(Not) acting my agePosted: August 31, 2011
When I was a kid, being told to act my age was insulting. Now it would be cause for confusion. While I know when I was born and can do the math, I have no idea how I’m supposed to act now if I’m acting my age.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone I knew from high school. She was talking about the aches and pains that apparently come along around the half century point. It’s a disturbingly popular topic among my contemporaries. I quite honestly noted that if my legs hurt, it’s because I spent the day in shoes I picked for their cuteness, not their comfort—something that happens more often than not. If my head hurts, it’s either going to rain or I’ve eaten too much chocolate. Occasional numbness in my fingers can be attributed to marathon solitaire sessions on my iPod. Menopause has been, compared to the dire warnings I received, a cakewalk, the worst of it being that in the early stages, I felt 17 again. Anyone who knew me at that age would probably agree the world could have happily been spared a repeat of that roller coaster ride. Thanks to expensive face creams used religiously for decades and pretty good genes, I sometimes feel I’m playing hide and seek with Father Time and may be a couple of rounds in the lead. For now.
From conversations I’ve had with women my chronological age, I’ve learned that by being gay, by not getting married at the usual age, and not having children or grandchildren, my life hasn’t had the normal milestones that mark one’s aging. The signposts that measure a life simply don’t apply. Procreating pushes you up a level in life’s org chart. I’m still exactly where I started. But by not having children, outside of the basics like showing up for work and paying my share of the bills, there’s been no real need for me to become a grown-up.
For the record, I do prefer the breezy “child free” to “childless,” the latter implying something’s gone missing. I never expected to be someone’s mother. I admit to thinking about having a child in my early 30s. But being a monogamously-coupled up lesbian who had absolutely no intention of initiating the miracle of life in the usual fashion, the messy complications of getting pregnant were overwhelming. Had I truly been mother material, I would have found a way. Since I didn’t, clearly I wasn’t.
I’ve been called narcissistic, selfish, self-centered—and lucky, usually by the chronically honest or those nearing the ends of their ropes. But it’s not merely the fact that I didn’t have children that’s responsible for my age confusion. It’s the avoidance of the aspects of parenthood that bring on the stress that leads to aging. Since I was smart enough to pick a fully functioning adult as a partner, for the most part, my time, money, energy and attitude are my own. I don’t have to be a role model for anyone. Which means I can lie, drink, gamble and wear way too much make-up. (I don’t. But I could if I wanted to). I don’t have to make up silly and unsatisfying sounds-almost-like-curse-words; I can use the real ones. I can cook foods with absolutely no nutritional value or eat dessert first. And if I decide not to cook, clean or do my laundry, I’m the only one who suffers. I have no fear of parent-teacher interviews, strangers with candy or text messages in the middle of the night. I don’t need to make or enforce rules, which is comforting. I’m not good with authorities figures, so I certainly don’t want to be one. If I wanted to, I could declare that in our house, there’s no salad until you finish your cheesecake. I don’t have to drive anyone to any kind of practice at strange hours of the morning and the only kid I had to pay to put through school was me.
In short, I found that when no one needs you to be the adult, it’s quite possible to put off aging indefinitely. And I’ll take a little confusion about how to act my age over complaining about getting older any day.