I was at a dinner party a few months ago in Chelsea, my neighborhood in New York. The hosts were a late-30s couple — very kind, interesting, beautiful people. The type of New Yorkers who appear to live effortlessly chic lives and never seem to stress about appointments or overdraft fees. Did I mention that everyone at dinner was at least 15 years younger than me?
I don't drink, but I stayed on board until about midnight, by which time the other six or seven people had burned through many bottles of wine, and a few joints, too. There’s a point in every dinner party when the drinkers enter a different universe than the people who don’t drink, and this had happened a few minutes before. I no longer had any interest in trying to decipher their grand pronouncements and indecipherable punch lines. Plus, I knew I’d wake up super early in the morning since that goes part in parcel with … getting older.
“I’m going to head out now,” I said to the host and whoever else was listening (no one — as I’ve said, they were smashed).
“What? Stop being an old man,” the host slurred at me. “Stay.”
I let the remark pass. More than that, I accepted it, knowing that to someone in their 30s, someone like me, in his mid 50s, could be considered old. I didn’t make much of it. I knew I was youthful. I understood Twitter. I was pretty fit. A woman at the party had been super flirty with me. I still had it.
The next day, my friend emailed me a hangover apology filled with regret for his intemperate remark about my age. Hmm. I hadn’t thought about it since walking out the door and his apology hit me like a ton of bricks: I am old. In his mind, that was something to pity and to apologize for. He hated the concept.
I wrote back saying, “No worries — I’m comfortable with who I am.”
But was I? I looked in the mirror. A bit jowly. White hair (except for dark streaks in the back that I see when my barber holds up a mirror for a rearview. Great to know that from behind I might look, say, 51 instead of 55.). Skin like a paper pink flamingo. Incipient balance issues. Yes, I was old. But how old? At least my eyes still sparkled.
Yesterday, I came across a Facebook photo of a woman I’d been in love with 35 years ago, at college. She was hot and always had a lot of hash. She had what today I would see as intimacy issues — but back then, I saw her distance as mysterious and alluring. I haven’t seen her in decades and I recoiled at the sight of her in this photo. She looked like an older woman. Like my mother. Damn, I say to myself. If she looks that old, then I must look that old, too!
I am having trouble with that.
The much-vaunted maturity that supposedly comes with age just isn’t working for me. I’m fighting the oxidation of my body the best I can. I try everything, short of surgery, including spinach smoothies (I call it "green food") instead of eggs and bacon, and using hair product to tame my Brillo Pad, which once was a pelt of real beauty. I even drink cumin and pomegranate seed tea, because I’ve been told it’s good for me. But all of that, of course, only makes the slightest dent in aging.
In the long run, only one tool is going to work: acceptance. I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet. Perhaps my next birthday (56) will push me over the edge into a peaceful resignation to the cycle of life. We’re born, we have fun and then, at about age 21, our bodies quit growing and we spend the next however many years in slow, terminal decline. Well, maybe I could put that a little less bluntly. But why?
Aging is not a threat. It’s a promise to those who are lucky enough to breathe for another year. And the sooner I can accept that, the easier it will be to just get on with the considerable joys of being alive.