Getting older is a bitch — (and/or becoming one)

Jazz Dance ¬ 0619
Jazz Dance ¬ 0619 (Photo credit: Lieven SOETE)

I had dinner recently with my friend G, a fellow writer. As we settled into a local restaurant for dinner — the music way too loud for comfortable conversation — we both kept saying “That music is too loud!”

Getting older is a bitch, kids.

What we really were talking about was how to handle the indignities and annoyances of aging.

We’re not that old, but we’re past 40, and things do start to look a lot different by then; friends have died far too young, parents are starting to become frail or ill and the endless mountain ranges of ambition we always planned to keep scaling are starting to just look exhausting.

“I’m going to be such a bitch when I’m older,” she said calmly. Me, too.

Because you’re running out of time, energy, strength and the endless determination to bounce back — from illness, divorce, a crappy betrayal, a crummy job.

Because, for better and worse, you simply have less stamina, physically and emotionally, for bullshit. If someone is petty or cruel or stupid or deceptive, in the old days I would have fake-smiled and sucked it up. Today? You’re gone!

Because…you can.

You don’t have to kiss as many butts as in your gogogogogogogogogo 20s and 30s, when you’re desperate to get into the right college/grad school/jobs/marriage.

Here’s a fab post from feminist site Jezebel about why your 30s are do-or-die, baby!:

What’s going on, I think, is the path-diverging choices that come with growing up. The thirties aren’t wildly different from your twenties, except for the part where the stakes feel so much higher. The carefree feeling of going out every night is replaced with a nagging voice that now reminds you of the repercussions, of what you should really be doing instead, and of the choices that may be slipping away, whether they are career, family, or fun. You are suddenly, irrevocably unable to waste time in the same way without chastising yourself.

By the time you’re in your 40s and beyond, you’ve done much of that, often several times (see: jobs, marriages.)

And we’re learning (resentfully!) that our energy has limits — even as she and I admitted to sitting at our computers for 10 hours a day when we write a major story.

I still, (thank God), can read without needing glasses. I still head off to jazz dance class and kick as high as some of the praying-mantis-thin chicks in their 30s. I plan to be back on the softball field this summer, after a three-year absence due to injury, surgery and recovery.

I’m also finally happy to see that my retirement savings — mine alone, even as a freelancer in a recession — have hit a number that actually makes all those years of scrimping feel worthwhile. I’d so much rather be in Paris/wear Manolos/drive a new car, but that growing number is deeply comforting.

Softball! (Photo credit: * NightHawk24 *)

My role model is a woman on our floor, soon to turn 98. She recently fell, off the toilet, cutting her cheek and shoulder so badly she needed stitches. Her live-in nurse, who I see often, said, in awe: “She’s so strong!”

That’s what you need as you age. Strength: of character, of mind, body and spirit. A network of solid, loving friends. As much cash in the bank, and/or income, as you can possibly scrimp, scrape and save — start now, young ‘uns!

Aging also means less patience for whining or negativity. If you’re healthy, solvent and alive you’re way ahead of a lot of others starting their days with an IV in their arm or wondering when to finish making out their will or wincing in pain with every step.

By the time you’ve done a few decades, you start to feel like a grateful survivor, because you are.

The other night, for fun, I decided to Google a former beau, one of the most fun people I ever knew, a journalist-turned lawyer who fought hard for the rights of workers who’d been screwed over by their employers. Instead, to my shock, I found his obituary — dead of cancer at 57. It feels unimaginable.

It’s not.

Here’s a loooooong blog post on the topic, by an Australian blogger, with her 15 tips on how to age gracefully.

How do you feel about getting older?

52 thoughts on “Getting older is a bitch — (and/or becoming one)

  1. Getting older, despite its indignities, is so much nicer than being young. It’s better than the uncertainty and insecurities of having bad things happen for the first time, or not having any idea what will happen. I’ll take glasses along with the confidence that comes from having seen it all before.

  2. I do like having more confidence, in general. I agree with you there.

    I wish my industry wasn’t dying; it’s hard to be professionally confident while traveling on the Titanic.

    1. I agree with you. The change in the worlds of words–journalism and publishing–have not been good for the most part, at least not from the perspective of gainful employment. I do hope you can ride out the waves safely.

  3. Even at 22 right now, I can see how much less BS I take now compared to when I was in high school. Although it can be seen like being a bitch, every what makes your life happier!

  4. You’re right to be nourished by that retirement nest egg, Kaitlin. I’ve never been into Manolos or new cars, but top much being in Paris (or Venice, Greece or Sri Lanka, for that matter) has left me financially vulnerable in my ‘years of diminishing options’. You were right too, to do something about those wrecked joints while you can still do high kicks and look forward to decades of softball in the park!

    1. It’s really tough putting that money away, and I can always put away more…but one also wants to enjoy life!
      It’s a little weird to have a new hip so young, but I’ve been lucky enough to get it while still strong.

  5. I’ve always wanted to be old, really old. When I was 7 or 8, I wrote a story about myself as an old, wizard like character. My teacher thought I was writing fiction or someone else, but it was me.

    I’m 43, so I understand that the physical part of getting old sucks, but it is amazing to see how different I’ve become; how much more wiser and open I am. I don’t think I am *wise*, anything but. Even so, I do think I am *wiser* than the 20 year old me and that, I think, is great.

    1. I live in an apartment building that is overwhelmingly filled with people in their 70s to 90s and has always been like that. So I see what it’s like for them and, generally, am pretty heartened…one of my female neighbors had a male stripper (!) at her 80th birthday party.

      It’s true that one generally gains self-confidence with age, thank heaven! I just pray for continued good health…

  6. I like this, “We’re not that old, but we’re past 40, and things do start to look a lot different by then.” With another birthday next week, I had no idea that the uncertain 20s and then the unsettled 30s would ever have a chance to even out in the 40s, or I would have looked forward to birthdays a little more and a little sooner in life. As always, a great post and excellent conversation. Michelle

  7. I like getting older. I like the perks and benefits I keep accruing (driver’s license to 401k), I like the self confidence I get with more experience, I feel more comfortable and in command of myself physically, mentally and emotionally than I did in my teens and early 20’s. Although I know that sooner or later health issues are going to creep up, so far all I’ve got are bad hips and a creaky knee so I can’t complain.

    1. I agree that gaining self-confidence and skills is a great thing; I find the challenge now is deciding which (if any) new skills I want to add, versus have to for work. I remember the terror in my 20s when handed HUGE work assignments and now just think “meh, bring ’em on.”

  8. Love it. I’m 56. I play hack and slash games on my Xbox, and crack the rock music up to full volume. My friends think I’m nuts. I write thrillers, and blog about the reality of being the single mother of a 31-year-old severely disabled daughter who lives with me. I love my life. Okay, so maybe there are times I don’t love it so much, but hey, it could be way worse.

    1. Love it! I’m a year younger and my husband is always turning down my music…:-)

      I think it’s entirely possible to get old(er) and still kick ass (even with my replacement hip.)

  9. Great post and one I can connect with being 29 and a bit terrified of my 30’s and where life is heading in general.
    I’m already a bitch so I’m not sure if that helps?…

    1. Then you’re all set! 🙂

      The 30s are an interesting decade. The hardest part, I think, is the biological reality of fertility…if you do want kids (and several) you have to be partnered up (or have the $$$ to do it alone) by 35 or so, much sooner than many women would prefer. I never wanted kids, and that gave me a lot more freedom.

  10. I feel like I’ve been in training to be an old lady for ages. I was complaining the music is too loud as a teenager. I’ve been knitting and doing crossword puzzles forever. At least when I’m an old lady I’ll feel like my old lady ways are justified!!

  11. I have to confess I have no tolerance for bullshit, so I am already a bitch. It is freeing, liberating, and I don’t try to hide it or apologize for it. Most people who know me already know that if you don’t want to know, don’t ask me. All that other stuff like holding it in, is a waste of time. I am loving being older.

  12. A few days ago, I just passed my 70th birthday. Whoop-De-Do! I can still tie my shoelaces without sitting down and that’s my birthday present to me. I love [almost] every second of my life. God has been gracious to me! Your essay, though, made me think, again, about something. What’s disturbing me about growing old; most of the younger generations, not all, but most of them, don’t seem to want to take advantage of all our generation’s knowledge, wisdom, and experience. I often hear, “Really, what can you old folks teach us now? Everything is so different today from when you were our age. Things are just different.” Really? The basics principles, the last time I checked, are still there, they are just computerized, that’s all.

    1. Thanks for you comment — and good to hear about the shoelaces! 🙂 Happy birthday as well.

      I agree with you. I think it’s an ongoing problem that also has to do with the way we tend to segment ourselves socially and professionally by age, as though only people within a decade or so of us have anything useful to offer.

      The one piece of it I wish older people would better communicate — shout!!! — is the need for unions and for workers to be fully aware how they are treated. Workers have been seduced by technology in ways I think unwise and the entire spectrum of blue-collar work and manual labor has been debased. I think that’s a really sad difference between the world you might have grown up in and that of today…?

      1. I think it’s not going to happen, though. I just don’t think people understand how powerless they have become — it’s all up to the individual now, and good luck with that.

  13. OK, mostly, but I’m still in my 30s (just). I definitely feel like the stakes are higher though, and that time is speeding up somehow. Days just used to feel longer. Time is more precious, and I feel more of a sense of urgency. There are things I want to (need to) do which I always thought I would have all the time in the world to do. Now I’m realising that’s not the case. I have less time for time-wasters, less patience with people who are privileged and moaners, and more with children, older people, and people who are challenged in their day-to-day life either through poverty or illness, disability or whatever. I feel I’m a little wiser, and that I have important things to say that are worth listening to. I am much better at giving advice, and I have knowledge and experience to pass on. I’m more inclined to say what I think, but I’m better at listening. I don’t feel like I need to be everybody’s friend, or get everyone to like me. I’m more confident. I’m a bit more aggressive, I think (which can be good and bad). I wouldn’t say I was a bitch just yet, but it’s probably not far off!

  14. I volunteer at a nursing home in west Berlin. Once a week, I visit a 93 year-old lady, who for the purposes of my blog posts, I call Frau Bienkowski. She grew up in East Prussia, and was driven out by the Russians in 1945. Once she showed me a photograph of her family and pointed to the ones that had managed to flee, and then to those who had perished.

    She lost both her husband and son to war. She has only one living relative, a 67 year-old niece living in another city.

    Frau B hasn’t been able to sleep since her husband died but told me she has a rare talent to only remember the happy times.. their museum visits, and the dances they went to. She lies awake all night thinking of these things. Then she gets up at 7, like everyone else.

    I went to see Frau B today. After weeks of grey the sun had finally come out. When I arrived she was sitting by the open window. She looked in pain. Still, she pulled herself up slowly and we went outside. Every step hurt her.

    Later I read to her from a novel about a crotchety 100 year-old Irish nun. She laughed several times at my theatrical delivery and asked me whether I could not pick up work as a narrator.

    Frau Bienkowski’s humility and determination not to complain have a deeply nourishing effect on me. And while getting old might be a bitch, many have the dignity and grace not to turn into one.

    1. You’re so fortunate to have that relationship — as is she.

      I don’t necessarily mean “bitch” as in a nasty person, but the more generic tough broad, which many women are fearful of being, of speaking their mind for fear of offending someone.

      Frau B sounds like a treasure. I hope (?) you have taken photos of her, and of the two of you and perhaps recorded her voice.

  15. I think this may become one of my favorite posts from you. What am I learning about growing older? That while the spirit is willing, the body is getting weaker and when I do tumble doing things I didn’t think twice about in my 20’s, recovery takes a LOT longer. The bitch level, surprisingly, hasn’t changed a bit!

  16. Hmm, I think I’m less of a bitch than I used to be, less defensive. I don’t mind being older, don’t mind the gray–could do without the sag, though. I’ve been thinking a lot about this stage of my life, lots of regrets, trying to sort through what can still be accomplished realistically, and attempting to make peace with what requires acceptance.

    *the thought of 9.5 hours of sleep makes me very, very envious. Guess that means I’m still a bitch, after all 😉

    1. I’ve missed your comments!

      The 9.5 hrs of sleep just happens. It’s variable. Some nights I do fine on 8. I’ve never been able to function well on fewer than 8 to 8.5 every night. Luckily I am able to nap almost anywhere anytime so can also make up for it if there’s a chance.

      It is painful to realize all the things we can’t now accomplish. I look at the next decade and think it’s pedal to the metal every minute, so I can, I pray LET UP after that. I will not have the same physical or emotional energy then, I can see. Nor do I find work the most compelling or interesting thing to do with my time.

      1. 🙂 Nice to be here. I’ve been writing writing writing.

        You’re right, it is painful to look at what can no longer be accomplished. Our priorities shift, but our capacity does too, requiring readjustments that can be hard to swallow without giving up.

        You are amazing, and I always look forward to the next installment of your journey. 🙂

  17. I’m only 23, and I’m seriously thinking about my future, I don’t have a fixed project and i hope i’ll do something. Tell me something about being in your thirty!I’m curios!

    1. I think by your 30s you should (ideally!) have a pretty clear idea what it is you hope to accomplish, both professionally and personally. I knew by 19, but I was probably unusual.

      There are a number of ways to try and narrow your focus…making lists of what you love to do, do really well and how those skills and interests can intersect into paid work. The best advice I can offer is to head out and do informational interviews…i.e. if you decide you want to run a plant nursery (for example), you call a few people up who do this for a living, and VERY politely ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time to learn more about that industry and what it takes to succeed in it. Most people are very generous and happy to help. Then you write a hand-written thank you note on paper and mail it the next day. You will learn a lot and it would help.

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