Yesterday I was trying to write how women, as they age, start to feel invisible in the world around them — to potential employers and potential lovers. Several of the pieces I read gave defiant advice to “Embrace your age”, “Stop coloring your gray!” and, best of all, “Fix your mindset and you won’t feel invisible.”
Look, I’m only 58. I’m not playing out on the last holes of the back nine yet. But I have noticed that I don’t get flirted with as often as I used to. A patient, praising my compassion when he was nervous, likened me to Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus!!! “You know, all jolly and warm.” And those handsome movers and shakers, those young power players? They don’t give me a second glance anymore.
The truth is that I was raised in an era where beauty was praised, sought after and — if we’re honest — used to our advantage when necessary. Any woman in sales has learned how to use the coy smile, and feminism be damned. Even science tells us that physically attractive people are more likely to be perceived as healthy, trustworthy and happy by onlookers.
I’m not pretty anymore.
I mean, my photo won’t serve as pest control, but the lines around my mouth, my Deputy Dog jowls, and that crepey stuff on my neck cannot be denied. And truly, I’m honestly not that worried about it (or I would at least have been wearing makeup when that picture was taken), but it is a little jarring — a little disorienting. After traveling through life as a young, vibrant and not-mud-fence woman, it’s weird to realize that I have to learn a whole new style of communication.
Especially with men, I’m sorry to confess, I have taken the easy way out in the past, letting them focus on my looks and holding my intelligence and my capabilities closer to the vest. I know that that’s crap, I know. It’s as wrong as it was for people to assume that, because I was cute and sassy, that I must be vapid and dumb as well. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I played that system, that game, with the only weapons I understood myself to have.
On the flip side, my relationships have become more authentic.
Of course they have, because layers of the cosmetics of expectations have been scrubbed away . With women, I can form deep connections free of the internalized misogyny that made me consider other women to be rivals. We support each other, encourage each other and accept each other in the here and now, without embellishments.
Even with men, I am able now to lead with my confidence, my experience, and my knowledge. I am able to listen better, and to consider the other person’s thoughts, because I am seeing him as a person come to this place in this time by way of his own life story. He is not a caricature anymore — a foil against which to practice my skills. We can co-create solutions. And if we disagree, I have no aversion to telling him so, with bullet points about why.
Still, I miss feeling like the future is infinite in front of me.
When a blockage was found in one of my coronary arteries, and was replaced by a drug-eluding stent, my entire perspective shifted and I understood myself to possibly be closer, at 56, to the end of my life than I was to the beginning. What a burlap bag full of bulldogs that can be to deal with.
I’ve started to get far more picky with the way I spend my time. While I can get sucked into a good Facebook fight with the best of them, I get bored easily, and wonder how many of my precious grains of sand in the hourglass I have wasted on them. I have less patience for those people who tell me, “Have patience.” This is, after all, my life. Even if I believed in reincarnation (and I’m not sure yet about that), I know I won’t come back as me, picking up exactly where I left off. I’ll have to waste as much time as I did in this lifetime banging my head against walls trying to figure things out.
If you want to know the truth, I’m pretty good with it all.
If there’s one thing I have become used to in almost sixty years, it’s the idea that everything changes. Wonderful days will give way to others that are not as wonderful, and even the most horrible days will soften and stretch out to be ever so slightly less painful, given enough time. So I don’t bemoan — much — my evolution from fresh faced teenager with the metabolism of a drag racer, to a ripe and fertile wife and mother, to the one left standing as those little birds took wing.
But I revisit those times in my mind sometimes, fondly, and remember what it was like when my skin was smoother, my hair shinier, and my ability to read things close at hand less arduous.
And then I slowly open my hand, and like petals in the wind, I let them drift away.
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