Getting older is scary sometimes, but aging can mean growing happier, too
I welcome the snippets of conversation drifting down from my neighbor’s balcony as I write—a group of successful, professional women having a dinner party. I’ve learned about the first signs of menopause, the dying art of RSVPing (and the rudeness of neglecting to), and more juicy details about the over-the-hill dating (and lovemaking) scene than I ever thought I’d want to know.
Pop goes another champagne bottle. “Botox? Why would I want to shoot poison into my body?” Things are heating up, and I want so badly to be invited over for peach pie. But it’s less about voyeurism than it is a fascination with the phases of life yet to come. True, wisdom does not always correlate with age, but I find value in the life perspectives of friends (and neighbors) with more years under their belt—especially the happy ones.
Last week I turned 30. A “big one,” my family sang, ominously. A “dirty” one, sang my peers—the term “Dirty 30” apparently denoting the age that a single woman’s biological clock starts ticking louder, prompting lowered standards and sex with younger men to “prolong her youth.” Oh, please. But, though I roll my eyes, there is a biting urgency wrapped up in 30 that seems to be absent from “Lordy 40” and “Nifty 50.”
Like many, my 20s were a wild, naive ride fueled by equal parts joie de vivre and leftover teen angst. A time for experimentation and ever-changing self-identity, where burning the candle at both ends was the norm. A time percolating with a million aspirations tethered by self-doubt and hard-earned mistakes. The darkest hour was year 27; never have I worked harder or struggled more. My passion limped along, mangled regularly by the acute stabs of overdraft protection notifications from my bank. It’s a year, I notice, that others find particularly hard, too, and while I’m happy to leave it in my past, I’m also confident in saying, “Don’t abandon your dreams, it gets easier.”
It rained buckets the night I put my 20s to bed. Huddled inside the Red Room, a 32-year-old stranger delivered a ray of hope: “Turning 30 was the best thing that ever happened to me … You just know yourself better, like completely, and then things start happening like they’re supposed to.” On the Monday morning that followed the death of my 20s, my editor Steve Palopoli, 42, echoed the sentiment, “You know yourself better, yes, but you also know what you want, and you get what you want.”
Researchers call the 40s the new “rush hour of life,” a golden age of youth. “Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on it,” writes Pamela Druckerman, in a New York Times essay about turning 44.
But my friend June Smith, whose social life in her golden years rivals that of a Kardashian, disagrees with the notion of a second act. “With maturity, we realize that we are not running out of time to follow our dreams,” says Smith, between samba lessons. “There is plenty of time for a third act, a fourth, and maybe even more.”
I glean countless other sound bytes, too, like, maybe the reason so many romantic relationships fail is because too many of us draw our expectations from the movies. “How many romantic comedies end with a wedding?” asks Jeanne Howard, GT publisher, when pressed for coveted life perspectives. “More stories should begin with a wedding. Marriage will distinguish a successful hero much better than an engagement.”
Howard, who, at 56, is one of the happiest and most energetic human beings I know, says she doesn’t want to paint a falsely idealized picture of how she “laughs through the days while horror slides off like water off a duck’s back.”
“It’s just easier now,” she says. “The secret isn’t that things aren’t going wrong regularly. The secret is that it’s easier to release anxiety, attachment and self-criticism when they arise.”
So life, bring it on.