I spoke recently with a group of women in their fifties, and we talked about some very deep issues facing this decade.
They were having a hard time staying positive with all the physiological changes going on. How do you hold your head up when you’re old enough to be a mother to the people you work with? How do you compete for sexual or romantic attention when you don’t feel especially gorgeous anymore?
Although we celebrated the positive, tears were shed. Angst was expressed.
I wondered if grief might be a necessary stage for transitioning to the second half of life? My friend Dixie writes inspirational little books, and in her latest, “The Oldness Club,” she says,
“I believe we walk through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) when changes occur in our lives. I think we cycle in and out of those feelings as we learn to embrace the older years…”
As I listened to these women, I felt sympathetic. The fifties is a rough decade, isn’t it? This is when most of us are grappling with the reality of menopause and all the loveliness that entails. It’s quite frightening at times. In my own situation, I developed such severe uterine fibroids that I almost couldn’t leave the house. I became pale and weak, and one day I thought I was going into shock from loss of blood. I finally had surgery, and then I wondered what the aftereffects of THAT would be. In the absence of my ovaries, uterus, and cervix, would my remaining organs reorganize? Without ovaries, could I still have fun in the sack? Would I even have the desire to try?
After growing up into all the parts you were given, what do you do when they slow down or get removed? And this on top of wrinkles, bad knees, new aches and pains, hair loss and growth (both in all the wrong places)…Is this something that could make you freak out, panic, wail, and grieve?
This decade of transition, as rough as puberty and just as influential, can make you frightened and discouraged.
You wonder how you are going to function–who you are going to be–during and after it. I don’t remember anybody telling me, ten years ago, that it was okay to grieve, but I think it would have helped.
In your fifties, you need more than happy talk, so here are my answers to the two questions at the beginning of the article. I hope those of you who are over 60 and reading this will add your thoughts.
How do you hold your head up when you’re older than everybody at work?
Take care of your health and appearance, stay current with your profession, build your confidence (see below), and then act confident (i.e. don’t apologize for or make jokes about your maturity. Act like it’s a benefit. Younger people don’t know any better and you’ll blow them away with your calm strength.) They don’t respect fear, and they don’t respect older people pretending to be young. If you disrespect yourself, they will, too. And how is anything ever going to change if we all worship at the altar of youth? Be a model of kick-ass aging. Find a way to make them jealous that you’re older. It’s not about looks. It’s about class and self-respect. (PS I regret the way I phrased this. “How do you hold your head up…”???? Why the heck wouldn’t you hold your head up? It’s not like you have to be ashamed. Chalk up that misstep to my having been culturally brainwashed.)
How do you compete for sexual or romantic attention when you don’t feel especially gorgeous anymore?
My skin is crepey all over and I have turkey neck. My stomach is a train station, with surgical scars crisscrossing my navel. Yet, I do like to look good, especially when I speak to groups. (Luckily, I get to do that with clothes on.) My appearance affects my confidence. So here’s my answer in four parts:
1. I take care of my body and mind. Five years ago, I joined Weight Watchers and lost twenty pounds, and I kept it off. I exercise, meditate, and most days, get enough sleep. Maintain your machine, ladies.
2. I like style. I enjoy it. So it’s fun for me to visit a number of websites regularly to get ideas for how I might jazz up my wardrobe. I see what might be fashionable, funky, and fun for a woman my age. I get ideas, and then I personalize them.
Here are some sites, but you could Google “fashion over 50 blogs” and see more:
Another note about fashion: I am a little braver now about fashion, because I am a little braver about everything. Also, I am sick of not wearing my special items just because I never go anyplace where they really work. So, although it might look silly to wear black pearl earrings or colorful scarves or Skechers platform dress sandals to the grocery store, I do it.
3. I do things to build my confidence. Here are two blog posts where you can read about what I’ve said in the past on this topic.
4. I put myself in a target-rich environment (TRE), one where I’m likely to achieve my purpose, and then I have fun. I live life, there in that environment, with my nice outfit and my confidence. If I were single and looking for a mate, this is where I’d stop looking and start living, and if the right guy showed up, he’d be attracted to me. Since I’m not single, my TRE is a book signing or public speaking. I’d feel good knowing I took control of my life and gave myself the best chance at happiness.
I also believe that once we get older, we are more likely to feel grateful for what we have rather than lament what we don’t, but I don’t know if that change happens while you are still only in your fifties. Because I think in your fifties you are reeling from stuff.
But science now tells us that your brain changes later in life to allow you to feel more settled in many ways. You are not quite as likely to panic about certain dramatic developments. At least for the majority of us.
I now think there really has to be a period of adjustment and acceptance, possibly even grieving, to transition beyond the fifties. It’s a time of change, and becoming. Like a little girl going through puberty, you are tortured for a few years, but once things settle down, it’ll be better than you can imagine.
I would love to hear from my friends who are over sixty. What tips can you offer our younger sisters who are finding their way through this transition stage?