Tag Archives: Midlife crisis

Speak truth to power: Declare your age

I turned 60 on July 4th.

There, I said it. Can I still write a blog about middle age?

No less an august authority than The Economist recently illuminated my dilemma in an article that argued for a new “age category”: What do we call this vital period between midlife and old age? I feel less affinity with a retiree of 75 than I do with a 40-year-old just entering middle age. Yet I am past those years of raising children, long commutes, holding an all-consuming job that could support a family and wearing stress like a badge for my achievements.

I still work. I exercise daily. I am engaged in life. I have good friends. At 60, I am not young anymore, but I am not old yet, either. What do I call this stage of life? Am I a “tweener”?

“Branding an age category might sound like a frivolous exercise,” says The Economist article, published two days after I tumbled out of middle age. “But life stages are primarily social constructs, and history shows that their emergence can trigger deep changes in attitude.”60 is classic

That explains why I have decided to be open about my age, despite the risks to my employability. I want to debunk the idea that women lose value as we grow older, which is true only in a society that prizes us primarily for reproduction. In fact, we have more time and far more perspective once we have made it through the child-rearing years.

Gloria Steinem’s famous rejoinder to an intended compliment on her 40th birthday, “You don’t look 40,” seems apropos: “This is what 40 looks like.”

For me, this is how 60 looks and feels:

  • wrinkled skin;
  • more need for sleep;
  • a lean body that craves yoga but can no longer sustain a runner’s 9-minute mile;
  • a determination to volunteer because I have less time to change the world (but still enough ego to believe I can make a difference);
  • more patience and self-acceptance;
  • more gratitude and humility;
  • and, thank goodness, still much to learn.

A woman can find freedom when she refuses to lie about her age, when she finds the gumption to declare her truth and share her story.

Wisdom from Bruce Willis

“Most of us have an inner age,” wrote the late author and gay-rights activist Robert Levithan in his book The New 60 (2012).

When I was in my mid-40s, working at a publishing company in downtown Minneapolis, I posted a quote in my cubicle from a Vanity Fair profile of Bruce Willis: “I see the lines on my face, but I don’t feel the weight on my shoulders. In my heart, I’m still 27,” he said.

MotownI could say I still feel young, that I take pride in keeping fit. I preen a bit when friends tell me I don’t look 60 and feel relieved when some commentator declares 60 as the new 40. What is all that, however, but a denial of the inevitable and a denigration of the gifts that come with age?

Ricka Kohnstamm calls these the wisdom years. “Age is totally an asset,” says Kohnstamm, who will turn 61 in August. A former partner with her husband, Josh, in Kohnstamm Communications, she recently earned a master’s degree in integrative health and well-being coaching.

“I bring a whole different set of experiences,” explains Kohnstamm, who is about to launch her own business, ALIGN Whole Health Coaching. “Many of us at 60 have experienced a lot: disappointments, joys, dreams that may not happen, transitions, deaths and losses.”

Over coffee, I tell Kohnstamm that I did not expect to feel so much uncertainty at 60. Her laughter breaks my fearful, reflective mood. “I want uncertainty!” she declares. “We have to learn to ride that wave.”

The secret? Keep learning

Loss can teach us lessons. Here is what the loss of youth is teaching me.

Being 60 means becoming acutely aware of time — in work, in relationships, in how I spend my days. I no longer have time to waste, and I use it wisely.

Being 60 means becoming more deliberate. I love to work and expect to hold some sort of part-time job for decades, but I likely am entering the final stage of my career. That makes me more careful than I was in my 20s and 30s, when I changed jobs too quickly, loving the energy of the chase, always seeking the next challenge and the thrill of something new.

Being 60 means accepting other people’s choices even when I think they’re wrong (a sentence that my husband will love to read).

Being 60 means breaking free of the façade. I look at women wearing layers of makeup and hobbling around on high heels, and I want to ask why they invest in their own subjugation. I dress up when circumstances warrant and relish the attention it grants me, but I don’t fool myself into believing that those appreciative glances define my worth. “Elegance attracted me,” says the protagonist in Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time (2016). “I liked the way it hid pain.”

Being 60 means becoming willing to share that pain, to risk being real, and that requires the courageous work of being vulnerable. “The majority of people, if they’re awake, have pretty complicated lives,” says Kohnstamm. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to pretend we didn’t?”

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No Easy Out: Here’s How We’ve Stayed Married

My husband and I married in 1985. Ronald Reagan was president, Intel introduced a 32-bit microcomputer chip that year, and Amadeus won the Oscar for “Best Picture.”

Thirty years later, “we are still married,” to borrow the title of one of Garrison Keillor’s books. Our lives are intertwined physically and financially. We are parents and partners and, on the good days, good friends.Marriage 1

We are family, and — like a growing proportion of college-educated couples in which women are financial and decision-making equals — we have chosen, despite the odds, to remain married.

I don’t believe in divorce once children are part of the equation. And so, as a belated anniversary gift to David, and a reminder to those bored and frustrated marrieds who see uncoupling as inevitable or an easy out, I’ve articulated three reasons why.

Cherish your history

We met in a Shakespeare class at the University of Minnesota taught by the gifted Toni McNaron, then a newly sober and recently “out” tenured professor who challenged us to see the Bard through a contemporary lens.

David loves to tell the story of eyeing me from across the room but thinking I was too young to date. I remember being drawn to him in a way that was inexplicable till our first son, Sam, was born in July 1990.

Together, we have invested in property, made homes, made friends, made joint decisions on causes and organizations to support. We both come from small-town, middle-class families with professionally employed, well-known fathers. Born into privilege, we take pride in living frugally.

David and I sometimes muse that we were brought together for the divine purpose of creating our sons. Every mother may believe that. I know it to be true. Sam and Nate are strong, intellectually curious and kind-hearted young men — and our greatest achievement has been raising them well.

Yes, we’ve stayed together for the kids. That is the legacy and lesson of my parents’ divorce, which they announced the day I turned 14.

“Parenting has been a tough haul, but we’ve worked hard at being a team and have started to reconnect on date nights,” says a neighbor, 52, who has been married 20 years. “We both come from divorced families, and that has left a lasting impression on both of us, so we are cognizant of the reason we are together — not just for each other, but for our whole family unit.”

Work through anger

I remember the door-slamming, plate-throwing fights of our younger, more passionate years with detached amusement. Who has time for that now?Wedding_2

In our 30 years together David and I have buried (or scattered) one parent, three siblings, two dogs and even some friends. Time speeds up with each passing decade. Experience has shown me how little we control what twists and turns our lives will take, or how our sense of security may be uprooted.

A boss once told me she feared losing her “edge” as she got into her 50s. Not so for me. I like the softness and compassion that have come with age.

Invariably, when either David or I gets moody or short-tempered, we shift gears, forgive quickly and move on. We don’t have time for sharp words or prolonged resentments, the drama that once fueled what we took for romance.

Laughter and companionship are key in long-term marriage. “We talk, always,” says a friend who has been married 15 years. “We’re honest. We laugh a lot. We take care of each other, not because we have to — but because we want to.”

Love the one you’re with

Stephen Stills’ paean to infidelity has a different meaning to me after three decades of marriage.

David and I are under no illusions that we were “made for each other.” In fact, our temperaments and interests often diverge. His relaxed approach to agendas and timelines drives me crazy. My quick-paced brainstorming and tendency to think aloud set him on edge. He smokes and loves sugar. I eat consciously and exercise daily.

Each of us has friends of the opposite sex and could be happy with someone else — or contented on our own. We’re both readers and contemplative types at heart. But we found each other, and that’s the clay we shape and mold.

Our differences coalesced into a surprisingly congruous approach to raising our sons. Aside from religion — I don’t think we exposed them to enough of it; David went on too many forced marches to Mass ever to inflict mandatory church-going on his kids — we have few disagreements about values in our household.

Growing up together helps. “John and I have a long history together,” says a friend and former coworker who has been married for 23 years. “We met at age 18 and got married at 24. Our life histories are intertwined.”

When I told my husband I was writing a blog post on how long-term marriages endure, he objected. “You didn’t ask me!” he cried.

So, what’s kept us together? His response touched and surprised me, even after 30 years: “Love.”