I saw on television the other day that a local organization is providing free meals for seniors in Santa Barbara. I have even heard that they are wonderful gourmet meals. I was happy for our seniors to have this lovely service. And then it was announced that this was a service for those who were 60 and over. As someone who is dangerously close to that watermark of aging, I was shocked and awed. Since when did 60 become the new 75?
It got me to thinking. I don’t think I am old and I certainly I don’t feel old, but perhaps I am just deluding myself. Maybe I should just give in and graciously accept those gourmet Meals on Wheels.
So my question is, for us youth-obsessed boomers, how do we sober up and realize that we are really getting older?
Actually, I did feel old today as I wrestled yet another shrink-wrapped product to the ground, cursing like an exorcism candidate the day plastic was invented. To hell with progress. Why do they have to encase every damned thing in impossible- to-penetrate plastic?
I have a friend named Paul who surely knows he is getting old because he is so willing to forsake sophistication to catch those early bird specials at any restaurant willing to offer them. In actuality, he doesn’t need a special; he now just likes to eat early; something I think has to do with digestion.
In order to get more benchmarks for all of us to consider, I put the question out to my correspondents.
As expected, many responses had to do with gravity’s inexorable pull on our bodies. “I used to buy Victoria’s Secret bras to enhance my cleavage,” reported Gail.”Now I buy them to keep my breasts in the right section of my body.”
Jack notices he is getting older “by looking at my mates face when I get naked!”
For many of us, these markers require a definite self-esteem adjustment.
Often times, when we aren’t looking in the mirror, we forget how old we really are. That “inner mirror” can be a fun-house reflection indeed. I’ve heard several stories like this one by a forty-something year old woman who thought a handsome younger man was checking her out at the gym, only to realize he was checking himself out in the reflection of the glass behind her. And then there is Geoff, who shared with me an experience I think a lot of us have had: “I look at someone and think, ‘He is really old!’ and then realize he is the same age as me!”
It will be different for all of us, those experiences that indicate the clock has turned. Tim has his own list: “I can’t drink coffee past 7 p.m. anymore without staying awake. It takes starvation to lose weight. A good night’s sleep is more important than getting laid. People call me sir and that’s OK because I really don’t care what people think anymore.”
Here are some more benchmarks of getting older:
“When, after years of trying my damnedest to be different from my father, I realize I am becoming more and more like him.”
“When living spontaneously takes a week of planning.”
“When I can re-read Lady Chatterley’s Lover cover-to-cover with no heavy breathing.”
“When you start calling everyone “honey” if you are female, or “son” if you are male.”
“When you give up trying to change your spouse and just see them as a lovable character.”
As this last one suggests, not all of these experiences that register as old need to be negative. “Trivia does not monopolize my time anymore,” reported one oldster. “And that is a good thing.”
Nancy, who delightfully signs her emails “Be well and raise hell,” probably described this perspective best: “I now speak my truth and express my opinion when I know it isn’t shared by the people around me. Other people’s opinions honestly interest me… except what their opinion of me may be. With age, I can’t stand by silently when I see injustice. There may not be another chance; being idle in the face of injustice is no longer an option.”
And then there is Margo the Pithy, who told me that the only proof she needs to convince her she’s getting older is a look at her driver’s license.
If you have your benchmarks for knowing when you are getting older, please do share them with me.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.