The liberation of middle age
My life has undergone a seismic change. At first, I was afraid: scared of outing myself as needy. I fought it, dear reader, I fought it, until a friend staged an intervention and made me see sense.
Now, for the first time in my 41 years, I go to bed content and wake up happy. Life has taken on a rosy hue. Friends, colleagues, even strangers have confessed that they have been doing it for years, and no shame attaches. Finally, I have acquired an electric blanket.
Recently, journalist India Knight confessed that still, at 47, after 20 years of parenting, she does not feel mature in the manner of a grown-up. I once wrote about being one of the “Peter Pan generation”, single, child-free, mortgageless and hedonistic in a way that society deems infantilised.
However, the one non-Neverlandish thing I am ready to accept is that I am middle-aged. What’s more, I am bloody loving it.
This sets me apart from the population at large who, according to a recent survey by Age UK, deem middle age to begin at 55 and stagger on until 69.
Now, maths is not my strong point, but doesn’t this imply a life expectancy of 110+? Moreover, almost one in five asserts that middlingness does not set in until past 60, which would replace the traditional threescore and 10 with a frankly Buck Rogers-ish sixscore and counting. One can only assume that these fantasists are consuming a lot of fish oil.
Personally, I subscribe to the view of the octogenarians surveyed in a 2010 study of 40 000 Europeans. Whereas the overall British consensus was that middle age spanned the year 35 to 58, these doughty eightysomethings regarded the final year of youth as 42, and the onset of decrepitude as 67. This feels about right to me.
Excitement over the fact that my shortsightedness is improving was tempered by the realisation that this is because I am becoming long-sighted with age. And a medical check to which I assumed I was being summoned in my capacity as a fecund young whippersnapper turned out to be obligatory for those of my advancing years, more about high blood pressure than fast living.
And what a fantastically liberating relief it all is. To be a young woman is to be patronised by pretty much everyone, hit on by a good many, and ignored by the rest. It is to invest too much time in passing emotion and exist in a state jittery with potential. It is to be burdened by angst and expectation of the must-be-actively-amazing-while-still-being-compellingly-shod sort.
Instead, at the stage at which spots are usurped by wrinkles, one’s relationships are sounder, a support network in place. Constant drama is supplanted by a sense of oneself as a fait accompli. One is less of a daughter, less of a partner, more of an individual, even if one happens to be a parent. Rather than being weighted down by expectation, one can simply do as one wants.
Accordingly, at long last, one can come out of the (judiciously moth-proofed) closet and say: I would rather read Edith Wharton than this year’s hot young thing. A garden isn’t merely for lobbing cigarette butts in and I am quite fond of the birds that frequent it. Lifeplan-wise, my clock is canine rather than biological (I yearn for a dog, rather than a nipper).
Even my anxiety that I will never have sex again, post-electric blanket, has met with reassurance. A friend who turns 70 next year has comforted me with the notion that one may actually be more active once one can “hurl off the duvet and get down to it”. – © Guardian News & Media 2013
Hannah Betts is a writer and commentator.