So, This is 50.
So this is 50. It doesn’t feel like 50. It doesn’t feel like halfway to one hundred and it certainly doesn’t feel like I’m statistically well over halfway done. 50 doesn’t feel like anything special or semi-centennial. I didn’t get a notice in the mail that I needed a 50-year oil check or special service. And I certainly didn’t think I’d be 50 and feel like I’ve not accomplished enough or done enough or been to all the places I wanted to have gone and done and accomplished by now.
I guess I don’t really know what 50 should feel like. I think I thought it should feel generally older. I think when I was younger, like last week, I thought that 50 would feel monumental and revelatory and slightly creaky and dignified. I think I thought a lot about what 50 seemed like to me when other people wore it, when I looked at it through younger eyes.
My father never got to be 50, so I don’t know what that looked like. By the time my mother was 50, she was a widow with three almost adult kids and a soon to be second husband. By the time my grandmother was 50 she had survived the death of both of her parents, life as an orphan, a world war, and emigration first to Israel and then to the United States. By 50, she had raised two beautiful daughters, run her husband’s business, seen the birth of her first granddaughter and had endured and taken in her stride more of life’s hardships and joys than most of us will ever know. I didn’t know her then. I wasn’t born yet. But I’ve seen pictures of what she looked like at 50. 50, on the face of my grandmother who had lived a dozen lives by then, looked wrinkled and worn through and kind and soft and woven with a thousand stories never told. 50 looked old.
50 doesn’t look old anymore. I look around at friends close to either side of the line and none of them look like what I think of when I think of 50. 50, at least in Los Angeles in the year 2016, looks pretty hot.
I don’t feel hot. Here’s how I feel: Dorky. A little out of place. A little awkward, a little unpopular, a little like I’m always saying, doing or wearing the SLIGHTLY wrong thing. I feel young in a junior high sort of way. I know I’m not. And I have an awareness that the world responds to me as a somewhat dignified and relatively competent adult. An adult who recognizes appropriate skirt length and bedtime. An adult who has the right advice about things like laundry and deal memos and cooking and how to deal with a difficult work situation. I can tell myself the story of my life and it certainly seems to cover 50 years worth of stuff. But truly I don’t feel like what I think 50 is supposed to feel like.
Here’s what I know: I don’t look as young as I think I do. I’m not a babe. I’m attractive enough. But, I’m no longer a bird, a skirt, a chick or a lass. I’m a broad. I’m a dame. I sit more comfortably in my slightly saggy, gravity challenged skin. I like that I spend no time worrying about what men think about me when I walk down the street. I finally walk down the street thinking about what I want to think about rather than what I think others think about me. And that is a massive relief.
So part of me is relieved to be 50. Part of me is relieved to be beyond the stage in my life where I worry about getting pregnant, where I try to figure out what moisturizer to use to prevent wrinkles, where I think about whether a heel height or skirt length is work appropriate. Here’s the truth: I can’t get pregnant, I’m already wrinkled and I can’t wear a short skirt even if I wanted to thanks to the earth’s gravitational pull on my age-challenged thighs.
And part of me is terrified and struggling to reconcile the fact that 50 years have passed and I have so much less to show for it than I thought I would. My 50-year-old ego is struggling with my 50 year old soul and winning the battle 50 percent of the time. I am not only halfway through the century, I’m halfway between satisfied and yearning, halfway between secure and terrified, halfway between the utter Zen that comes with knowing yourself and the sheer panic that the self you know is not good enough, not accomplished enough, rich enough, pretty enough, smart enough, generous or kind enough.
Here’s what I also know: very few of us escape the approach to 50 unscathed. In talking to friends and colleagues, it seems that no amount of wealth, success or acknowledgment can prevent the inevitable navel gazing and self-flagellation that accompanies the half-century mark.
The truth is, I always hoped I would approach my 50th year with grace. I fantasized that I would be the woman skating through middle age with all the elegance of one of those thin waspy ladies with a perfect shoulder length silver bob and a blasé attitude. But in fact, I spent my 49th year struggling and raging and fighting against the inevitable in a graceless, wretched way. I was the opposite of stoic, alternately manic and anxious and depressed like a teenager. Life and career slapped me down left and right. My 49th year was an unwanted lesson in humility and humiliation. I’m not sure I understood either fully until this past year. And so I looked them up.
Humiliation is defined as embarrassment, mortification or shame. And there is certainly a lot about turning 50 that feels humiliating. Skin that is slack beyond my control resulting in a “resting bitch face” that is neither appealing nor representative of my general state. Hair that grows where it shouldn’t and thins where it should. A defiance of gravity overall that reminds me that a mumu should replace a bikini as acceptable beach wear. And those are just the things that slap me in the face upon waking.
Humility is defined as a lack of vanity or pride. And this has been the toughest lesson of all. Because no amount of vanity or pride or EGO will stop the progress of time, no amount of flailing or denial can prevent the inevitable forward march of the clock that reminds us that we have to struggle to remain relevant and cling to our connections. None of it can be taken for granted and none of us is immune. There is a story told by rabbis about the man who walks around with a piece of paper in each pocket. On one is written, “The World was made for me.” On the other is written, “I am but dust and ashes.” This dichotomy is the struggle between ego and humility, between hubris and confidence, between humility and humiliation. Because it turns out that if you are truly humble, you are immune to humiliation. I’m not sure why it has taken me 50 years to learn the lessons I have in the past twelve months, but here I am and shockingly, right by my side through the raging and tears and fear and anger is my husband, my dear friends and family. And that, is truly humbling.
Here, in a nutshell, is my advice to my 50 year old self:
- Have sex with your husband whenever you can even if your body is not in the mood because your heart and soul with never regret it.
- Have that sex on your back or in the dark. The wisdom of this should be obvious.
- Accept that you do not know very much about the internet. You will never know as much as your assistant or your child. Skype is passé. Use phrases like “Google Chat” or “slack” instead. You can download Wishbone on your iPhone but you’ll never actually use it. And Minecraft is a subversive slippery slope created by Swedes to make us all feel like losers.
- Keep tweezers in your purse, your office and your car because daylight is a harsh and cruel master and whiskers are not found only on kittens.
- Wear skirts of appropriate length and underwear that is always slightly inappropriate.
- Accept that the smile you just got from the male passerby is probably “that’s a nice looking older lady, I wonder if she needs help across the street” and not “I want to bang that chick”.
- Embrace your age. And it will embrace you back. There is nothing so satisfying or so humbling as acknowledging how much and how little you’ve achieved at the midpoint of your life. Enjoy the paradox that might have tortured you in your youth. Or even in your 49th year.