The Shock of Realizing How Old You REALLY Are

Last week Michele Obama, our country’s First Lady, turned 48. I’m 47. I’m ½ a year younger than she is and she’s married to who could be argued is the most powerful man in the world. First Ladies used to look like Betty Ford and Barbara Bush. When did they get so young, or more accurately, when did I get so old?

I am a senior staff member at a well-respected human service agency in Boston. I am about 75% accountable for all fundraising efforts that keep the agency afloat and thriving. At a recent board meeting I looked around and realized that I am older than an at least half of the members. I’m not in my 20s and early 30s anymore, where I would be forgiven or get a pass on unmet goals or vague timelines because I had a boss who was ultimately responsible. I have to be overly articulate and strong in my presentations and smile through any questioning and skepticism lobbed my way. I’m not fresh-faced and wrinkle-free. I wear double layers of concealer and dread that my hands are starting to show their age. I have recoiled from recent pictures of me, especially my profile where my chin-neck combination is starting to look like a goiter.

This certainly isn’t a unique situation, but I remember just entering the working world at 21 when even 25-year olds seemed so much older than I was. They got excluded when my peers and I would go out after work for drinks because we needed to be able to vent about our “superiors,” our bosses who were only a handful of years older than we were. Slowly, as I moved into my 30s, I started to go out with my peers who WERE the bosses needing to vent about our supervisees. Where I work now there is a lovely, exuberant group of young women who giggle and love each other and dress in their funky clothes. I can’t help but look at them and feel incredibly jealous.

This year I have my 30th high school reunion. I can barely even say that number out loud. My ob-gyn now has mapped me on the trajectory towards menopause and I’m getting to be much closer to a 10 on the scale than a 5. I just got my first pair of bifocals. I’m using moisturizer for “mature skin.” I have random gray eyebrows. I’ve had a cortisone shot in my hip and my shoulder, both for conditions that come with aging. The much younger men who used to look at me when I passed them on the street now look at me wondering why I’m looking at them.

My age is so anomalous to how I feel. I have the spirit of someone 15 years younger than I am but I have to be realistic about where that contradiction fits into my life. I feel like it’s too late to reinvent my “look” or to catch up on who all the “celebrities” are in slick and meaningless magazines. I used to be THE go-to person who knew EVERYTHING about pop-culture, who was married to who, what movies they had uncredited appearances in, what they won an Oscar for, but now I have to ask my 10-year-old daughter who a lot of these people are. I used to insist on seeing the newest indie film on opening night. Now I’m lucky if I remember to put them on my Netflix queue let alone hearing of them at all. I am fully aware of how vapid this sounds but those things are pieces of me that are gone forever that were once part of my identity. I’m not quite sure what I am the go-to person for anymore, if anything.

I’m the almost 50-yr old “baby of the family,” my father’s youngest child and my siblings’ “little sister.” I’m sure this makes them aware of their own aging but they don’t do much complaining about it. I have this great dread of my own mortality and an overwhelming fear of dying. When I hear on the news of the death of someone at 86 (seems to be sort of a magic number) I calculate how many more years that means I have and that number is obviously shrinking every year.

All of this isn’t to say that I don’t have a fantastic and full life, because I do. My second marriage, only one year old, feels like someone has lifted a pawn on a board game and sent me back to “Go” (in a good way). My growing daughter is remarkable (but again, a reminder of how we are aging together) and my friends are more important to me than they will ever know. I laugh constantly, challenge my brain daily and I don’t have any addictions or compulsions that might effect me physically.

This all sounds so horribly depressing and I hope some of you aren’t stepping away thinking, “Thanks for that hideous wake-up call.” This is my missive, my fear, my wistfulness at a life that is behind me. I love that my nephew calls me his “cool aunt” and that teenagers seem to adore me, and those are the reminders that my younger self is always with me and always will be as I take on larger and larger adult responsibilities. She’ll help get me through. She’s really cool.

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10 Comments

  1. I can totally relate Gayle!! Especially since all the moms that I hang out with are anywhere from 5-15 years younger than me. But you are right, there is a part of us that will always be the cool aunt or funky 20 year old and don't forget it for one second!! Love this commentary.

  2. Gayle, love your blog! Having just turned 40 (oh my), I can't believe I am the "old" one at many meetings, gatherings, etc., esp. since I feel better at 40 than 20. But losing 200 pounds will do that!

  3. Thanks Denise!!!!

  4. Yes, Michelle and I can't wait to see you in person for the first time. From the looks of your fb pictures, I don't think I would recognize you.Thrilled that you are feeling this new least on life.

  5. As always, your observations are right on the money! Thanks for sharing, I love reading your blog!

  6. Thanks, whoever you are! (who are you?)

  7. Thanks Gayle for brightening my day on what seems to be such a dreary day outside… Love reading your blog… Mary

  8. Thanks, Mary…which Mary?

  9. I'm all for "Real Housewives"-esque Botox injections that keep you looking late 30s when you're really 50s. Let's do it together! I'm still feeling 17 and looking 30.

  10. Dan

    I do a lot of the same kind of thinking as you do here, and on a daily basis. I guess if I could give you/me any kind of "advice," it would be two-fold: Don't forget that we bring a lot of value to the table when we sit in those board/administrative team meetings, and that our experience can and should be used to make the world a better place. Second, the next time you're working on your Netflix queue, I recommend you have another look at "Harold and Maude." I know it's dark and absurd, but there's a good message in there about how arbitrary the concept of "being old" really is. Yes, our bodies are machines that have been working constantly, but what we do with them — within the obvious limitations of wear-and-tear — is our choice, and ours alone. Love ya, Gaylie!

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