life was a world apart from that in my 20s. Youth is overrated.

So when someone dear to me tells me that at 54, he’s “getting old”, and that finding people to do business with is increasingly challenging, I am shocked. 54 is young, I thought. But then I sort of got it. It’s all relative. He is in a line of business that is youth-dominated. Being discriminated against is the norm. I wonder how deeply that affects him. I wonder if, in his private moments, he is stuck in a time capsule. Or does he reconcile with the man he is becoming, slowly growing into a new way of being?

We so often talk about embracing a process or embracing who we are. What about embracing our age? What would it feel like to own it, work it, take pride in it? To find confidence in the experiences that have made us more rounded? We live in a time where we can’t look to young people to show their respect. They’ve never been taught. To the contrary, they’ve been conditioned against getting older and all that it represents. We all have.

It’s up to us to change that. They’ll either get it or they won’t, but if they don’t it’s their loss. Hopefully they’ll come around. The hallmark of age is something to regard, and our quality of life depends on it.


Lise said...

Jesse this post really hits home. I am so fascinated by age and so this appealed to me. I'm a couple of years older than you but feel still like a kid.

Also like yourself I don't have children and I think this is where there is a split in how you feel about yourself. I know many women my age who are mothers and honestly, most of them seem and look a lot older. I guess it might be obvious, yeah they have kids = they have less sleep, time for themselves and are giving half of their life to bringing up someone other than themselves. In this day and age that can be extremely tiring.

Then there's the responsibility children make of you. That's where the difference lies, that responsibility differs the ones with kids and the ones that don't.

I adore getting older, I feel as if my life is fitting me like a glove that is slipping over myself more and more and fitting so much better, as a younger woman, raw and inexperienced I felt out of it, vulnerable and unknowing. Now as a near 50 year old woman I feel so much more alive, aware & open to possibilities.

Only tonight I was speaking to my great aunt (my maternal grandmother's sister) who is 88 this year but I kid you not I feel like I'm speaking to someone my age, then again she is my family and we are known for our eccentricities!

I think with more of us living longer lives, age will in the future not be the feared upon thing as it is now. I think the pendulum has swung fully to the extreme again at present (botox anyone? liposuction at 16, the bride of wildenstein) but in time will swing back to balance, as we realise that age is what you make of yourself, not how many wrinkles you have, its what juice you have inside not some mask you can buy at the local cosmetic surgeon!

Great post as always!
Lise x

Jesse Mendes said...

Wow, Lise, thanks so much for this. Yes, women who have children may have something to do with it -- I'd be interested in hearing from mothers though.

But it's nice to hear from someone like myself, without kids, who feels young like I do -- a kindred spirit! Good on you for your attitude toward life -- it kicks ass, let me tell you. You would love our site when we launch, please do stay in touch.

(How do I find you when we launch?) -- Jesse

"Muffyjo" said...

Awesome Advice on an "Age Old Topic"

Cheryl (also as livenbothworlds & oldandnew on twitter) aka Muffyjo here in webland ☺

Jesse Mendes said...

Hi Cheryl thanks for the feedback!

Jesse (am now following @livenbothworlds but could not find oldandnew --

Take care!

Jonathan Herbert said...

57. Having voraciously devoured every second. Ecstasy. Agony. And the entirety of the spectrum.

Some of my models ask my view of their life situations. "Why do you ask me?" I query. "Because you're wise," they say.

Fuck ageism: as repugnant as sexism and every other form of bigotry - merely fear and self-loathing oozing out like pus from an infection.

I like a little oomph in my smile.

Jesse Mendes said...

Oh, my dear Jonathan, you do have a way with words. Here is to the "oomph" in our smile; to the grit and dirt and soul of getting older; to the disturbing beauty we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror some days; to the force of character within us we could only dream of when we were young.

I adore the way you savor the fullness of life, without shrinking back from what isn't pretty.

Indeed, fuck ageism.

Lisa @ 14 Months to 50 said...

To me it's the same as at every age: not so much how you feel about yourself but how you are treated by others.

It's funny to me online sometimes, when people I've been talking to for months learn my age and are surprised. They expect some other behavior from someone almost fifty?

There is a lot for us to think about and consider as we age, and we can have a little chuckle knowing everyone, even smartass kids, will be where we are eventually. ;)