The Truth About Getting Old
If you believe in advertising, people in their 60s are having the time of their lives. They are hiking in the wilderness when not traveling the world or laughing it up at backyard barbecues. If they're women, they have cultivated long thick silver hair; men are tall weathered Vikings who like to work on their sailboats. They have large, loving families but their lives are full of adventure. They can't stop smiling.
God bless these seniors if they exist. Good for them that they saved all that money and never stopped their fitness regimes. The rest of us have struggles you don't have to hear about, but you may as well hear them from me, because I am living proof that old age is awful but survivable with a sense of humor and a prescription for Retin-A.
If aging were just about appearance, it would still be a challenge. But it's all-encompassing, a force of nature that can only be managed with perseverance and, mostly, luck. Your body just isn't the same, your temperament has already defined many of your circumstances, and your family and circle of friends will narrow to the ones who have to put up with you whether or not they want to.
All the articles promising a new era of carefree sexuality after menopause are leaving out some key elements. Your skin is increasingly fragile, so that even if your libido is through the roof, you'll want to die the next morning when it's time to pee. If you have a nice partner, you will figure it out. If you don't, well, according to an essay I just read, it's a good time to start dating other women. This sounds kind of extreme, but the essay was full of anecdotes about older women discovering their bisexual nature. Maybe another woman will share her estrogen cream with you? This whole direction seems a little dubious, but that's just me.
You won't worry about getting pregnant but you might miss having a monthly cycle to blame things on. Just as PMS becomes a memory, you'll find that your male counterparts exhibit it ALL THE TIME. But in your aged wisdom, you'll learn to ignore their moodiness. They will never admit to whatever is bothering them. You will know that this is a given and not your problem.
All that hiking and yoga and world traveling would be viable if you weren't losing muscle mass and the fortitude to work out every day. Old people have trouble sleeping, so we're usually tired and thinking about a nice nap. In fact, when we get together, we talk about the search for a good pillow. When I see that my shoe's untied, my heart sinks; it's a long way down there to retie it. I was crouching down at Sephora recently to check out a bottom shelf, and a salesperson offered me her hand to stand up. I was horrified but grateful.
Maybe Horrified But Grateful is a good description of being old! You're horrified when you pass a mirror and realize that you're not 22, but you're grateful that you can still smoke weed, fit into your jeans, and formulate a coherent thought. Those stickers that say "Old age is not for sissies!" make a good point. There is a lot of lowering expectations and a lot of stubbornness required to trudge forward despite losses and disappointments.
There is a bright side though, sort of. When you're old, you genuinely don't care what people think about you. Fuck them, you know? You only have to please yourself and your loved ones. You don't need constant proof of your value. You don't need to know what the cool people are doing. You aren't afraid to make judgements or have unpopular opinions. You have the courage of your convictions. You know how much liquor you can hold. You know how easy it is to be nice in your daily encounters.
There's a lot to be said for knowing your place in the world and having the confidence to just be who you are. This alone makes up for a lot of the negative aspects of aging...but not entirely, let's be honest.
There are fears you have to take seriously, like dementia or poverty. Who will take care of you if you're incapacitated? Who will bash you with a frying pan if you ask them to? What if your teeth don't hold up? These are just a few things you won't want to dwell on but can't completely banish from your consciousness.
But here are a few tips that I swear will be valuable if you plan to be old one day. Wear sunblock, rain or shine. Get that prescription for Retin-A, and use it religiously. You'll thank me, if I'm still around. Get enough calcium so your bones won't be shit like mine. Use a wide-tooth comb when your hair is wet and start from the bottom. Eat whatever you love, just cut it in half and try not to eat it all.
Tell people you love them, all the time. That's the most important advice there is, of course. Love is what matters, love is all there is. Just like in those Beatles songs they'll be playing for me in the nursing home when I forget my own name. Those Beatles were on to something.
Words: Sister Wolf
Images: Michele Andrews