October 2021: 50 Years Young: A Retrospective.
Today is my 50th birthday. While that is a non-event for some, for me it has significance beyond the culturally conditioned issue with women aging. But let’s start there. In today’s society, there are plenty of mixed messages to choose from regarding women aging. At one end we can embrace it, or, we can purportedly fight it with the proverbial potions and lotions as well as supplements, medications, surgery, and a host of other treatments. It is a billionaire’s dream industry. I find it sad that we, as women, literally buy into this phenomenon, trying to make ourselves into someone that we are not: nubile. Young and sexually desirable.
The first point of contention is objectively undeniable. We are no longer young according to the calendar and passage of time. The second is subjective. Sexual desirability is personal and age exempt. What turns on one person won’t arouse another. There are young people with libido issues as well as aged. Desirability is what you make it –for yourself being desired as well as what you desire. Emotional connection based upon consistent attention and affection is the foundation for a satisfying sex life, which includes knowing what is arousing to you and your partner. Chemistry and desirability between a couple includes appearance (which we know changes over time and circumstances) as much or as little as you choose. Hygiene notwithstanding. 😉 It is not a sole question of finding certain physical traits appealing—again subjective. What is appealing to one person is repelling to another.
My point is that we are buying into a lie when we chase “nubility” as a legitimate course of action to accommodate aging. That would be denial. We are in denial about aging and succumbing to shame messages that we are not valuable unless we are youthful looking and sexually desirable as per an industry or cultural standard. It is a sad state of affairs.
I just finished reading a book entitled On Turning 50: Celebrating Mid-Life Discoveries by Cathleen Rountree that was published in 1993. I found it engaging, inspiring, informative, and in one aspect, disheartening. For the most part, I had to remind myself the book was published 30 years ago given the relevant content. In all likelihood, some of the women who participated in the book are now deceased, or at the very least, octogenarians. What saddened me was how little has changed in 30 years. We, as women, face the same challenges and obstacles today. The only advantage we have is improved access to information about aging and the openness to talk about it. So thank you to all the women who have shared their experiences and paved the path for all who follow.
In mythological terms, women are usually categorized as the maiden, matron, or old crone. Personally I look forward to being an old crone: the wise old woman who lives in the woods. 🙂 Some days, I feel like I embody her already. Other days I feel my mid-life. I think we mistakenly view our 50s as the halfway point of our lives (I certainly do no wish to live to 100!). I have come to perceive our 50s as the midpoint of adulthood given our brains are not fully developed until the age of 24 or so. I can see myself living another 25 years, maybe a bit longer. That in itself is a revealing statement given my struggle with depression and childhood trauma.
There was a time I could not see myself living past my mid-thirties—the age my birth mother died. After reading Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, years ago, I was somewhat prepared for this and able to normalize it contextually. Sometimes it still is a surprise to think I have made it all the way to age 50. And there are, admittedly, days when I do not want to live out a full adult life when the depression seeps in and steals my joy. Those days remain very real for me. Thankfully not as frequent as in my youth—a stage of life I would not return to for all the billionaires in the world!
I, personally, have no desire to be nubile. I was going to say ‘once again;’ but at my core, I have never seen myself that way. However as I look at old photos, I can admit that I was young and desirable, in the stage-of-life sense. I have always struggled with fitting in, being appealing to the masses, socially acceptable. However, like many women, I learned early on that “nubility” makes you vulnerable to being taken advantage of and/or traumatized for a lifetime. It is a catch22 to be desired. Our sense-of-self may require it until we learn better; but it also puts us in harm’s way as well as steals our power and authenticity.
I much prefer being 50. I quite enjoyed my 40s. I think the subtitle of the book says it well: celebrating mid-life discoveries. Something I have never done before: look forward to what’s ahead. My struggles with depression included suicidal fixation in my adolescence; which I was fortunately able to downgrade to a tiredness-of-life-in-general: wanting the end to come sooner than later, simply because I tired of the ongoing struggle. But after a near-death experience in my late twenties, I realized that my end would come when it was “time” and not a moment sooner. I was spared for a reason. Even now, on the low days, I ponder about that reason being fulfilled and hence the end can come whenever my allotted time is complete. When all is well with my mental health, I look forward to what is left to discover about myself and the world around me.
If I struggled with believing I am a person of worth and value in the first half of my life, I hope in the second half of my adulthood, I can celebrate more of life’s discoveries. A significant part of embracing aging is being our authentic selves and knowing what we have to offer. Understanding we all have the gift of life, it is up to each one of us how to make the most of that gift both in what we receive in this life and what we give. May your life have purpose and meaning rooted in a strong inner core/sense of self—not defined externally by industries and shame messages.
My birthday wish today is that you all experience a wonder-filled aging process—wherever you might be on that path.