Accepting conditions of “a certain age”

Like me, two of my friends have husbands who turned 50 this year. Since we’re all a few years younger than our mates, we’ve had room to joke about it. But we agree, within the current social climate it’s easier for men than for women to reach “a certain age,” whatever that means.

Why? Because except for the men, themselves, nobody really cares about men getting older. When’s the last time you were standing in line at a supermarket and (barring the ongoing, freakish exception of Michael Jackson) saw tabloid photos detailing male plastic surgery failures?

Unless an ordinary guy makes a stereotypically stupid move, like purchasing a silly sports car, sporting a ridiculous rug, or squiring around a much younger bimbo, nobody makes note of or conversation about his aging process.
Unlike women, men don’t have to fret over whether to get a shorter, less youthful-looking haircut, if they should start wearing more sensible shoes, or when to abandon leg shaving for chin shaving. They were already doing those things. Life declines in slow motion for men until their prostates go kaput, much further down the road.

For men, aging has some benefits. My husband claims being middle-aged, overweight and graying gives him a certain benign, do-know-harm charm that allows him to move unnoticed through the world. He can safely stop and help a leggy young distressed damsel change a flat tire without overt suspicion. I reassure he’s still “dangerous” to me, and he seems to like that.

We’d gone out one evening and some twenty-somethings walked self-importantly by us. “We’re invisible to them,” he commented. To prove it, he asked them for the time. They continued their conversation, as though we didn’t exist. We’ve found many younger people acknowledge people of a certain age only when they are paid to wait on them, but even then only when their supervisor is watching. 

I shared with my husband my theory that men’s most injurious public speed bump between virility and eternity is the point when people stop asking them to help them move heavy objects, which doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. A short time later, just after turning 50, he single-handedly moved an old, full-sized refrigerator down our back stairs. Coincidence?

Recalling how hard the two of us had struggled to lug it from two rooms away to the top of the stairs, I chided him for not asking my help. “You weren’t home,” he muttered. Except I had been. I definitely heard the crashedy-bang of its descent along with the thud of him landing squarely in middle age. But the rules of our marriage contract state I keep my mouth shut as I administer a deep muscle rub and painkillers.

He needs to heal in time to move my red, midlife crisis piano from my work office.  I’ve got plans for it elsewhere. What can I say? I was 40, going through a divorce, and in need of a diversion. We met at the right time and for the right price at a used store. Tuned to my needs, the piano made me happy in ways no man could: It’s never once strayed.

I hope to age as gracefully as my grandma Smith. She was 68 when I was born and the poster child for graceful aging. Her secret? Not one for vanity, losing her non-looks didn’t bother her. Physically, she was a self-described “tumble turd,” who’d been tripping her whole life, so she literally knew how to roll with falling in her later years. And she didn’t drive, so there were no car keys to take away.

Contrast that to my grandma Kate. One day in her 80s, Grandma was in the bathroom when my mom tried to phone her. She didn’t answer. Then Mom’s sister called while Grandma was in the basement. Again, no answer. The sisters compared notes and one of them called a third time, again missing Grandma, who was at the mailbox. Presuming harm, they next called the police.

“Didn’t know it was a crime to get older,” Grandma quipped at her visit from an officer. I intend to approach aging with similar lightheartedness. It shouldn’t be heavy lifting.


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