For most of my adult life, particularly in the last twenty years, friends and strangers—younger, older and contemporaries—have come to me for advice about everything from hairstyles and vacation ideas to whether they should dump “him,” quit their job or lie to their mother. And quite by accident, I found myself an unofficial, middle-aged, new millennium guru. Now don’t pretend you don’t remember the ethereal, otherworldly, Zen seeking, sandal wearing 70’s spirit guides in their gauzy, diaphanous garb. They wafted down from some exotic, contemplative mountain retreat on a cloud of inner peace to scatter their long-considered wisdom on us—the unguided and uncentered masses with our misaligned chakras and road-blocked chi. And if you don’t remember gurus, Google will.
While my mission and even my audience, may be similar to these seventies masters of serenity, worry not, my delivery (more tough love than love beads) and my wardrobe are decidedly different although a floaty white dress and a pair of strappy Manolo sandals are, in my book, perfect garden party attire.
But lest I delve too deeply into matters that will be addressed in a future lesson, I’ll return to the subject at hand.
My particular seekers of enlightenment marvel at my inexplicably upbeat attitude about aging — about my lack of worry about being fat and single—about my absolute conviction that I’m as deserving of a good life as Oprah, Gaga or Beyoncé or any other members of our pop culture royalty. What I figured out, is that what those who ask my advice, AND those who think I’m “full of it” and secretly miserable, really want to know, is what I know—what’s my secret?
“You’re unmarried, overweight and overfifty!” (I don’t know which of these three happiness-defying adjectives is perceived as the most pitiable.) Now of course they never actually say that (out loud) but I see the fleeting consternation on their faces as the questions cross their minds. “Can you possibly be that happy?” “How can you be so positive so convinced that life is wonderful? How can you be so thrilled to be here—or anywhere for that matter when everyone knows (because the media never stops reminding us) that the best part of your life is over and done?” “Why aren’t you home in your fuzzy slippers with a magnifying mirror examining your wrinkles, removing chin hairs and watching the life you wish was yours on the tube, like any other respectable middle-aged woman?”
Thanks to genetics and attitude, I don’t look, or act my age—or the way folks think “my age” should look and behave. My weight isn’t (nor has it ever been) a problem for me—I’m healthy, active and I have more male attention than I can handle (Not true—I actually handle it quite well, thank you.)
Yes, I am happy.
Yes, life is wonderful (mostly).
Yes, I still think my future holds wonderful promises, joy, love and adventure.
I don’t own fuzzy slippers.
And while I may not live as large as the aforementioned Oprah, Gaga and Beyoncé, my life is rich, full and extraordinary.
From the moment I turned 48, when the subject of my age arose, I would gleefully say “I’m almost FIFTY.”
I was fifty when Donna Grant (my writing partner and long time best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world) and I had a book, Far From the Tree, our third novel, on the New York Times Bestseller List…yes it was the “extended list” —but our book was still there. Hot damn! Fifty was looking pretty good!
Because of a brutally honest and accurate comment from my bestie, Donna, I cut my shoulder length dark brown hair into a very short
style and dyed it blonde. Fifty was getting better and I was feeling adventurous.
At forty-nine, and long before the term “cougar” wormed its way into our daily lexicon, I started dating a man 16 years my junior. He was my second younger beau, and not only was he even younger than the first—he was not American and he was of a different race. Together we traveled—a lot and to my delight he taught me much about myself and about perceptions—and I hope I taught him a few things as well. Fifty was definitely not feeling old.
I decided to celebrate my FIFTIETH year from 49 to 51—and did. Taking the lead from those advertising strategies with wording like “in our fiftieth year,” (which 49 actually is) or “after fifty years in business,” (which took care of 50-51). I wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to celebrate for two solid years
At my fiftieth birthday party, a young friend who was all of twenty-two hugged me and giggling said, “I want to be just like you!” The “when I’m your age” was not spoken, but I heard it loud and clear. Champagne glass firmly in hand, the bottle in the other, I responded “Darling you can be! But you can’t start at forty nine!”
Over the years since that fiftieth birthday, as I’ve talked with friends and strangers about aging (mine and theirs), those words have come back to haunt me. I started to realize as I listened to myself spew wisdom, that if my big 5-0 birthday declaration was indeed correct, the advice I was so earnestly dispensing to my friends nearing the “F” decade, was in a word, useless. And that if I was right, it was too late for them to embrace their advancing years with grace, style and good humor. So now that I’ve landed in the “S” decade, I’ve decided that I was wrong… It is never too late (or too early for that matter) to change your outlook and you really don’t have to be beautiful, rich, thin, or YOUNG to live a life you love and love the life you live.
These lessons are “little” intentionally. I’m not preaching a sermon, trying to stress you out, or give you a beat down—although if some of the lessons feel like that—well then you just may have earned one! Read the lessons carefully. Read them again. Make them a part of your regular routine, like brushing your teeth, saying your prayers, taking your vitamins. Let each message sink in—into your head, into your heart, into your spirit. Do your homework—seriously, before moving on to the next lesson.
These are bits of wisdom that have served me well. Some were passed on to me from my mother. Some came from other women who have been an influence in my life. Some I learned on my own. And several of these lessons are about doing exactly the opposite of what I have observed too many women doing. But these lessons are my only secret weapon, my answer to aging and being sexier, more joyful and more graceful than you’ve ever been. They work for me, and if you’re as smart as I think you are, they can do the same for you.