In Between

I had rounded the corner on my street and was pumping up the last hill. It was a good walk. More energetic than usual. That’s when I saw her, as I was nearing my house. She’s a neighbor, but I rarely even catch a glimpse. It has to be a year, maybe longer.

I don’t know her age. I don’t know her profession. I don’t know anything about her life other than the fact that we said hello, briefly, when I moved to this street as a 40-something single mother largely surrounded by 20-something and 30-something couples, most of whom were childless.

She and her husband keep to themselves. He works in the yard. Their cars come and go.

She was standing by her mailbox and appeared lost in thought. In fact, she had aged so much I barely recognized her. Her body language indicated fatigue or possibly fragility. Her face was its own statement in transition: she was neither young nor old, and strangely – both.

Two years ago I would have said this woman was 30. Now?

Transition to Midlife

I would guess my neighbor to be 40 or 42. Has she been ill? Not sleeping? Under terrible stress? Perhaps she is 40 and showing her age whereas a year or two back that wasn’t the case.

That’s the thing about midlife: it sneaks up when we’re busy living; it wallops us over the head without warning; it arrives at a different point in time for each of us – gradually or suddenly.

Aging is a subtle adversary; we may sigh and ignore its presence, or obsess over its unwillingness to install its sorry wares elsewhere. Maybe we glance in a mirror and the surprise of it is striking. There’s that deepening line we used to dismiss, or traces of a hardened expression even when we’re smiling.

Either way, at 40 or 50 or whenever that pivotal point announces itself, the signs are inevitable and our reactions, variable. That’s especially true in a culture that worships youth, as our experience of growing older becomes an evolving and highly personal adventure.

Some are so busy living they take no note at all. Others fret – trying to face it – and struggling with acceptance.

What if we viewed aging as something other than the enemy, but a natural process? What might that be like? Freedom perhaps?

Aging Gracefully?

The “downhill” side of aging manifests differently in each of us.

For women? It can be a shrug, a shock, or a roller coaster in part fueled by hormones.

But in my view? More likely? Try our own critical self-image, society’s response to our changing appearance, tangible and related impacts – a spouse who leaves for a younger model, or jobs that are no longer accessible.

Resentful?

You bet.

Stay stuck in the anger?

Unhelpful.

So what about denial versus acceptance? What about plunging enthusiastically into something new? What about the much touted value of midlife reinvention? Is that the key to aging gracefully, naturally, triumphantly?

When Does Aging Begin?

Perhaps our inability to wish away the external signs of aging begins at 35 or 40. For me it was older and I attribute that to heredity. Then again, I’m a believer in the power of pursuing our passions and goals, the confidence we exude, and I’m a devotee of the ultimate feel good drug – laughter.

I say that, fully aware there were periods in recent years when I lost my sense of humor entirely. Aging was the least of my concerns. Finishing the job of raising my sons on too little money and too much fatigue trumped any “frivolous” concern with wrinkles or my waist gone MIA.

I’m also fully aware of the role nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress play into notions of successful aging. We do what we can in those areas, don’t we?

And the most “detrimental” sort of aging? The resistance to opening our hearts and minds, to giving, to learning?

Nope. Pas moi. Not there yet, and don’t plan to be.

Why We Age at Different Rates

As for my neighbor, she isn’t a woman who wears makeup, so I wasn’t simply seeing her clean-faced. I may have caught a glimpse after an illness or some other draining event which has left her noticeably aged.

While appearing older has little bearing on whether we’re fit or strong, I am fascinated when able to perceive both youth and age as it registers on the same face. This led me to wonder about the way we age, as well as the way we appear to age.

I’ve known 60-year olds who filled their environments with purpose, creativity, and learning, giving off a vibrant energy that was irresistible. I’ve known self-absorbed or narrow-minded 40-year olds who embrace winding down at an age when I was yet to fully gear up, and they’re seeing themselves as “old.”

Their experience is no less real or valid than mine. Yet what makes the difference? Heredity? Environment? Personality? Fortune? Misfortune? Some alchemy we can’t quite define?

In my curiosity, I searched for the reasons that people age differently – physically and emotionally. I found little, but I enjoyed this article on those who live a life of creativity, and the manner in which they seem to age. Is it passion for life that makes growing older less important or less constraining?

Why Do Men and Women Age Differently?

So what about the fact that men 15 years past high school seem to look older than the women? Or is that myth? I’ve observed it myself, though that’s hardly a statistically relevant bit of data.

What about comparing a woman at 50 or 60 to a man of the same age? Who will seem older, or is it entirely a matter of the individual and his or her circumstances?

Looks may be one issue, but what about what’s going on inside? Women used to live longer than men, but the longevity gender gap is narrowing and reflects progress for men and growing pressures on women.

According to an article on gender-based aging differences in Third Age:

A 2011 study from the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that women currently live only two years longer than men on average. One reason is that new medications and surgical advancements are keeping more men from having deadly heart attacks… Beyond that though, a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index released in July of 2011 showed that women ages 45 to 64 have the lowest well-being and the highest stress levels of any age group or gender. Medical experts say that these factors could contribute to shorter lifespans for Boomer women.

The article goes on to compare cognitive abilities, heart health, and other differences in how men and women age.

But those stress mentions? I’d be crazy not to worry.

What about you?

How We Look vs How We Feel

I wonder if my neighbor is in the midst of a sorrowful event, or if she’s sliding into that transitional time when she’s showing her age.

That place of “in between.”

When I contemplate pictures of myself taken five years ago, I look ten years younger. Two years ago? That was my pivot point, but enough time has passed that I appreciate where I am, I’m aware of habits I must improve for the sake of my long-term health, and while much remains unresolved when it comes to my personal “what next,” there is much that is good in my life and I do not take this chapter for granted.

The result is less concern for how I look and more for how I feel, a desire to live fully to the extent that is possible, and a stubborn insistence on engaging my creativity – while I still possess it.

I imagine someone seeing me these days as compared to two years ago might think the same as I did about my neighbor: I can see her young, I can see her old.

To which I would reply: As long as you can still see me.
 

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© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. Great article.
    I too, could be that neighbour – depending on how animated I am – deep in thought, perhaps older than I am; talking about my passion: ageless.
    The light within is all that matters.

    Final line – lump in my throat.
    “As long as you still see me” ….
    It’s up to us to decide what they see.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      You’re right, Vicki Lee. It is up to us what they see… with a nod, nonetheless, to those things that are truly outside our control.

  2. I’ve found we all have at least four ages within ourselves at any given time. Chronological for sure (as much as we’d love to deny it); but then there’s the physical (how old we feel); emotional (the age we act when drama hits); and psychological (the age we’d love to remain indefinitely)! And those numbers don’t ever seem to be the same.

  3. I thought I was the only one who has seen age and youth in the same face, in close proximity. I have a sometimes professional colleague who is almost a couple of years older, which would make her a few months from sixty. Often I see a deeply concerned person, dealing with the issues we all have dealt with, and are ever more continuing with. When I see this, what I mostly see is the bravery and courage – attributes that I am increasingly finding attractive, although it doesn’t hurt that they are overlaid on an already attractive person. And at certain angles, and especially when she laughs, she looks like she is fifteen or sixteen, with not a care in the world. Just having the opportunity to see the range of presence is in itself a beautiful experience.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Striking, isn’t it, Robert? For me it’s the first time I truly saw it at close proximity. It’s both magical and saddening, yet it’s our culture that makes it more saddening than magical.

      “Bravery and courage.” I love that this is what you see and find attractive in a face that is simultaneously mature and girlish.

      Wonderful.

  4. Excellent article. I was your neighbor when I was in my 40s…so busy with life that middle age attacked from behind. My wake up call came with my driver’s license renewal picture on my 50th birthday. It was really bad and I looked into the face of a woman I did not know. This wake up call resulted in a complete make over of my outsides, insides, and health….which eventually led to my blog. It really helped me to realize that I needed to make changes or I would continue to age much faster than I wanted. It also helped to mentally say STOP…and take time for ME…that is a good, necessary thing to do and not selfish at all! I feel great…very youthful…and having more fun now than I did in my forties!!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      So glad you stopped by to read and comment, Pam! You’re an example of taking one of those light bulb moments and using it to reinvent in the best possible way – for physical and emotional health, not to mention a little fun. I’m also glad you point out that taking time for ourselves doesn’t make us selfish. It’s so necessary, and we lose the habit.

  5. I have never thought about how others see me. Not for what I wear but how I carry myself. A lot of what is in your heart and mind shows on your face and in your walk. Even another reminder to live life to its fullest and be happy. It makes you not only feel younger, but look younger.

  6. Dearest D

    Giggling and belly laughs keep us ever youthful.

    With an ancient soul.

    ;)

    Lovely, thoughtful piece.

    _tg xx

  7. What a good post. I don’t see myself aging until I see a photograph. That’s not what I see in the mirror at all! You’ve hit upon a lot of ideas to think about. I feel blessed to be out of the rat race and if Bill left me tomorrow, I’d be financially OK (but extremely annoyed, obviously). I’ve always been a sequential thinker, not that creative right brained person described in the article. The funny thing I’ve learned about me since leaving work is that I can always find something to worry about! It takes a conscious effort to dismiss foolish ideas and determination to face the important ones. I think of aging as an adventure. It is so peculiar to observe the changes in one’s body and I’m curious to see what happens next. I don’t expect to love all of it, but I can still find the whole process full of wonder.

  8. Very thoughtful and heart opening article BLW. Unless someone is a really great actress we all look as we feel, there’s no vs. With age we become somewhat more transparent, goodness or badness , fulfillment or emptiness resurface easier. It can be 10 years more or less at any given time.

  9. I had to rethink my definition of “old” a couple of years back when I realized how old my body felt inside. It’s either genes or race but approaching my mid 40s I still get carded at the supermarket and I often get mistaken for a graduate student. These misidentifications please me for a good 20 seconds and only I (and my husband) am aware of how young or old I truly am. I lack strength and resilience in my body, and that makes me nervous. It takes me over 2 weeks now to bounce back from a cold, and I complain of aches and pains that I didn’t expect to know about for another 3 decades. I don’t exercise enough and I had spent too many years fighting against myself in my mind. But I’ve taken a cue from my husband, who will turn 50 in a couple of months and who to me is the epitome of youth. I’m learning to live in (and enjoy) the present rather than fear the future, and I’m trying to use and work my body rather than let it prematurely collect dust. Amazingly, making these changes have done more for me than any anti-aging beauty product.

  10. I also was your neighbor at 40, but I did not notice, I was too busy setting goals to achieve better outcomes. It wasn’t until I reached 55, getting grumpy and resentful that I became aware that all of that stress was affecting my health. I decided, to hell with better outcomes and left my job to do all of those things that I never had the time nor talent to do.
    Now when I bump into people who have not seen me in a couple of years they comment on how much happier, healthier and relaxed I look. Reinventing myself to enjoy the present has brought passion back into my life.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience, Priska. Why does it take some of us so long to realize that resentment and stress will squeeze us into someone we don’t even recognize?

  11. Aging is the bane of my existence. I’m fighting hard, trying to hold back the tide of wrinkles, droopy skin, gray hair–hanging on tight to my last drops of precious estrogen. All to no avail, but I’m giving it all I got!

  12. I am playing blog catch up and this post is very timely for me. Just two weeks ago I really felt my age. I ran a 1/2 marathon and I realized I am not 20. My body experienced so much angst and pain post-race and unfortunately I can’t just “wing” or underestimate the importance of recovering correctly from this kind of run.

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  1. [...] however tinged with sentimentality. They are infused with the essence of your solid middle ground, your stage of “in between” – neither young nor old yet able to exploit the lessons of earlier years and still create a [...]

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