Saturday, 30 June 2012

The thing about getting older


The thing about getting older is that it's a surprise.

When I was in my teens the idea of growing old hardly impacted on my thoughts and anyone over the age of 30 seemed old and people over 40 were positively ancient.

In my 20s I felt invincible, like my story was only just beginning and life held so much promise. Men, careers, babies, travel...all waiting to be had.

In my 30s I started to feel a sense of panic. On my thirtieth birthday I cried all day: I was in a a bad relationship and my biological clock was ticking. I knew things had to change if I was going to have those longed for children, so the old relationship ended and a new one began.

By my 40s I had my much wanted children, but otherwise life was messy. By 42 I was divorced and a single parent.

Now I'm in my 50s and I can't believe it. How the hell did that happen? I'm older than the Prime Minister for crissakes! My brain knows I'm 51 but when I try to type my age my fingers automatically punch out 41 before having to correct it.

The thing is, in my head I'm still 27. I still have the same slightly warped sense of humour, the same sense of the ridiculous I had then. Unfortunately I also have middle-aged spread and a dodgy back.

I've become accustomed to seeing a strange, baggy face in the mirror that doesn't seem to belong to me but follows me everywhere. Just last week I saw two old school friends in the supermarket and was shocked at how old they looked. Then, with a jolt, I caught sight of my own reflection in the shop window.

I'm now the oldest person in my workplace which slightly freaked me out when I realised. How can I be the oldest? And, more worrying, how can I be old enough to be the mother of some of my colleagues?

When you begin a sentence with the words "Who remembers that TV show/song/news story about..." and you're met with blank stares you know you're getting on a bit. And yet, and yet....I don't feel old but things keep happening that seem to slap me in the face with the ugly truth.

I went to a colleagues 80s fancy-dress party recently but I didn't recognise the neon, netted tutu skirts worn by several of the (younger) women as being 80s style. Where were the power-suits, the big earrings and even bigger hair? When I was asked what it was really like in the 80s, I realised I was the only person there who was actually an adult in that decade.

I have no idea what my 50s will bring but I'm hoping for some adventure and some much needed excitement from my usual staid existence. But that would mean actively doing something about it and, well, there are so many distractions. Or should that be 'procrastinations'?

In the last few years I've lost both my parents and, when my one remaining, elderly uncle passes on, I'll then be at the top of my family's mortality ladder, and that's a terrifying thought.

The other thing about getting older is the sudden sense of panic. I have so many things I want for the rest of my life, but have no idea how to achieve them anymore.

One of the questions I ask myself all the time is will I ever find love again? It's a huge sadness that my marriage didn't work out, and also that even if I were to marry again I'm unlikely to ever celebrate a silver wedding anniversary. It's a strange thing to feel sad about things that may lie ahead, or not as the case may be.

So, what have I learned so far in my 50+ years? Well, I know that life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes; that dogs are much easier to get along with than men; there are no quick ways to lose weight ; people don't fundamentally change; if you're old enough to have worn the fashion the first time around you shouldn't wear it the second time; men have a tendency to say they are taller than they actually are; and regrets are a waste of energy. That's it pretty much, everything is still a complete mystery to me.