Sunday, November 7, 2010

10 Cool Things No One Tells You About Getting Older

by: Stephanie Dolgoff

I’ve got two little kids, so the words "When you’re older" come flying out of my mouth several times a day. It’s one of those "mom phrases" that used to frustrate the hell out of me when my own mother used it, so I swore that I never would. And yet here I am doing it: "You can get your ears pierced when you’re older." "When you’re older, you can stay up until 10." "You’ll understand why mommy and daddy scream, ‘Unless you’re bleeding, you need to go away!’ through the locked bedroom door — WHEN YOU’RE OLDER!!"

Used in this particular context, this phrase often refers to something cool that your children are not mature enough to have, experience or understand. And while there are some crap things about aging — spend a half hour in any retirement community, and you’ll get it before the mah jong tiles have been put away — I wrote a whole book about the things that are unexpectedly fantastic about moving into midlife. To that end, here are 10 of the good things about getting older that you may not know — or may not have thought to appreciate.

 You don’t care as much. I don’t mean about the environment or your children or anything like that. I just mean: So what if someone disagrees with your thoughts on Obama’s economic policy, or doesn’t like you or thinks you’re not worthy of an invitation to the "in" mom group? You know what you’re all about and have people who love you, so external reckonings sting less.

 You don’t need to constantly demonstrate how little you care. I’m thinking here of the girl who is so desperate to show her parents that she rejects their boring, split-level suburban values that she pierces her nipples and finds a way to let her dad know, just so she can scream that she DOESN’T CARE what he thinks. Which she obviously does. This attitude sometimes continues into adult life. Now, you can quietly not care. And no one cares.

You know it’s not about you. In my 20s, I used to spend half a day wondering if something I said offended, and if I should call to apologize. Apologizing a few times only served to call attention to the potentially offensive comment I didn’t mean, which the person hadn’t noticed in the first place. Time has proved that people are too benignly self-involved, generally speaking, to pay much attention to me at all, or to give more than a moment’s thought to something I said. And if I did offend, that person will let me know. The sense that the world revolves around you is part of the heady joy of youth — but it’s also a big pain in the ass.

 You like your body better. I realize not everyone feels this way (hence the billion-dollar body reconstruction business). But most of the women I’ve spoken to have a greater appreciation for their body — blobby bits and all — as they get older. It’s not an inverse relationship (i.e., the further you get from the ideal, the more you like your body). But even if you wish that pooch were less pronounced or those upper arms were less, well, pendulous, you’re much calmer about the whole business.

 You do better work. I used to work for the people-pleasing pat on the head and the promotion. Now what I get out of work (aside from a way to pay for my vast collection of comfortable shoes) is a sense that I’m good at what I do. It’s a much better motivator. Plus I get to go home earlier.

Your friendships are easier and more satisfying. Drama-laced, problematic friendships — who has the time? Not you, and not the friends you’d be having them with. It seems like women at this age rarely ask more from their friends as they can reasonably provide. And if they need more, they have many friends willing to chip in to the support pool.

 Your romantic relationships are calmer, too. The older you get, the more "you" you become — which means that your sense of self is less at risk of being eroded by some of the emotional minefields couples must tiptoe through. I remember feeling I would die without a particular person, and other times tried to be what it seemed that he wanted. I am incapable of that at this point, which means I’m more equipped to love from a position of strength. At this age, you know what you can and cannot do to accommodate another person, and you know what you can reasonably expect. I’m not saying love is easy, ever. But if things don’t work, you’re never alone, because you’re in your own good company.

 If it annoys you, you generally don’t have to do it. Other than earning a living and caring for offspring and the odd bar mitzvah, there are very few of those "shoulds" — like going to law school or giving some guy a romantic try because he looks good on paper — that you really have to do. Getting older is about getting to live closer to your own truth. I wouldn’t trade that freedom for a trip back to the era that was supposedly "the time of my life." Being a young woman was incredible in its way. But so is being here and now.