Midlife is a funny time of life, musings on aging from Iceland

Image description: View from inside the car (brrr!). Blue sky, white clouds, snow covered mountains, and yellow beach in Iceland. On the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Image description: View from inside the car (brrr!). Blue sky, white clouds, snow covered mountains, and yellow beach in Iceland. On the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Cate and I were chatting the other day about the weirdness of 52. It’s a strange time of life. Consider that person who’s looking at you and talking to you and being really nice. Do they think you’re hot or are they smiling at you because you remind them of their mom? It’s often not clear.

You’re not old enough to be out of the flirting game altogether. (When does that occur anyway? Never, I hope.) But you’re really not sure when you’re included.

Mother and potential object of interest. Those aren’t the only roles for women of course but still those possibilities do seem to colour our interactions with people.

I thought about it the other day when a man offered me a seat on the subway. Really? Should I be charmed? Offended? Amused? I wasn’t sure.

My mind went through all the possibilities. Chivalry? Flirtation? Or plain old deference for the elderly? I don’t think I look wobbly on the subway. But I took the seat, smiled, and thanked him. I’m super nice and polite that way. I joked the other day that I always say “please” when asking Google to find me things. I have to work to stop myself saying thank you.

Back to aging: I’ve been thinking lately about all the lies we tell about aging. According to this chart here, female attractiveness to men peaks at 23.

Women are most attractive to men at about 23. And men’s attractiveness to women seems to get better with age.

We sometimes act as if that’s a number that really matters. But why? Lots of us aren’t that interested in what men think about the way we look. I’m not interested in what strangers have to say about me generally. It’s not a thing that ranks high on my list of things to care about. And I suspect women, even women interested in men, care less about what men in general think, as we get older.

After all, that same chart tells us that life satisfaction peaks at 69, liking one’s body which peaks at 74, and well-being peaks at 82. Things get better, not worse, after 50. See Greetings from the happiness trough.

Why do we make getting older out to be such a bad thing if, from the point of view of subjective well-being, things just get better? Rebecca’s rant which I included in my post about menopause picked up on this same theme. There’s this narrative of misery about women’s lives that we all kind of learn along the way.

Aging is supposed to be horrible. Fading beauty, etc. Even those of us who don’t feel the sting of losing attractiveness in the eyes of random male strangers aren’t off the hook because we’re expected to feel bad. But some of us don’t feel bad at all.

Why might you not care?

A. You never had it in the first place. You’re sufficiently outside mainstream beauty norms that being attractive to generic men isn’t a thing for you. In that case, aging can feel liberating. Now no one your age has it. Finally.

B. You don’t much care what men think. They’re not your thing.

C. You care what some specific male persons think but not generic men on the street.

D. The attention of men has been painful rather than pleasurable on balance (think cat calling and street harassment) and you’re happy to have less of it.

There are many reasons not to care.

All of our lives we’ve been told that aging sucks. But most women I know who are older than me say things are pretty terrific. I keep telling friends in their 30 and 40s that the 50s are so far just fine.

I spent this past week at a conference on Feminist Utopias, in Iceland. While there I got to spend time with a couple of my favourite feminist philosophers, both in their 70s. They’re travelling, doing terrific work in feminist philosophy, and leading lives that seem pretty happy.

Friday night I saw a concert in the series “Music for Lesbians.” It was organized and  headlined by Carol Pope. She’s 70 and has a terrific energetic stage presence.

Maybe it’s time we stop telling the sad story about aging and started listening and learning.

Image description: Here’s me opining about feminist epistemology and open access publishing. My arms are widespread, I’m wearing a long grey “introvert” hoodie, I’m wearing sunglasses and standing on a wooden platform in Iceland. Location: Gullfloss Waterfall.

Image description: Sunset at Skálholt. This is the view from our conference bedroom window. The grounds are yellow. The sky is blue. And the clouds are majestic. There are two buildings, on the left a white historic church and on the right a newer conference structure.

Image description: Sunset at Skálholt. This is the view from our conference bedroom window. The grounds are yellow. The sky is blue. And the clouds are majestic. There are two buildings, on the left a white historic church and on the right a newer conference structure. You can read about Skaholt, the site of our conference, here: http://skalholt.is/3905-2/?lang=en

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

8 thoughts on “Midlife is a funny time of life, musings on aging from Iceland

  1. fieldpoppy says:

    Love this, and the images. The icelandscape fits the tone — the things that become clearer in the starkness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thrace says:

    Love this post (Iceland! Fit feminists! Feminist Utopia!), especially the “introvert hoody” caption! Does it identify you to other introverts, or provide special cloaking powers? 🙂

    (Good questions raised here. I’m not quite in the “don’t care” category, yet, but figuring things out, and glad to see others further along on that path!)

    Like

  3. I’m 55. Having been married twice, I’ve pretty much given up on relationships (I don’t think I’m good at them), but I’m not above a little flirting. Younger guys at the gym sometimes give me fist bumps or compliments on my workouts because I do hard stuff (KB sport). I’m enjoying this time of life because the pressure’s off–I’m not looking for a partner, my only child has grown up and moved out, and I have the freedom now to do my own thing. I think it’s the Celts that divide a woman’s life into three stages: maiden, mother, crone. I’ve embraced cronehood and I’m having fun being a wicked, badass, older woman. **cackle**

    Liked by 2 people

  4. bone&silver says:

    One of my ‘problems’ when talking to someone new (male or female, seeing as I find both attractive) is that I feel only 30 on the inside… so I’m usually flirting a little 🙂

    I hate to admit it, but I do find wearing my hair naturally silver salt n pepper DEFINITELY stops men looking at me, even though I do a lot of Pilates and dance, so could probably run rings around them.

    I am enjoying ‘ageing’… and aren’t we all trying to redefine that for ourselves and our generation? I certainly feel more free and empowered than I ever did in my twenties or thirties 🙂

    Like

  5. ainsobriety says:

    At 45 I almost never consider men checking me out. I have found some comfort in my own skin and I like it. I dress how I like. I wear a little makeup. I do my hair because it feels good.
    I am still attractive. Maybe men are looking at me…But not thinking about it is actually liberating.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jean says:

    I care what my partner thinks of me. As for other men, I don’t care and it’s immensely liberating. I’m not attractive to other guys, so what? Otherwise I just waste my time figuring out if they are married /attached or not. Why bother? I have a partner already.

    As long –as they respect me as a person and for my intelligence.

    I’ve never been good at flirting. It actually doesn’t come to me naturally.

    Like

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