Happy birthday to me, feliz cumpeanos a mi! I love the birthday greetings I have gotten on Facebook today. But I have noticed a trend: some of the men have wished me happy twenty five, happy thirty nine… wink, wink. Do they think this is a compliment? Although I have been tempted at times to lie about my age on dating sites, I remain honest about the years I have been blessed with, forty nine as of today.
And although it’s nice to hear that I don’t look my age, I don’t live for these accolades. I have known people who do. I would loathe hearing someone tell an old friend of mine that he didn’t look his fifty – plus years, because he would brag about it for hours. He would often jokingly claim he was in his early forties, even thirties. Gently, I reminded him about his father, who died young, and a treasured brother who passed away before the age of forty.
“Celebrate the years you have been gifted with! Not everyone is so lucky!’ I’d tell him. But he liked being taken for younger; he kept up his denial. He just didn’t get it.
It’s a precarious thing, trying to balance the cultural celebration of youth in the United States (especially) with the inevitable march of time. Age is not valued in our culture. We try to look younger, to deny the aging process. We try to build that six pack, dye the grey hair, smear on the wrinkle cream, all to scream in the face of impending doom, “I’m not done being young!” I must admit I am guilty of some of these facades myself.
But what I have come to realize is that it doesn’t really matter. We age anyway. It’s nice in some ways and it sucks in others. We get to keep growing and learning and we take up the perspective of someone who knows the value of the gift of time. We lose friends to cancer, to accidents, to medical malfunction, to things we just can’t understand. They’re here then they’re gone. And we remain. Our knees creak when we get up from the yoga mat. We want to go to bed by eight some nights; other nights we’re still cranking at two AM. Sometimes we can’t sleep. Sometimes we can, but we have to wake up twice to pee. Lost loved ones visit our dreams. We do the things we have always wanted to do because we might not get a tomorrow.
It’s okay to want to look good and to be fit. But these desires are better served when they come from a commitment to maintaining a strong healthy body, not for superficial reasons like making other people think we are still “young.” Aging is humbling. I used to flirt with twenty-something men just for fun, now I skip the flirting and just try to have a real conversation. And since I have realized I am an old man magnet (for some reason that I don’t understand!) I treat them with compassion. We’re all human, and we’re all beautiful. If you’re spending all your time in front of the mirror convincing yourself that you look pretty good for your age, you are missing time getting out there and living.
It’s the connections we make with each other that make life worth living, not the surface impression people get. Who cares? As an ex-stripper, it’s taken me a very long time not to want to walk into a room and turn all the men’s heads. I’ve let it go. Sometimes they still turn, and sometimes they don’t, and who cares? As I learned the hard way, if someone is relating to you on only the physical level, they aren’t really having a relationship with you – who you are as a person, what’s in your heart and soul.
Might as well just get out of the way and let them figure it out, if ever, much later. Anyway, it’s not a good idea to stand between them and the mirror.