I am not middle-aged apparently

According to a report (can’t comment on the provenance) discussed on Radio 4 today (the beauty of the commute is maverickly random radio-listening) middle-age starts at about 54 years.

Oh jeez. And there was me thinking I had a good excuse for my creaky knees, inability to party all night and general crankiness. Turns out it’s got nowt to do with my age. It’s just me. Out of shape and jaded, knackered me.

I listened to the debate – between two irritating male mid-40 yr olds – and wondered how the report writers decided on the cut-off point? where middle-age began and youth ended?

And then got a bit pissed off with their puerile arguing over which of them felt oldest/youngest and plugged in my iPhone instead. The Crystal Fighters boomed from the car speakers for a bit – I got bored with their techno-folk and returned to BBC Radio 4.

The two middle-youths were still debating.

One was 44 and the other 46. 44 felt middle-aged. He was railing against the tyranny of ‘youth’ and evangelical about ageing. 46 was insistent that he felt ‘young’. That he loved ‘youth culture’ and never wanted to stop ‘being a child’.

46 really really irritated me. I had this intense desire to shout at him. And as the Lang Whang road is a desolate wraith of a desolate haunted road, I did shout.

‘Oh ffs get a grip! You sad man. Your bloody life has been wasted on you if you haven’t learnt yet that you are OLD! And that age is GOOD!’

I ruminated over my own relatively recent but latterly happy realisation that my ‘youth’ was over (yes, I too was a bit of a late-realiser): standing in a muddy wet festival field listening to a favourite band (Elbow as it happens) and realising that actually, my back was sore with all the standing; that I hated being wet; that I hated the mud; really hated being dirty in a pair of old wellies that had seen better days and that I was dreading another night spent in a tent hunched around a hump in the field listening to wains getting off their tits on MDMA, lager and dope and having to pee in a super-size flora tub at 5am because a trip to the bogging bogs was just beyond me. I was, I realised then, just too old for all that crap. And that this would therefore be ‘the last time I’d do the festival-thing again’.

And since then there have been other blinding flashes of insight. Sadly, not of the profound variety (I don’t want to mislead) but rather, wee bits of realisation dawning on me, in a way that liberates me just a little more every time.

I am freed from the tyranny of youth. I am proud of my age. I own my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned.

One of the biggest of which – and this is bound to disappoint with its shallow narcissism – is the liberation from feeling I need to maintain my sexual attractiveness…

I am 45. I will never again have my 20yr old body back. My face is going south. I am sagging and bagging and wrinkling and drooping. My knees hurt a bit when I get up in the morning. My teeth need an overhaul. It’s harder than ever to lose weight. I look ridiculous in Topshop. I need 8 hrs sleep but can seldom manage more than 6. Thirty yr olds sound young. And 60 plus yr old men no longer remind me of my Dad.

And it’s all alright. Better than that. It’s freeing.

Mind you I ain’t giving up on the hair dye and anti-wrinkle serum just yet.

But I am genuinely more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I relish knowing answers, being able to recall work situations from years ago and applying the lessons learned. I like the maturity of thought and political pragmatism that’s settled with age. Being able to debate electoral reform and secularism and quote John Berger and remember why it’s right and proper to hate the Tories (Thatcher) and all about mining and the car industry we used to have and the summer it snowed. I like remembering. Starting sentences of stories for my kids with ‘I remember when…’ I love having a 22 yr old daughter. I know I haven’t as much physical energy for my amazing 9 yr old – but wouldn’t change a thing.

I am finally the person I have waited my whole life to be – or I’m so much closer.

Yes, I am middle-aged. And it is good.

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14 thoughts on “I am not middle-aged apparently

  1. I totally agree. I'm nearly 49 (tomorrow) and I'd say I've never been happier in myself. I definitely feel middle-aged but I'm not ashamed. I was young, now I'm not. That's what happens, and we should embrace every age not hanker pointlessly and rather tragically for eternal youth.

    Not sure I can remember as much as you though. 🙂

  2. I didn't enjoy being young…I wanted to be thirty…and that's where I've stayed – in my head!

    The sheer release of energy now that Mr. Fly is so much better has been exhilarating and frustrating. I feel I want to work again…use my knowledge and skills… but also think it unfair to apply for a place on a law course here and take it from someone younger with more years to offer.

    I'll think of something…

    Too many 46 year old male children about making themselves a poppy show by desperately hanging on to youth because they have nothing else.

  3. @Sarah – absolutely! I've often reflected that I am lucky to be the age I am – and will be even luckier to get into my 70s or 80s or… I looked at a Primary School group photo recently – a photo taken in 1974 – and was distressed by the number of fellow pupils who are dead now. Some taken in car accidents when in their teens – others through serious terminal illness more recently. Ageing is a gift. It's what happens if you're lucky enough to keep going…
    @Fly – Funny that – I was a young fogie too! I wanted to be grown up and am happy to have finally got there… Now – go for the course! Who knows how many years that 'young person' will be able to offer – not you or me knows that. You have a helluva lot to give. And yes, there really are too many 46 yr old male children about making a show of themselves…!

  4. Ahh! The ageing thing. I think I was way old in my twenties, even before. I found my youth so embarrassing, so encumbered, and didn't know what to do about it except run off and be a filly for older blokes who probably aren't here anymore. But what you're talking about, this 40+ liberation, I love it! I love not giving a stuff and yet, once again, I find I don't fit anywhere. I can't do the cougar thing to reverse what I did before. And discussions about age just don't interest me more than five seconds. More and more I want a house near a lake, a cherry tree, stone walls.

  5. I turned 40 on Saturday. It wasn't too bad. I'm still me. But rather than feel like the new girl in so many situations I now think I can legitmately have an opinion. How can I feel like the youngest most inexperience person here when I'm 40?! I saw a poster recently and it said “Do not regret growing older. It's a privilege.” Hear hear.

  6. It's the sense of acceptance of myself that I relish – it's good not to be that young awkward in my own skin person… 'encumbered' is a good word. The house, the lake, the cherry tree… Ahhhhhhh… It does sound just perfect.

  7. What a great meditation on ageing.
    I am middle aged too and more comfortable in my skin than I used to be.

    I still get my toenails painted and my eyebrows threaded when I'm going on holiday. Rest of the time the aspiring to be glam has gone out the window.

  8. Am nearing my 40s, and just the other morning I was lamenting with another school mum about how these days make-up just doesn't work miracles the way it used to. As she said, “I look in the mirror after I've done my face, and I just don't get that sense of WOW any more!” I'm still at the stage of lamenting (not to mention dreading what is still to come!) Can't wait until I manage to move past that into acceptance and pride. I love the strong note of self-confidence and happiness in this post. You are SO AWESOME!

  9. Hahahahahaha! Kariina! And I feel positively awesome now too thanks to you…:))

    I dreaded and fretted for a long time. I think it started with the end of having babies (I had Ana, my baby, at 36) – but only stopped a few months ago…! Lol!

    For a while I was a target for my daughter's male pals… A Mrs Robinson challenge for the early twenties lad… My husband used to laugh so much at this.

    Anyway – it's a blessed release this middle-age thing. Reminds me of a Jenny Joseph poem:

    WHEN I AM AN OLD WOMAN I SHALL WEAR PURPLE

    With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
    And learn to spit

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

  10. Brilliant! I love that poem, but must admit it's not the first time I've heard it. My mum told me about it some 10+ years ago, presumably around the time that she herself made peace with her own transition into middle age!

  11. 'I am genuinely more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been' – a good place to be and I feel the same, though I miss the strength of my body when it was young. I think many men want to appear physically strong and capable to their children, not that I'm decrepit – far from it.

    The wisdom thing is interesting too – I agree it is different and compensating joy. But it is memory that I value most. We all have one shot at life and we all get old (obviously) – the important measure is whether it's been rich and fulfilling; whether we have a store of goodness to look back on.

    I wore a purple suit at my wedding, so what does that leave for old age!

  12. Great post and I know exactly what you mean. At 66 I like to think of myself as in late middle-age, as apparently elderly doesn't start until 70 nowadays. But with 2 offspring now in middle age themselves (41 and nearly 44) I can't kid myself for much longer. 🙂 It's a huge relief just to be able to be myself and know that most people don't even notice me or what I wear.

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