Conceptually, I have always liked middle age. It’s a time of life not given to modifiers like “feckless” (youth) or “decrepit” (old age). While the term “mid-life crisis” gets bandied about, it’s an idea that at least sounds somewhat entertaining.
But what exactly is middle age? There seems to be little agreement on something so basic as its average age of onset.
On my 38 th birthday, I called my mom and asked her if she thought I was middle aged. Mom said, “Well that depends, how long do you expect to live?” Thanks, Pragmatic Mom.
People seem to confuse middle age with mid-point, in which case 38 would be, statistically, a bit of a bummer. If you divided your lifespan into three equal sections, young, middle and old, 28 would mark the onset of the cardigan years. However, the relatively low number of 28 year olds who enjoy naps, good lumbar support and comfortable shoes doesn’t support this idea.
From what I’ve seen, middle-age appears to kick in at about 35. At 35, our dreams of ever being a wonder kid are long dashed, we begin to confront our personal limitations and start to accept who we are. Of course, the joy that comes with accepting who we are is still a number of years off. A transitory time in one’s life, middle age is like adolescence, but with better skin, better sex and curfews that are sensibly self-imposed. If in our teens we’re busy trying on personas suited to adulthood, in middle age we’re stripping them away in search of a more authentic self.
The onset of middle age is when our friends suddenly take up hobbies we couldn’t have imagined them having even a few years earlier. Thus, we end up trailing our pals mushrooming or becoming the unfortunate recipients of questionable handicrafts. Moreover, while we may think that a hand-felted tea cozy designed to resemble the Tantalus Range is quite hideous, we secretly love that it keeps our herbal tea warm. We don’t really like herbal tea any more than we did in our 20s, but a cup of post-dinner Joe will jolt us over to the other side of midnight — something usually reserved for special occasions.
While we still have our vices, we know they make us look neither edgy nor hip. We keep our marijuana in Tupperware containers. We wonder what’s worse — late night hot-boxing in the ensuite when the in-laws are visiting or the fact that we have actually purchased Tupperware? On the upside, at least its something we remember buying. Because whether it’s a function of brains overstuffed with effluvia or a warning of things to come, our memories are not as sharp as they once were.
At work, people in their 20s slightly fear us, people in their 30s are sizing up our jobs and people in their 50s are glancing back at us with suspicion. What we fail to notice is that people in their 60s are laughing at us for having drank the Kool-aid. “Look at them! Ha! They still believe in Freedom 55! Naïve little drones!”
In addition, middle age also brings with it a plethora of physical changes. The aches associated with an aging infrastructure that’s been subjected to decades of abuse are one thing, nature’s nifty little jokes are quite another. And unlike the last time we went through big changes, we don’t have our mothers’ bathtub-side chats or sex-segregated viewings of educational films to explain what’s happening.
When I think about perimenopause (the fun-filled years leading up to actual menopause) my brain transposes the term into a character named Perry Menopause, who, oddly enough resembles Raymond Burr, circa Ironside . And I think, “Gee, wouldn’t that be neat?”
A woman wondering if she was embarking on reverse puberty could call a special number and Perry Menopause would zip over. He’d put a knowing hand on her shoulder and say, “Remember, just because you’re in the throws of ovarian failure, doesn’t make you a failure.” He’d offer up some pamphlets, a couple of bottles of herbal supplements, a selection of short works by Maya Angelou, a coupon for a mammogram, a box of Rogers’ Chocolates and wheel away.
His business partner would be Dr. Quinn: Urologist Woman, whose work providing onsite rectal exams would eradicate prostate cancer in entire communities. She’d take the rubber glove portion of the experience as an opportunity to warn men against pitfalls such as puffy comb-overs, Capri pants and 28-year-old trophy wives.
As their practice grew, they would hire others to help with the metaphysical and psychological aspects of aging. Information would flow and we’d all be empowered, finally flipping our collective middle-aged, middle finger at industries built on the preservation of eternal youth. Until then, pass the Tupperware.